When I read other people’s finished novels, I often wonder what makes me think I can do this. Usually, I’m neck-deep in a first draft, with bits missing, plot holes, undeveloped characters and a strong desire to clean the house or sort the cupboards to avoid it.
You may have heard the advice that we shouldn’t compare our ‘beginning’ to someone else’s ‘middle’. We can’t compare our first draft of something to polished, finished products.
I get that, but it wasn’t until I watched this video, that the advice really hit home. He’s talking about creative work here, but the advice applies equally to any skill. Sport, craft, speaking, singing, acting, art, project management, baking, teaching… anything where you look at a ‘master’ in your field and think ‘That’s where I’m aiming to be, but I’m falling so short right now.’
Here’s the text from the video, in the words of Ira Glass:
Nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish somebody had told this to me — is that all of us who do creative work … we get into it because we have good taste. But it’s like there’s a gap, that for the first couple years that you’re making stuff, what you’re making isn’t so good, OK? It’s not that great. It’s really not that great. It’s trying to be good, it has ambition to be good, but it’s not quite that good. But your taste — the thing that got you into the game — your taste is still killer, and your taste is good enough that you can tell that what you’re making is kind of a disappointment to you, you know what I mean?
A lot of people never get past that phase. A lot of people at that point, they quit. And the thing I would just like say to you with all my heart is that most everybody I know who does interesting creative work, they went through a phase of years where they had really good taste and they could tell what they were making wasn’t as good as they wanted it to be — they knew it fell short, it didn’t have the special thing that we wanted it to have.
And the thing I would say to you is everybody goes through that. And for you to go through it, if you’re going through it right now, if you’re just getting out of that phase — you gotta know it’s totally normal.
And the most important possible thing you can do is do a lot of work — do a huge volume of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week, or every month, you know you’re going to finish one story. Because it’s only by actually going through a volume of work that you are actually going to catch up and close that gap. And the work you’re making will be as good as your ambitions. It takes a while, it’s gonna take you a while — it’s normal to take a while. And you just have to fight your way through that, okay?
I love this advice. Love it.
- Know what’s really good
- Know how you compare
- Work, work, work
And the big key: don’t give up because your good taste tells you what you’re doing isn’t up to scratch.
A few weeks ago I shared with you that my daughter had her L plates. That first weekend she wanted to quit. She knew what good driving looked like. She knew she fell far short. The gap seemed insurmountable.
This weekend she drove us all over town for an hour and we drove past the parking lot where she had begun. The one where she couldn’t get out of first gear. The place where she nearly wrecked the clutch.
Just seeing that place again made her realise how far she’s come. She came that far by forging through the ‘gap’. She saw what she was aiming for as a driver, noticed the void between those skills and hers and drove, drove, drove until she got it.