Sunday Morning Musings

I put this quote from Ira Glass on the desktop of my computer screen so everytime I turn it on, and every time I close all the windows I have open for a second to get organized, I’ll see it:

“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 of years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but its 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 how do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our 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 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.”

But all work that anyone does is creative. There aren’t creative people and uncreative people. Humans are creative animals. So think about the work you’re doing in your life. It doesn’t matter what it is. You can apply this advice.

So far, I’ve figured out that of the most important factors in success is one’s ability to assess one’s own efforts: recognizing good work, gauging how your work compares, and then coming up with ideas to bridge the gap between your work and the standard of good you’ve set.

A general awareness, if you will, of yourself, your motivations, your efforts, and how that all fits into the big picture.

So this quote isn’t about creative people or not creative people. It’s about people who find that this awareness is too much work – cause it does require a lot of effort – and quit. They sacrifice the standards of goodness they once recognized for something else that’s closer to or at the level they are performing already. And they keep chugging along. Maybe they are happier that way, in which case, kudos to them. But I’ve seen more people who aren’t happy, but they just don’t understand why. Because they’ve sacrificed that awareness and aren’t even aware any more that they’ve cut that part out.

Assuming that everyone has that awareness to start out with, which is a topic for an entirely different Sunday morning post.

Anyway – this quote is designed to be inspiration to keep people from quitting; from cutting that awareness out even though every time they produce something, it winds up being crap. Even though they see potential, they mostly see crap and get discouraged. And it’s impossible to employ the solution to producing crap – just produce more of it and keep practicing until the crappiness dissipates and you’re left with good work that’s up to your standard – if you’re discouraged over and over again. That’s when people quit. It’s so hard. It seems impossible.

But the fact is it’s not impossible. It just requires a lot of you. Essentially, that you maintain faith in your taste. You are smart enough, you are talented enough, you are dedicated enough. You can produce good, even excellent, work. Not just that you can, but that you will. You have to believe that, have faith in that, in order to overcome all the discouragement and keep producing crap.

This is not to say that single-mindedness is some critical virtue. You still have be constantly assessing yourself and your efforts and figuring out what’s working and what’s not and adapt as you go. Maybe you’re trying to produce the wrong kind of crap. Maybe you’re systems are getting in the way.

It’s hard, man, believe me. It’s tough. It’s painful. But for me, just hearing from this guy Glass that everyone goes through this and that it took a long time for anyone to bridge that gap, even the most brilliant, successful people I can think of, is encouraging enough to ignore the pain and keep trying.

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Lots of New Muscles

There’s been a common theme in my reading recently: everyone is trying to work their muscles, but not that kind of muscles. Their idea muscles, creativity muscles, will power muscles, and more. It think this started as a unique way of describing how everything humans want to do and be requires practice at first, and I have to say it’s caught on.

It’s an attractive analogy isn’t it? For me, it means tackling my big goals in small steps to build up my will power muscle. You wouldn’t try to bench press 100lbs cold, so why would you commit to a marathon training program if you’ve never been able to work out more than two days in a row?

Everything I read about writing falls into two camps. The first is technical advice, the sort of articles with  11 tips for writing blog posts that attract viewers or how to generate ideas. The second type of advice thinks of itself as above that and says only that good writers read a lot and write a lot – work out their reading and writing muscles, so to speak.

Essentially, writing for the web is a combination of the two approaches. Sure, I plan on reading every Neil Gaiman novel I can get my hands on in the next few weeks and I think exposing myself, at last, to his prose will be good for my writing. But even novels, these days, need to be optimized for SEO.

I kid. But think about this – I didn’t finally decide to read Neil until after studying his wife Amanda Palmer’s exceptional use of social media in her musical career. His own tweets and blog posts are not only beautiful, but well written to keep a target audience entertained and expose newbies like me to his style, to see if its something they’d be interested in.

So not only do writers for the web and web marketers and entrepreneurs like me need to work out their muscles, we need circuit training. Great, right after I cancelled my gym membership.