Sell your Soul: You suck at first and that’s okay

October 25, 2016

Ira Glass has one of my favorite quotes of all time. I thought about butchering it through paraphrase, but instead I will provide it here in its entirety, even though it’s long. It’s just that awesome.

“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 a while. It’s normal to take a while. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

This is a very Ira Glass way of saying you suck when you start out, but you shouldn’t let it stop you. The sucking is what stops lots of talented artists from continuing on to greatness. Most people will try something for a while, get bummed out that their work is crappy, and just give up. What they put on the page just isn’t what they see in their mind’s eye.

I have a secret for you.

I’m an excellent writer and I know tons of amazing creatives, yet none of us can get on the page what we see in our mind’s eye either. All we can do is get as close as possible.

The flat out honest truth is that you aren’t very good when you begin and that’s okay. Nobody is very good when they start out. Stephen King, Picasso, and Beethoven sucked when they first sat down to fulfill their greatness. Some people advance quicker than others, but we all start out sucking. It’s only through practice and determination that we become great.

It’s important not to compare yourself to other artists who are further ahead on their journey than you. You don’t see the thousands of hours it took them to master their craft. All you see is the end result.

If you want to feel better about your own art, go and google your favorite artist and check out some of their first work. I’m not talking about first published work. I’m talking about the first work they ever posted online. Most of them forget about the first art they posted and never take it down. There are also whole threads on Twitter and Reddit where artists show their first works and how they’ve improved.

It’s startling how crappy your favorite artist was even a few years before they broke into the mainstream.

They sucked too, just like everybody does at first, but that didn’t stop them. They kept going. They completed projects. They finished things. They learned. They improved. And then they broke through. In that order.


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