Is Your Talk Better Than Your Walk?


You may have seen this quote around lately, but in case not, this is from This American Life's Ira Glass and it just kills me, it's so perfect.  I don't think I've ever read anything that more succinctly states the problem for people just starting out in the arts.

“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.”

Sure, what he's saying about perseverance is fairly common but what really grabs me is the stuff about how your taste, your ability to discern good work from bad, develops much sooner than your ability to create your own work. Essentially, we can all talk the talk way before we can walk the walk and that is the source of a lot of people's frustration. You're discerning enough to know your work isn't good enough before you have the ability to do anything about it. So all the work we do, all the writing and re-writing, is about practicing so much that we eventually close that gap and, as Glass says, make your work "as good as your ambitions."

With just one book to my credit, I definitely think of myself as some one just starting out and I know for me, I know my work isn't as good as my ambitions yet. What Glass is talking about is without a doubt my biggest frustration.  I guess it's nice to hear someone put it so succinctly and show that it's perfectly natural and a state we all go through.

What about you all? Is your talk better than your walk? Does it make you as nuts as it does me?


7 comments:

Luisa Perkins said...

I was just thinking about this yesterday--how the book in my head is so much better than the book I'm writing. Yes, it makes me nuts, but I am trying to have faith in the process (and my ability to improve) and keep slogging on.

Great post, thanks!

Bane of Anubis said...

The nice thing about playing sports is you can (relatively) objectively compare yourself to the competition and see how your efforts (practice, exercise, etc.) payoff. Writing's payoff is much harder to see. I'd like to think my walk's pretty good now, but I often feel like I'm walking in the dark.

Shari Green said...

LOL, I just blogged about the exact same thing! Yes, I'm very aware of the gap, and yes, it pretty much makes me nuts. ;)

Janet Johnson said...

Love this quote! I'd never thought about that, but yes . . . my work doesn't satisfy me either. So this gives me hope. :)

NeuroHormone said...

I spent 3 hours working on a song today. At the end I was just tired of hearing me. Everything sounded cheesy. Every line was non-essential. Not good enough.
But...maybe one day, it will. =)

Carol Riggs said...

Wow, yes, we always know something's good and can spot it--much easier than we can produce it. I agree!

Catherine Stine said...

I've written a few manuscripts that will remain in the drawer--or on my harddrive. Par for the course. But those bumpily-plotted behemoths helped me write a couple of manuscripts that really sing. I knew that, coming into this as a painter. There are canvases that will stay in the studio or be re-gessoed to use for a better work.