Make It Mighty Ugly: Review

Exercises and Advice for Getting Creative Even When It Ain’t Pretty.

Published in 2014 by Kim Piper Werker

Why I picked this one up–in store and off shelf

I forget whether this was in the writing section or with the drawing/crafts stuff. It doesn’t matter much; the advice in the book tries to be good for all types of creativity. Of course, that causes it to be a little vague and thin at times, because you just can’t be everything to everyone when you have a limited human body that can only perceive four dimensions at once. 

Anyway, it also doesn’t matter which section it was in because I am reliably in both and I do many types of creativity. I actively try to apply books on one type to another type, so a book that tries to do them all is just removing a step.

I picked it up off my shelf at home a few days ago as part of a stack of stuff to read for the blog. I figured it would be a good kick in the pants to get me Just Writing and not worrying about making each post perfect; plus the aesthetic seemed to match the type of tone I was going to try for.

I ended up reviewing it because of this quote in the introduction:

I want you to know that you’re not alone in wanting some help; that you’re not alone in struggling, in feeling confused or lost, in being blocked, in feeling you’re not creative…. This knowing you’re not alone part? Don’t underestimate the power of that.”

“You’re not alone”?! Well hi there, entire blog concept.

The Idea

Kim Werker and I believe that everyone is creative. Not can be, is. Sometimes you have to jolt yourself to accept that anything you make makes you creative, no matter what form it takes and no matter if it’s pretty or ugly. The making is the point.

For every way you think you’re not creative or talented or cool or whatever, there’s someone else out there who thinks the same thing. And you’re both wrong.

I have some of the same beeves with other books on creativity that Werker does. They’ve often just not sat right, or when I took notes nothing seemed life-changing enough to write down. I sent them back to the thrift store, vaguely hoping someone better than me can make actionable sense of them.

Werker has words for it. She hates handwaving and cheerleading. You know: the sense that the author is saying Yeah! You can do it! You have the power! But… they don’t know you. They don’t know what kind of power you have. So you read on, thinking, okay, well, how do I use the power you’re so sure I have? What are some specific steps I can take? What makes me good at anything? What makes a story or a scarf good, anyway? And the author says Yeah! You can do it! Just write! Butt in Chair!

Like… thanks? It’s nice to be encouraged, but I’m here for advice.

(This isn’t as much a problem with, say, drawing books, or even knitting/crochet books when they’re just pattern libraries. There are technical aspects that you can make a tutorial out of. There’s no Step One, Step Two for writing a poem.)

Sample Exercises

So here’s Kim Werker with some actual step-by-step exercises for you to uncover your creative power! Which is specifically nonspecific, so we’re not going to complain that she’s not giving us tips for a particular project, of course.

First, she wants you to reveal to yourself the things that are keeping you from acknowledging that you’re creative. You list some things you’ve noticed you’re good at, and then try to categorize them into common themes.

I’ve actually done exactly this before, when I was trying to define my values for ACT therapy. What I learned (aside from, this go-round, that I am good at coming up with new things and with analyzing things that are already made to see how they work) is that you do know you’re good at some stuff. You have to, there’s just no denying it sometimes. Everyone around me claims that I have no self esteem and that I can’t see any good about myself, and that just isn’t true. I know that objectively I have skills. If you’ve been told the same thing, or if you really are having trouble with seeing the good in yourself, try this exercise. Or do the Kurt Vonnegut thing: Every once in a while, look around and say, “If I’m not skilled at this, who is?”

Some other exercises include recontextualizing “failed” projects, deliberately making ugly stuff, and letting your fear demons talk, which I didn’t do because my demons don’t say stuff about my creativity. They say stuff about me as a person, and I wanted to stay in a good mood for the rest of the book. If you recognize the depression gremlin’s little voice when you think about making something, though, I encourage you to try some of these. And remember, if it’s telling you that you don’t do anything well, it’s just not correct.

Another way to silence the little dude: Rage! There’s a section later in the book about being pissed off as a motivation for creativity. For Werker, it’s usually anger that someone did something poorly and I can do it better! Absolutely valid. You can also be pissed off about some political situation and make art about it, or you can be pissed about your trauma, or just generally feel like yelling! And make art about it! If you’re yelling, you can’t hear the gremlin!

Drawbacks

Now, this was written back in 2014 and details experiences from earlier in Werker’s life, when the internet was still in its young years. So maybe we can overlook the fact that she… just never checks her privilege.

For someone like me, who has actual challenges to acting creatively, much less getting creative jobs and making it my entire life, this annoyed me! I’m not gonna lie! I found myself snarking in my head: Okay, so you went to college? Nice, you have money. You had this revelation at a party? Good for you, you have (very cool, judging by the party) friends. What am I supposed to do if I don’t? Oh, you got recruited for a great job? Awesome. That’s not going to happen for everyone.

There’s a part where she quits a job in a fit of “not wanting to be normal.” Normality’s relativity aside, she mentions in a very disparaging way that her mom asked her what she was going to do for health insurance. So, oh, you don’t have to worry about health insurance? You’re right, you’re not normal: you’re lucky.

I also felt that some of the exercises and tips towards the end of the book were very similar to the tips I see in other books (like “clean your space” or “get bored sometimes”). Which, sure, maybe they’re repeated everywhere because they work, but this book said it was gonna be different! 

I will say that even though it’s a tip you see absolutely everywhere, I am a fan of the section on creating a daily routine. That’s because Werker asks you to make graphs of when in the day you feel creative, and when you feel drained. That’s useful data! Usually I see “try working in the early morning! Do stuff on your lunch break!” in a sort of spaghetti-throwing way that just isn’t as helpful.

What about routines when you can’t trust your health from day to day? I would modify this exercise in this way: Make four charts. The two normal ones that Werker suggests, When I Feel Creative and When I Feel Drained. Then make two more with the same titles, but with On Down Days appended to the ends. Or On Low-spoon Days, or even B Days. Or go whole-honest and say Sick Days. Graph faithfully as recommended–maybe go for two weeks, to make sure you get a good sample–and then you’ll have two sets of data to put together. You’ll have your A Schedule and your B Schedule, each to be used on its appropriate days.

What She’s Doing Now

The website mentioned in the book, mightyugly.com, seems to have been defunct since about 2015. It’s kimwerker.com now–and twitter and so on–and there’s a community and podcasts and video chats, and I haven’t looked at it in depth but she’s definitely still out there, encouraging creativity!

Side note, if you’re a Night Vale/Alice Isn’t Dead (or Fringe) fan, you’ll enjoy Jasika Nicole’s cameos in this book. She’s fun to follow, too! 

Other Stuff

Oh my god she’s so right about the state of the online crochet community. It’s still not awesome, but Ravelry is a godsend of course

Her anecdote about feeling like a fraud because she just sort of bashed a school paper out and got a good grade without “really trying”? The lesson is that very few people are really trying. A really high portion of us are just faking it in a lot of situations. There’s no such thing as a “real adult” or a “real artist” or any of it. We’re all just tall children doing our best and no one knows how to do a thing until they’ve done it.

“I’ve learned most masterpieces aren’t intentional; they’re just regular projects that resonate unusually. All I can do is set out to make something….”

Have you read this book? What did you think? Did it help you to know that you are creative?

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