When I was in high school, I wrote a play. It was the first big piece of writing I had ever attempted outside of a term paper. I had been thinking about the story line for months, I saw the characters clearly in my head and I just knew it was going to be both witty and profound. I even knew what actors would play the title roles when I became the youngest playwright to have a show produced on Broadway. Then I started to write it. Suddenly, everything that was clear in my mind became muddled. I couldn’t hear my characters anymore. Everything I wrote on the page was just a shell of what I had imagined it to be. Devastated that it wasn’t coming out anything like I wanted it to, I eventually gave up at the beginning of Act III, convinced I didn’t have the skills to be a professional writer.
A couple of years ago, I came across this quote by Ira Glass, Creative Extraordinaire, and was blown away:
“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 think this quote should be handed to anyone, anytime they try something new. Seriously. Children should have to memorize it in elementary school, college-bound teens should have to expound on it in a college entrance essay and posters and billboards should be plastered with this across the world.
The people who are creatively successful out there, and by successful, I mean, enjoy their work and consistently find time to actively engage in it, get this. They’ve allowed themselves to be disappointed at times with what they’ve created and they understand that every time they try something new- whether it’s learning a new language, writing in a new genre or studying medicine after a successful law career, their ambitions will be significantly stronger than their initial output.
We’re beginners over and over and over again through life. We need to cut ourselves a little slack when the first time we do something it doesn’t come out the way we’ve constructed it in on minds. It will, eventually. But only if we have the courage to keep showing up and trying again.
So if there’s something out there you want to do, go for it. And when it doesn’t come out at all like you planned, when it’s awkward or you’re fumbling, remember that’s how it’s supposed to be. Your job isn’t to be good right out of the gate. There will be dissonance between what’s in your head and what you can actually create. That’s ok- it doesn’t mean you’re never going to be good at it. It just means you aren’t as good at it as you want to be right now. Your job is to simply keep moving forward until what’s in your head and what you create actually converge into the same thing.