The Gap

My Aunt Louise could not swim. At all. She was afraid fo the water. We used to joke that she was scared of deep dishwater. Ten-year-old me loved the water and would grab any excuse to be at the beach. Some things, I guess, don’t change.

So it baffled me that she couldn’t swim.

“My mom was afraid of the water, and forbade me to go near the water until I learned how to swim. It’s hard to learn to swim if you are not allowed in the water.”

I can see that it would be. Most things, like swimming, require you to be not good at them first.

I hate not being good at things. Ira Glass has a famous interview where he talks about the gap we experience when we begin to learn a new skill. There is how we envision it in our head and how it actually goes. The gap between those two is what we have to overcome.

Nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish somebody had told this to me — is that all of us who do creative work … we get into it because we have good taste. But it’s like there’s a gap, that for the first couple years that you’re making stuff, what you’re making isn’t so good, OK? It’s not that great. It’s really not that great. It’s trying to be good, it has ambition to be good, but it’s not quite that good. But your taste — the thing that got you into the game — your taste is still killer, and your taste is good enough that you can tell that what you’re making is kind of a disappointment to you, you know what I mean?

A lot of people never get past that phase. A lot of people at that point, they quit. And the thing I would just like say to you with all my heart is that most everybody I know who does interesting creative work, they went through a phase of years where they had really good taste and they could tell what they were making wasn’t as good as they wanted it to be — they knew it fell short, it didn’t have the special thing that we wanted it to have.

And the thing I would say to you is everybody goes through that. And for you to go through it, if you’re going through it right now, if you’re just getting out of that phase — you gotta know it’s totally normal.

And the most important possible thing you can do is do a lot of work — do a huge volume of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week, or every month, you know you’re going to finish one story. Because it’s only by actually going through a volume of work that you are actually going to catch up and close that gap. And the work you’re making will be as good as your ambitions. It takes a while, it’s gonna take you a while — it’s normal to take a while. And you just have to fight your way through that, okay?

I hate that part – the fighting your way through the suck. And yet, I don’t think there is any shortcut. You must do a lot of bad work before making good work. I wrote hundreds and hundreds of horrible, embarrassing blog posts before I ever wrote anything I was proud of. My first sermon was supposed to be 15 minutes long – it lasted 4 minutes, and honestly, I sorta stretched that last minute out.

Glass mentions that some people get intimidated by the gap between their taste and their reality and quit. And that’s tragic. But equally tragic is the people who do not recognize the gap. Who write mediocre things and think it’s perfect. Who don’t put in the hours because they think their game is already good.

So thank God for recognizing it’s not there yet.

The web today prioritizes video. Kids these days grew up with a video camera in their pockets. It’s their first language. But it isn’t the first language for me. I’m a writerm, both by training and inclination. But I try to not get too caught up in the medium – at the end of the day, the message and it being heard is what matters to me.

So, I decided to learn video storytelling. But first, I need to understand the platforms. So, I’m shooting a short (less than 90 seconds) video daily and posting it to Instagram, which then cross-posts to Facebook. I’m also uploading them directly to TikTok and YouTube, so I understand the workflows there.

None of it is very good. But I’m taking some comfort in that at least I recognize that it sucks.