Terrified of writing? Most people are, that’s why it’s always good to remind yourself of why you go through with the arduous task of attempting to create masterpieces regularly. I found this wonderfully inspiring quote on the fear of writing on Reddit.com, written by none other than Ira Glass himself. Yes, the Ira Glass, you know the one who hosts Public Radio International’s This American Life podcast. The podcast that has 1.7 million listeners. He’s easily one of the best story tellers of our generation. You must read this:
You need to write. That’s the only thing that will make your writing better. You’re afraid to write something that’s shit, that dishonors. But even Hemingway said, “The first draft of anything is shit.” It’s just a starting point. You have to get something down in the rough before you can perfect it.
Stories about your ancestors are what you should write. They engage your feelings because they mean something to you. You need to be emotionally engaged in your story. If you write about things that you don’t feel about, you won’t care about the material, and it will be gray, flat, and lifeless.
So start. Once you get your first draft, go back through and polish. Do it until you’re happy with it. Walt Whitman, the famous poet, started writing Leaves of Grass at 37, and kept rewriting it to perfect it until he died at the age of 72. You don’t have to publish it. You can keep it secret, and polish it until it shines with its own light.
But you have to get it on paper first. Here’s what will happen: You will write, and a lot of it will be shit, and you will worry that you’ll get run over a bus and someone will find it and know what a hack you are. But you ignore that inner perfectionist, because it’ll keep you rewriting the first paragraph until it’s perfect and you’ll never get anywhere. You keep going until its done. You write the whole thing. And then, when you’re finished, you read it.
You won’t be happy with it. You’ll cringe over the awkward sentences, the poor transitions, the pacing, blah blah blah. But you’ll find these moments of beauty captured in words, like poetry, alive and breathing. And you’ll move back a paragraph and build to that moment, and then the page will come alive, and you’ll feel the rhythm of the words and how their energy leads into the next moment. And you’ll struggle with the turn of a phrase that’s not just right until, with a twist here and a tweak there, you realize you’ve captured one of life’s secrets on the page, and you’ll glory in it. You keep going like that. And every time you do, you’ll feel your ancestors smile.
This is the way it’s done. This is the way that it’s always been done.
Here’s a great piece from Ira Glass on Creativity (or, The Gap Between Our Taste And Our Work…)
What nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish someone had told this to me . . . is that 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, and 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 it’s 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.