Thursday, November 11, 2010

Creativity: The Awkward Years

This is an oldie but a goodie — Ira Glass on working through the sucky early years of any creative endeavor when your taste level surpasses your skill level and you're working like mad on a bunch of stuff that you know kind of sucks.

When I first stumbled on this video during my first semester in grad school, it made me so relieved not to be alone. My grad school mantra said essentially the same thing —  When you're green, you grow. (The tatted-up hairstylist I stole the line from always added: When you're ripe, you rot.)  But I needed to hear it from someone who'd made it to the other side.

A friend reminded me of this video today, and I had to share it. (Thanks, Tyler!) It's good to re-watch on the tough days.

My favorite part transcribed in case you can't play it where you are:
And all of us who do creative work like, you know, we get into it and we get into it because we have good taste… So you've got really good taste and you get into this thing that I don't even know how to describe 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, okay? 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? Like you can tell that it's still sort of crappy. A lot of people never get past that phase and a lot of people at that point 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, you know, and some of us can admit that to ourselves, and some of us are a little less able to admit that to ourselves.
But we knew that it didn't have the special thing that we wanted it to have and the thing what to do 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 or if you're just starting off and you're entering into that phase, you've got to 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. You know what I mean? Whatever it's going to be. You create the deadline. It's best if you have somebody who's waiting for work from you, somebody who's expecting work from you, even if it's not somebody who pays you but that you're in a situation where you have to try not to work. Because it's only be 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.


  1. haha cool. i'm glad my google account is named after my history paper from sophomore year -abby