"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".
I came across this quote by Ira Glass on Joy's blog (via Melinda Josie via The Nouveau Romantics) and have been thinking about it these last few days. It is so irrefutably true. And yet I want to pipe up quietly, as someone who has fought and continues to fight this battle on various fronts, and say "there are other things that are, for me at least, important in addition to simply 'doing a lot of work.'" Namely: find a mentor, be a mentor, build a community, and have friends with whom you can talk about this fight. In person. With a glass of scotch.
Of course the formula for closing the gap is one part raw volume. But, personally, I can't imagine having the motivation, stamina or inspiration to keep producing that volume without having cheerleaders and being a cheerleader for others. So often, for people who've fought through, the default attitude seems to be "I fought on my own, so you must too" instead of "let me help you with your fight."
Understanding the alchemy behind building cooperative, team spirit has been stoked by listening to countless podcasts from the Harvard Business Review's IdeaCast recently where the concept of leadership is constantly discussed. "You can't win this contest without a lot of help," said Professor Warren Bennis, who is an expert on leadership studies (in episode 206 on the art of leading well). "Taste means really picking the right people." Bennis says a key characteristic of leadership is grace and generosity. Why is leadership so often discussed in business, but so rarely discussed when it comes to the type of creative work Glass talks about? Is it because creative work is by nature solitary? Are you able to produce volume in a vacuum? Should everyone fight the fight alone?