How to Fill “THE GAP” in Your Creative Work.

Ira Glass marvelously captured “the gap” that exists in creative work - here’s how to take it a step further.

First things first - if you’ve never seen this video, watch it now. If you’ve seen it before, watch it again.

Ira, and the people that created this video, beautifully capture and explain the most elusive, frustrating, and inspiring aspects of early creative work.

To summarize:

  1. You get into creative work because you have good taste.
  2. At first, your work does not match your taste. This is “THE GAP”. It’s frustrating, and is where most people quit.
  3. The only way to fill in the gap between your work, and the work you admire, is to consistently do a lot of work over a long period of time.

Let’s look at that last point.

Yes, you have to pump out a ton of work to fill in that gap - no shortcuts there. However, describing a five year period of inherently frustrating work is one thing - sitting down to actually do the work on a day to day basis is something entirely different.

Let’s get down and dirty.

Take that five years of work, and zoom into a single day - better yet, a single hour - of you, alone at your craft, trying to fill that gap. You’re up against resistance and very real frustration. You aren’t thinking about this abstract creative gap that you’re filling - you are looking at the work you admire next to your own, and quietly muttering “this is shit” to yourself.

At this point, your old friend Good Taste (the guy who got you into this mess), has turned on you, and is now your main source of frustration.

Here’s how not to quit.

Motivation, passion, and sheer stubbornness will get you part of the way - but I believe there is a more practical mindset that can get you over this.

Separate action and reflection.

In his book Do The Work, author Steven Pressfield captures this distinction perfectly.

“In writing, ‘action’ means putting words on paper.
‘Reflection’ means evaluating what we have on paper.
Go light on reflection, and heavy on action.
Spew. Let ‘er rip. Launch into the void and soar wherever the wind takes you.”

Seriously though, let’er fuckin’ rip.

Ira says to do a lot of work, not a lot of good work. The good stuff is a result of just doing.

If you’re stuck writing a book, start typing the first thing that comes to your mind. If you’re designing an app, make 50 canvases and fill them with shapes and colors.

Do not allow yourself to evaluate, compare, or reflect on the work you are producing - not now at least. It might feel strange at first, but if you can really separate action and reflection, you will eventually feel extremely liberated, and replenished of your creative juices.

Having good taste in creative work is a gift, and an amazing source of inspiration. Constantly evaluating and comparing your work to others is a choice, and a sure source of frustration.

Let’s talk about rap battles.

Two rappers step on stage - each gets a turn to win over the audience (and thereby, win the battle) with a quick verse. The tried-and-true strategy to win a rap battle is to humiliate your opponent by verbally attacking them or exposing embarrassing facts about their personal history (I think rhyming on-beat is even secondary to this.)

NSFW unless you work at The Source.

In this climax scene of 8 Mile, B-Rabbit (Eminem) is forced to go first in a battle against Papa Doc - another local rapper who has uncovered plenty of “dirt” on B-Rabbit over the course of the movie. Instead of trying to humiliate his opponent, B-Rabbit turns the spotlight on himself, and exposes all the attacks that could be used against him (he’s broke, lives in a trailer park, etc). He owns his flaws, leaving Papa Doc with no ammo to use against him, and unable to respond.

Stay with me here.

Something like this happens when you take some time to just work, free of reflection or judgement. You’re the B-Rabbit of your craft - taking full ownership of your position as a beginner.

You already know your work doesn’t measure up to the stuff you admire. If you’re creating something private, you just told your only critic - your judgmental self - that you 1) know it’s not great, but 2) don’t give a shit because it’s getting better. If you have outside critics, you just told them the same thing.

Either way, you took the ammo out of the judgement gun and used it to your advantage. Now your position as a beginner is an excuse to start having some fun.

What’s next?

You can’t be all action and no reflection all the time. Eventually, you have to look at your work with a critical eye to tweak, improve, and iron out the details.

But if you took action first, you will simply have a larger and more diverse body of work to look at when you try to refine your creation. You will feel inspired to bring half-baked work to life, knowing that they are exactly that - rough drafts, created by a beginner, that were made for the sole purpose of being built upon and improved.

You no longer have to struggle to stay afloat in the competing currents of action and reflection. Try your best to ride one at a time, and THE GAP will begin to narrow more quickly than you ever anticipated.

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