Monday, March 19, 2012

Ira Sez

by Shannon Baker

I read something recently and just had to share it. It is a quote from Ira Glass. He’s the interesting and wildly successful guy who does “This American Life” on NPR. If you’ve ever listened to his show, you know he's got a unique voice, sort of high pitched and thoughtful, with a bit of staccato rhythm. I can hear him say these words:

“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

Did I mention he’s wildly successful? And yet, he admits that he, like the rest of us, was riddled with doubts. He didn’t start off being great. He worked at it. Worked really hard.

I find this encouraging and inspirational and disappointing all at the same time. It means I can’t quit. I’m not as good as my hero-writers and suspect I’ll never rise to their level. I’d like to settle for “good enough.”

Mr. Glass’s quote tells me I can never stop trying to be a better writer. That’s daunting. But he also tells me that hard work will pay off. I will improve over time. And so, thank you, Mr. Glass for giving me the proverbial homework for the rest of my life.

How about you? Does Ira Glass’s quote inspire or exhaust you?


Robin Allen said...

I remember hearing that piece, and thought, "That's exactly what it is." I'm encouraged because I'm always becoming a better writer, but also frustrated because I want to be good NOW.

Deborah Sharp said...

It's so danged hard to be a good writer. Even those writers who make it LOOK effortless are working really hard. What he says about the volume of work is true, too. Good post, Shannon

Vicki Doudera said...

Interesting! I love Ira Glass' work, and I'll take his advice as inspiring. At least TODAY that is how I feel!

Shannon Baker said...

Thanks, ladies. Isn't Ira Glass great? I'd never seen him before and as I looked for a picture for this blog, I was surprised that he didn't look like I thought he would. Sort of like going to a movie of a much-loved book. They never look the same on screen as in my head.

Unknown said...

Inspire or exhaust? Both! And you and Mr. Glass have just inspired my next blog entry (the one I'm proofreading will have to wait!).

Thanks for posting this - I remember hearing this on the radio, and am happy to see it again in print. And how inspiring to know that even though writing is in many ways a solitary pursuit, we really do have company and support. Thanks, writer friends!

Linda Hull said...

Wow. Thank you for this. I needed it more than you could imagine today.

Kathleen Ernst said...

Excellent advice. When I speak to kids I always tell them that I'm still practicing, still working to become a better writer.