When making work that’s important to you, it’s tempting to focus on improving your best work. After all, when you think of your work, that’s what first comes to mind. (You don’t think about the mediocre work.) Therefore, it makes sense to focus on that.
By definition, this should be scarce. It’s not that you decide to sometimes do great work. Rather, it’s a simple consequence of looking at many pieces. Some will jump out at you, while others will be only “okay”.
Your instinct might be to improve your best stuff. That will allow others to see how great you are and what you can offer. However, I have a different perspective. Instead of trying to better your best work, why don’t you try to improve your mediocre work?
Think about it. If we arbitrarily rate your work out of 100, improving your best work might mean going from 88 to 94. This is definitely a good improvement, but if you improved your average from 75 to 81 (the same in absolute terms), I think your work as a whole would seem a lot better. By improving your average, you’re setting the bar higher when people look at all your work.
This is important to realize, because I don’t judge a creator by their best work. Instead, I like to look at the bulk of their work, and make a decision from that. If I see one really nice piece and a bunch of lower-quality pieces, this makes me think that they’re not serious about their craft. On the other hand, if I don’t see any amazing pieces but lots and lots of great ones, that’s someone I want to follow.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t improve on your best work. Working on your skills is a great commitment. However, I think improving your average piece will yield a much higher return than going for your top work.
When people look at what you do, they will mostly see your average work. Unless you’re trying to only post the absolute best work you can make (and therefore only post a few times a year, for example), most people will see your average work. That’s what they will think of. Sure, some amazing pieces might come to mind, but I would predict that this isn’t what you will be known for. You will be known for the average work you produce. You might like this or hate it, but the numbers ensure this will happen.
By improving your average, you raise the bar of what people think of your work. It’s what leads to people seeing you as great. When I think of the creators I follow and admire, most of them are doing things I can do. The difference is that they committed to showing up consistently and producing great work on average. They aren’t in search for the mega-hits. They’re simply looking to create good work every day.
Whether you’re writing, drawing, coding, designing, making music, or studying, you can use this idea of improving your average work. If you want to become better, focus on the fundamentals and make the work you do on average better than it is today.