Archive for February, 2015

Have you fallen victim to the ‘Taste Gap’?

shutterstock_59141320When 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.

The world is out to get me

shutterstock_60964402Last week, a ‘Big Five’ publisher who’d taken my novel right through the formal acquisitions process, failed to leap the last approval hurdle and unfortunately will not, as had looked hopeful for the last three months, be buying world rights to the story and having the suggested summer release in the US.

It was pretty crushing after such enthusiasm from the editor. Another big publisher was also reading it though, so there was hope.

Twenty-four hours later, just as my car battery died at the school information night, stranding my teens and I in the dark, I checked my email while waiting for help, only to receive the second rejection in 24 hours. This one softened the blow by saying they’ll ‘probably kick themselves about this one day’.

Then yesterday, I was standing beside my decade-old fridge when the door fell off. Literally. It just fell right off, unprovoked, full of bottles and eggs etc. Thankfully I used to play Goal Keeper in the top netball team at school and the old defensive reflexes kicked in. I was able to intercept the fridge as it threw itself at me and prevent it from flattening my four-year-old.

So I just stood there, fridge door in hand, thinking, ‘This hasn’t been my week, really…’

Some weeks are like that. It’s where the saying ‘it never rains, but it pours’ comes from.

My daughter asked why ‘these things always happen to us’.

I said, ‘But they don’t. These things happen to everyone from time to time—we all have disappointments in our careers. We all have appliances break down on us.’

It would be easy to look at a string of mishaps and disappointments and think ‘the world is out to get me’. It isn’t.

A thousand unexpected dollars later, a new fridge is on its way. I’ll get the battery replaced this week and the book is now being shopped around other publishers.

While we were stranded outside the school, we saw a family walk past our car who only a few weeks ago lost their husband and father in a tragic accident. Despite their grief, each of them managed to smile.

This stuff—work stuff, appliance or car trouble—just happens. Sometimes it happens all at once.

What matters is the story we tell ourselves about it.

So here’s another one: Our family is safe. Two of the world’s biggest publishers have seriously considered my novel and more are keen to read it. I’ve had the longest-living car battery in my circle of car-owning acquaintances.

And today, we’re getting a beautiful new fridge!

Life: Precious. Beautiful.

shutterstock_47153512On Saturday night, my sister and I saw the movie ‘Still Alice’. It’s based on the heart-wrenching book about early-onset Alzheimers, by neuroscientist and novelist, Lisa Genova.

I took three packets of tissues. Mum has dementia. Not early-onset—so the timing is different (and easier to bear for our family) but the symptoms are just as brutal, and the end will be the same.

Surprisingly, we didn’t need the tissues. The movie depicted a flawed, beautiful family, coming together to make life even more meaningful during the gradual losing of their loved one from the inside out. It reminded us just how much the everyday, simple moments count. How ‘living in the present’ is all we ever really have—memories come and go, the future is uncertain. Connection and love right now is what counts the most.

That’s something our family has in spades. Dementia can be life-affirming in its own twisted way… and the weekend went on to serve two more reminders that there is light and dark amidst some of the most difficult things we ever face.

On a walk around the lake yesterday, we noticed a large crowd of people gathered. They had balloons and kids and dogs and participants all ages. We found they were walking to raise funds for a twenty-year-old who had recently had a heart attack. The mood of the group was uplifted. They came together for a purpose—to meet a common goal in the face of a crisis. As people do.

Then, driving home, we became pleasantly entangled in the truck convoy for cancer. I was reminded that we’d met it along the same stretch of road a year ago. I remember feeling moved to tears then, seeing so many truck-drivers involved in the fundraiser, and so many people lining the streets to cheer them on.

Little had we known last February that one of our dearest young people would this year have the honour of riding in the lead truck, having been put through the wringer of leukaemia. Most of the time, we go about our lives blissfully unaware of what lies ahead.

Is it scary, thinking something like this could sideswipe any of us, at any time? Is it tempting to bubble-wrap our lives and spend our time avoiding risk and staying safe?

Of course it is…

But the more precarious life is, the more precious it becomes. And the more precious it becomes, the wider our grasp ought to be on it. The more of it we must gather in and experience. The more open our eyes should be. The warmer our hearts… the more we should unfold and create and breathe in, while we still can.

Let’s not allow fear to win. Let’s not agonise over what might—or even what will—happen.

Let’s value the joy in our everyday interactions. Let’s forgive ourselves more easily. Let’s let go of what brings us down and let’s band together, the way people always do when something bad happens.

Because if life isn’t about today’s conversations, even if they’re forgotten tomorrow, what is it about?

If it’s not about the risks we take now, in case we can’t later, then what are we doing with our time?

It’s closest to the edge, where our footing is a little shaky, that we have the best view. That’s where we’re most exhilarated. It’s where we love the deepest and make our greatest mark on the world.

I don’t know about you but, from where I’m standing, there’s not a moment to waste.