In her essay “Copying to Create: The Role of Imitation and Emulation in Developing Haiku Craft” Michele Root-Bernstein quotes Picasso on the importance of copying and imitation:
“You should constantly try to paint like someone else. But the thing is, you can’t! You would like to. You try. But it turns out to be a botch… and it’s at the very moment you make a botch of it that you’re yourself.”
These days I don’t like to botch anything. Even though I’m aware from books on performance and deliberate practice that mistakes and blunders made in the direction of improvement are what result in the improvement sought, I hesitate. It feels counter-intuitive and wrong because it’s hard (and if it’s hard that means I’m doing it wrong, right?). No, as it turns out.
In Tip #5 (“Be Willing to Be Stupid”) of The Little Book of Talent Daniel Coyle writes:
“Feeling stupid is no fun. But being willing to be stupid – in other words, being willing to risk the emotional pain of making mistakes – is absolutely essential, because reaching, failing, and reaching again is the way your brain grows and forms new connections.”
Cal Newport recalls a story in So Good They Can’t Ignore You about Jordan Tice, a successful professional guitar player, and his deliberate practice. Like Jordan Cal also started playing guitar in his teens and toured with a band but unlike Jordan he soon plateaued because he didn’t want to push himself further. “There’s a mental strain,” Cal says, “that accompanies feeling your way through a tune that’s not ingrained in muscle memory, and I hated that feeling.” But Jordan learnt to enjoy the strain and the initial clumsiness of early attempts.
So keep reaching. Be stupid and learn.