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To Get To Good, You’ve Always Got To Accept Being Bad First

Your first attempt at writing a song will get you pretty bad results, guaranteed.

Reading a draft of your non-fiction piece: You’ll probably hate it.

Proofing your YA short story – you’ll spot a ton of punctuation, grammatical, and spelling errors that weren’t there in the first place.

Is Ableton Live / Pages / Wordstar screwing you over?

You can blame yourself for not being a better songwriter, a more talented author, or a more eagle-eyed editor (alliterations are my jam), but you’ll never instantly get more skilled just because you’re making yourself feel horrible.

In fact, beating yourself up over it just adds to the frustration and anxiety you’re already feeling. If you feel this way, here’s the single most important secret every creative should know: All work is iterative and incremental.

You are never good straight away. It may take you weeks, months, and even years to get to good, and when you’ve got to that point you’ll probably spend an even longer time getting to “better.”

That’s just the nature of creative work – the songwriting process will be incrementally more efficient than the last. To get to the final draft of your story, you have to go through several iterations of your first draft, each one tighter and tidier than the one before it.

The Creative Gap

Ira Glass Award-winning radio host Ira Glass is my favourite here, and I’ll just quote him verbatim:

“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 of 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.”

He’s got a video talking about this that I’ve embedded below (you can check out the article on 99u), and the most assuring thing is when he plays a clip of a news story about Mexican corn and tomatoes that he wrote and voiced.

To say that it was clunky is an understatement: I couldn’t understand what it was all about because it was plagued with jargon. Here’s what’s interesting – that particular story was executed when he was eight years into broadcasting as a 27-year-old.

Here’s someone who’s a staple of American public radio and whose shows have won Peabody Awards telling you that reaching a point where you’ll consider your work to be satisfactory based on your standards will be far off. For now, you’re just going to have to “suck” to get better.

And that’s the crux of this entry – if you stop your creative work because you think it’s bad, you’ll never get to the point where you’re making music, stories, and art that you think is good, and the only way to reach that is to keep on creating, making tiny improvements to your style, technique, and voice as you go.

All creative work is incremental and iterative – even if a masterpiece had a minor flaw invisible to the naked eye, I think the beauty’s behind all the hoops you had to jump through to even be able to commit a marginal error at such a high level.

Check out the entire interview with Ira Glass below

DJ Joey Santos

I'm a DJ/producer, and the Assistant Editor over at Digital DJ Tips, the world's largest online community for digital DJs. I write mostly about music, bands, and stuff that happens to me in this blog.

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