You’ve probably heard people expound on the adage “If you don’t aim for the stars, you’re not going to get to the moon.” And this is all well and good as a way to motivate your hopes and wishes.
Except, aiming for the stars is easy. It’s a pretty big sky. Hard not to hit something up there. But in terms of actually getting you to the moon (your finished novel, album, painting) you need a solid plan in place.
Early rockets focused on thrust, simply getting something off the ground. Convergence rockets used in war led to the line “the rockets’ red glare.” The next step was accuracy, getting the rocket to go where you wanted it to.
To extend this metaphor into the creative sphere, most people are so focused on the thrust of their art (just getting something off the ground) that they ignore the accuracy component.
Think about launching something up into space toward an object very far away (the moon is 238,900 miles away and it takes about three days to reach). If your aim is off by even a single degree at the start, the farther you travel, the more off course you become. The greater the distance, the more important the accuracy.
Yet dialing in the perfect angle of launch from the start can be overwhelming. As a writer, I don’t know exactly what the middle and end of the novel will entail. I only have a general idea. True, there are those writers who have it all figured out from the get go. But for the rest of us, we need a better way.
The best approach to reach a distant target is with incremental changes. As your creative project hurtles forward, constantly readjust the trajectory. This is the Japanese principle of Kaizen.
The Kaizen philosophy encourages small, often imperceptible changes. The goal is to improve over the long term (rather than focus on sudden inspirations). As artists, we sometimes have those flashes of insight, but more often than not, its the small steps toward the goal that get the job done.
One of the pioneers of Kaizen was Taiichi Ohno, who created the Toyota Production System. He listed “Ten Commandments” for thinking and winning:
1. Seek to eliminate waste, and recognize that you yourself are a cost. (As an artist, I’m constantly seeing how I can streamline the set up so I can get to work faster)
2. Say “I can do it” and try hard.
3. The workplace is your teacher. You can only find your answers there. (You can’t learn to draw by looking at finished art. You have to draw, over and over.)
4. If you’re going to do anything, do it right away. The only way to win is to start now. (Artists are the world’s greatest procrastinators.)
5. Once you start something, never give up. Persevere until it’s finished. (You want to stand out? Finish something. Then do it again.)
6. Explain complex concepts in a simple way. If a concept is simple to understand, repeat it. (I’m always astounded at the clarity of simple prose. It’s the goal I strive for.)
7. Bring your problems out into the open. (You need a support group. People who will honestly critique your work and help it improve.)
8. Realize that actions without value are bad. (Most of the Mental Kitchen is dedicated to writing from your own truth and being honest with your art.)
9. Keep improving productivity, and improving what has already been improved.
10. Practice and share wisdom, don’t just hoard it. (The best artists share so that others can glean from their success).
In short, aiming for the sky (or the moon) is a great motivator to get you on the path to creation. Think of this as building your rocket ship. But if you want to hit your target and finish something, then you need to make incremental changes along the way.
Better to aim for the clouds (finish a few pages or some sketches) and then reevaluate. Are you heading in the right direction?
Sticking to your original path without any changes will only get you lost in space.