I get stuck in a gloomy creative rut sometimes. Often it’s because I’m just not happy with the quality of my prose. I’ll edit and revise and re-edit ad nauseum, knowing that I’m not measuring up to my own standards. It’s a deeply frustrating place to be, that rut.
Talking with some of my creative friends, it turns out that’s not so unusual. We know in our heads what the scene looks like, but translating that to the written word takes a great deal of effort. I like to think of it is a sort of alchemy; transmuting ideas into books. Alchemy doesn’t always come easily. In fact, it rarely does.
I came across this quote from prolific content creator Ira Glass (of This American Life fame). He summarizes the creative struggle as only someone who has been there before can:
It’s calming to know that even the best creators have had to fight their way through this resistance.
In case the image is hard to read, here’s the full text version of Ira Glass’s quote:
“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.”