I’ve always wondered if writing is a sign of a mental problem–for me specifically, not for other writers. I mean, really, why would I want to do something for which I am routinely rejected? And for so long? I’ve been writing for 40 years. Trying to publish a novel for 30 years. Well, off and on, between kids and marriages and degrees and teaching jobs, but still. Why haven’t I given up?
Well lots of people do quit. Does that make them sane?
Ira Glass, host of This American Life, talks in terms of good taste – that passion and understanding you have of your artform – and the gap between that good taste, that thing that you aspire to, and your current abilities.
And you get into this thing that I don’t even know how to describe but it’s like there’s a gap, that for the first couple of years that you’re making stuff what you’re making isn’t so good. It’s not that great, it’s really not that great. It’s trying to be good, it has ambition to be good, but it’s not quite that good. But your taste – the thing that got you into the game – your taste is still killer. And your taste is good enough that you can tell that what you’re making is kind of a disappointment to you, you know what I mean? Like you can tell that it’s still sort of crappy.
A lot of people never get past that phase, a lot of people at that point they quit. And the thing I would just like say to you with all my heart is that most everybody I know who does interesting creative work they went through a phase of years where they had really good taste, they could tell what they were making wasn’t as good as they wanted it to be, they knew that it fell short. […] But we knew like it didn’t have the special ‘thing’ that we wanted it to have. And the thing I would say to you is that everyone goes through that.
So I guess there are two ways of ‘dealing’ with the gap. Either you decide it’s too large – or too unimportant – and quit, or you keep working to overcome it. You overcome it by creating that great body of work Ira speaks about, by continuing to show up to the page or canvas [or whatever your medium is].
Thanks to Joshua Withers for bringing this video to my attention.