The other day I ran into a friend who shares my love of writing and we were discussing how we both feel this pull to do good work, but are not sure exactly how to get there. Then I saw this insightful quote from Ira Glass, the NPR host of “This American Life” , which is about this dilemma – click on the picture to hear Ira:
“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.”
Ever felt this way, knowing that what you are doing is not quite hitting the mark? Most of us have felt ourselves sinking into this gap when struggling to learn something new, like a computer program or even just how to use our phones! In our jobs we are constantly working to accomplish more, to do it better, to get it right – and if we have any perfectionism in us, it never feels good enough. When we put ourselves out there with any artistic work, it feels worse. That illusory goal of doing something well always seems out of our grasp and we want to just say, ‘Oh the heck with it!’
But Ira continues: “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.”
Whew, that is comforting to read! Maybe this disconnect I feel between what I want to write and what is actually coming out means that I am heading in the right direction. But when will it feel easy?
Ira responds: “….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 of other areas of my life where I have “fought my way through”, such as playing the piano, which I have done since I was a little girl. I am not a gifted pianist, but after years and years of scales and Bach Two Part Inventions, and music theory and practising hymns, my fingers know where the notes are and how to form the chords. Those keys are a part of me and it comes pretty easily, even though I don’t play much any more. This past Sunday I got to play keyboards with our church’s praise band and had a ball! I love getting to combine my chords with the guitars and bass and drums and voices to create beautiful music! I enjoyed the fruits of all those hours practising. The same is true for running. I was never an athlete, but started running in college and continued throughout my twenties, then quit for about 15 years. I still remember when I started back, going out in my old sneakers and baggy sweatpants to run down my road – I didn’t get very far! But miles and miles later, running in town, out in the country, around tracks, on treadmills and trails, I now feel comfortable calling myself a runner. When I put on my running clothes and start out, my body falls into the rhythm, and I feel at home. Someday I would love to be able to call myself a writer, to have it feel as much a part of me as playing the piano or running, but I know I have miles to go and lots of words to write to get there. Meantime, fear of failure and lack of self-confidence hold me back, and I am trying to learn to “push through”.
I am reminded of one of my favorite verses, Paul’s encouragement to Timothy: “..I remind you to fan into the flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” (II Timothy 1:6-7) God does not want us to be afraid of exploring new paths, especially if we feel called by Him to try them. He wants us to perfect the gifts He has given us, to “fan the flame”, even if it means lots of time and hard work. And He has promised to give us the power to do what He calls us to do! So if you are feel you are standing in this gap today between where you are and where you want to be, I challenge you, along with myself, to not give up! If we keep on pushing through, we may be surprised where we land