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Your Work is Always a Work In Progress

If you’re a writer then you know that writing is hard. Writing is hard mainly because of the gap that Ira Glass spoke about here;
“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. 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. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

One consequence of the gap is that you’ll always feel like editing your work. Whenever I go through old posts, it’s hard not to press the “Edit post” button, because after keeping my work in a virtual drawer for so long, I suddenly start reading it as a reader, not a writer.

And The Gap makes me want to edit it again.

And again.

And again.

Which I’ll probably be doing for this post, too. The thing to remember is that at some point you have to press publish. You have to get rid of this illusion of perfection you carry inside your head. You have to send your work out to the world and see the response — or lack thereof.

And then you have to start over.

With an empty empty glaring right at you.

There’s a famous story from Art and Fear that goes like this;
The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality.
His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pound of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot”albeit a perfect one”to get an “A”.

Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work”and learning from their mistakes”the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.

There’s a reason why I post so much. It’s because I believe that I have to get the horrible posts out of my system. It’s just that a lot of times I never know which posts are good and which ones are horrible, so let the market be a judge of that.

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What are your thoughts on the topic? Tweet me @ahechoes to let me know.

Also, check out my fiction short story collection, “All Bleeding Stops and Other Short Stories from the Kenyan Coast” and subscribe to the newsletter here; 
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Published inCreativityPersonal DevelopmentProductivity
  • Hanan

    I am fighting perfectionism in painting as well. I like to think that a painting has its own mind, and I have to let it speak for itself, but that’s easier said than done. If I try too hard to bring a painting closer to my preconception of it, it’ll probably break. I ruined several good paintings by overworking them. Unlike writing, though, the damage is irreversible, but I think there is a universal value in letting a creative work take you places, even if you hate it at first.

    • Also creative work is good for psychological reasons. Personally whether it’s painting or writing, it just makes me happy…regardless of what kind of day I’ve had. Thanks for always commenting!