Weirdly, this is not a political post, though seriously, we need to stop asking Him to make our enemies ridiculous. Enough is enough and we’re approaching dumpster fire in a sewer with a clown car driving through. Past that lies something unimaginable and arcane, and I’d rather not find out what it is. Possibly like a glimpse of Cthulhu it renders you mad. Not worth risking…
Okay, so one thing the stupendous paper book sale did (yeah, I have a couple to send out on Monday, money having arrived at last) is make me realize how bad my early covers were.
Now, let’s be honest here, they weren’t bad-bad. Not for indie books without dedicated artists and an art designer.
Seven (almost) years ago, I was doing my art on paper, and probably stuck “two years from cover-worthy” which is what my then teacher classified me as. BUT she was assuming of two years of concentrated practice (I’m probably a bit worse right now) which I couldn’t give it, because ce n’est pas mon metier. Or not my main one.
So I was doing things with photoshop and stock photos. Which is difficult for any historical since finding people in costume that is actually accurate, let alone where people (guys are particularly prone to this, particularly when holding a sword. It’s like the brain snaps and they go “I have a sword”) aren’t grinning like idiots, or ugly as sin is a problem. Do yourself a favor and do not EVER look for handsome man in stock photos. Obviously my standards of “handsome” which include “must not look like a rat” or “Must not weigh more than triggly puff” are too demanding.
Now the original cover of Witchfinder (still up on Amazon. I need to do the paper cover for this, then I will go in and do it all at one swoop. This is part of my new, revised, stupendous way of spending my weekends and doing something useful with them) was NOT the best that could be achieved even under those circumstances.
I tried hiring an artist, in fact, and paid more than the proverbial “$400 cover” (but not by much) but what was delivered was actually worse than what I could do at the time. So I fell into the stock photos and filter forge and achieved something that was not utterly disgraceful, even if not wonderful. Say it was about 15% of what a decent midlist cover should be. Probably 90% of what I could ACTUALLY have achieved. But 90% was all the time and attention I had to give it. Beyond that lay the land of spending days tinkering with shadows and it might bring it to 98% of what I could achieve, and about 15% of one to perfect.
I’m not going to claim to be perfect now. All I’m looking for is “midlist by most big houses.” Which I think I’m probably 98% on. Beyond that lies either genius, inspiration, or greatly diminishing returns. MIND YOU if I keep doing this and getting better, they will eventually all so far outclass this that I’ll have the same reaction to this I had to those earlier covers.
Which is part of what I wanted to say: this is what life is. Not just art. Not just writing. Not just your profession or your job, or whatever. Life.
We start out pretty sucky at it. Heck, I remember one of my persistent fears in early childhood (probably under five) was of forgetting to chew something and actually choking to death. It came close enough a couple of times that it lent this fear credence. But if I had that fear as an adult, it would be outright crazy. I mean, what kind of idiot is afraid of FORGETTING TO CHEW?
An idiot pretty new to her body. I have obviously practiced having this body for ten times longer now, and while I can still choke (usually when my sons make me laugh or something equally stupid) putting chewy food in my mouth is no longer an occasion for neurotic terror (yay!)
In the same way until I was about fourteen, my knees were permanently scarred from falling. I couldn’t seem to figure out how to stop doing it. I was extremely clumsy, yes. This phase lasted long enough to interfere with my wish to look sexy in nylons. I don’t know how much of it was due to the fact I spent a vast portion of the year in bed with various illnesses till I was 12. But obviously a lot of it came from that. I simply had only about half (or less) the practice at walking of a 14 year old. Yes, I also had — and have — a tendency to get lost in my own head and forget I’m walking. When I lived in downtown Colorado Springs, in the North end, with its plethora of cracked and root-uplifted sidewalks, I tripped a lot. But note I never fell. (Well, once, but that involved a patch of black ice and my wearing my clogs outside. Because I’m an idiot.) I never fell because I had a ton more practice. I hadn’t suddenly become way more acrobatic, or better at balancing (snort, giggle) or for that matter started paying more attention to where my feet were and what they were up to. No. It’s just that I’d been walking for 30 years longer, and could now catch myself before I face planted or knee planted, for that matter.
Now at 14 wishing to walk without scarring my knees, seemed impossible and I had no clue how to get there. If I’d aimed for perfect I’d have stayed in bed, waiting for the perfect to come.
I guess it’s kind of like my realization that what I was doing wrong with Alien Curse was … trying to make it The One Book. The Perfect Book. (Not even the perfect book of its kind, just the perfect book. Which is impossible. But even the perfect book of its kind is fairly unlikely.) The best thing to do is to “make it as perfect as you can, given who you are and the tools you have RIGHT NOW.”
Because if you do that; if you start where you are and with what you can do right now, instead of wishing for perfection, and do it a lot, you’ll get better.
And like me (I’m sure) in five years, looking at this (I have bought courses on lighting, on backgrounds, on… That’s also for the weekends this year. Yes, that and floor installing. That’s life. Yes, the year is going to purely suck in terms of workload.) in five years of doing the best you can with what you have right then, you’ll look at today’s work and go “Oh, dear Lord, what WAS I THINKING?” But what you were thinking is that you were doing the best you can, right now.
We don’t have magical abilities, to reach into the future and make us as good as we can be. And yeah, study (see I bought a load of courses) and thinking and learning from our betters (in covers I have a lot of betters) helps. BUT in the end? Practice. Practice makes the biggest difference. Practice will allow you to do what right now seems impossible.
Yes, that means you’ll produce a lot of imperfect stuff. Humans are imperfect. A lot of it will probably be good enough, be it in art, or life, or whatever.
And honestly, even when you’re really really good you might choose to be at 98% of achievable, unless you’re getting paid in the millions. Most people don’t notice the top 2% of perfection. And the effort is another 50% at least. You’re better off producing more, practicing more. And then your next ten pieces will get you to the 100% of what you can achieve now anyway. And they too will sell. And you’ll get better at things you didn’t even realize needed improvement.
Go and practice. Because that way lies “as good as it can get.”
The constant discovering of flaws in what you thought was great before, the constant dissatisfaction with yourself is just the price you pay.
It’s worth it.
To be satisfied is to stop improving.