Tuesday, June 18, 2013

On judgment

Sorry for the unexpected blog hiatus. I was briefly out of town (at my sister's baby shower! Yay!), and somehow traveling for just a few days snowballed into a lot more stress and busy-ness than I anticipated. I guess I DO have a lot on my plate at the moment. Thankfully it forced me to put my feet up for a bit, and take a few deep breaths, which was sorely needed. Now, back to my regularly scheduled writing.

Have you seen that quote about storytelling from NPR host Ira Glass? It's been making the rounds for years, as videos and jpgs, popping up on blogs and tumblrs and Facebook, and encouraging many many people.

“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.”

(here's the full video of this excerpted quote from Public Radio International)

I get why people find this quote encouraging: it's that reassurance that it's okay to stumble, that it's okay to take years to develop your craft. Glass' humility is comforting, too. And of course, there's the assumption that as a creative person, and someone who loves quality storytelling, you will get there. It's not lack of talent; if you just work hard, you too can get where you want to be.

Can I tell you a secret?

This quote frustrates me. I do see all the encouragement. And I'm a big Ira Glass and This American Life fan. But one of the things I personally find most difficult about writing is that most of the time, I like what I write. I'm not talking about rough drafts. But final, finished work, work I've poured over and edited to death--I'm usually proud of it. I can imagine a publisher snatching it up, it getting a gorgeous dust jacket, finding its place on a bookstore shelf. 

Sure, I like to think I have good taste. I'm certainly crazy critical. And I surround myself with books, and inhale stories day in and day out. But sometimes it's hard to see where I fall short with my own work. Time and distance help, as do my incredibly supportive writing friends, who sometimes pull the wool off my eyes just enough that I can see mountains of revision in front of me.

And not to brag, but I know I'm close, too. I've won contests with my writing, praise from published authors, had editors and agents seriously consider my work. But I haven't made it yet, and when I'm not shaking my fist at the heavens or railing against the commercial market (every writer needs a little hubris, right?), I'm usually honest with myself and know my work isn't ready.

But seeing it, for me that's the hardest thing. And not such an easy fix.

Are you a good judge of your own work?

4 comments:

  1. I am definitely not a good judge of my own work! I know what you mean, though. The Glass quote can definitely help push you through discouragement, but once you've pushed past that, you need to know the value of your own work.

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    1. Oh, so glad I'm not alone on this! Thanks, Anna!

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  2. I hear you, Anne. We're both Ira Fans. But I, too, tend to like what I produce. I think it suggests I may not have such elevated taste? ;D

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    1. Thanks, Mirka. It seems taste really can't be judged on one's own work!

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