Ira Glass is an American radio personality and a TV writer and producer. He also spoke about something he called “the gap” which is one of the most important concepts I’ve ever come across for writers, painters or in fact anyone who wants to create things.
Here’s the quote:
Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”
― Ira Glass
I too wish someone had told me about the gap, but I’m not sure I would have listened. I’m going through it all again teaching myself to draw cartoons. I know what I want my cartoons to look like, they just don’t measure up to the image I have in my head. It was getting frustrating, but I remembered this quote and it made me feel better.
I was thinking about it this morning and to me trying to make your writing/art/whatever perfect quickly is very much like wandering into the gym for the first time and trying to hoist double your bodyweight over your head. Some people might be able to lift more weight than others straight off, but lifting that much without training and a lot of practice is asking to give yourself a terrible injury*.
Taking Ira Glass’s advice actually improved everything I was trying to do, because I started to see missteps as steps in the process, not failures. As long as I was getting better (or at the very least making all new and interesting mistakes) I was happy, and being happy makes me work harder.
* or least get made fun of by other gym goers.