Photo Credit: film still Amadeur (1984)
One of my 1:1 creative coaching clients is a published author with a bunch of books under her belt. She told me recently that when she revisits her first couple of novels they make her wince, eroding her confidence as a writer. This stroll down memory lane results in her questioning her abilities. Hello, writer’s block.
Reality check: Unless you’re Mozart or Prince, the rest of us have to do things in order to get better at doing those things. We don’t come tumbling out of the womb being the G.O.A.T. We need practice.
Case in point, Salman Rushdie. Titan. Knighted for his services to literature and awarded the prestigious Booker Prize - but not for his first novel.
Rushdie himself refers to his debut book, Grimus, as “justifiably obscure.” When it was released, it was generally ignored by both the public and literary critics. Good thing he didn’t stop there.
Beginner’s luck is more likely to be a bunch of beginner’s awkward attempts. It’s what Ira Glass calls the taste gap. Just because you have good taste doesn’t mean your abilities have caught up. I’ve returned to this quote from Glass, host and producer of NPR’s This American Life, again and again:
"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 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..”
Back to our friend Salman. Before he was a celebrated author, Rushdie worked as a copywriter for ad agency Ogilvy & Mather where he came up with such winning slogans as "irresistibubble" for Aero and "Naughty but Nice" for cream cakes. Who’s cringing now?
But it was while he was dreaming up these dishy taglines that he penned his second novel, literary masterpiece Midnight’s Children, which was (and still is) a whiz-bang global success.
So my friend, LOVE. YOUR. DRAFTS. Don’t bail just because your output isn’t great yet. Realistically, you might suck at this thing you love for a while, which can be really frustrating. But if you stick with it, eventually you’ll be less bad…then pretty good. And somewhere along the way you might just iterate your way to greatness.
If you need some support along the way, I’m here to help.
And if a 1:1 session is out of reach for you due to financial hardship, I invite you to give the AllSwell Assistance program a shout. You don’t need to go this route alone.