Why are beginnings so hard?

Like tiny tendrils of grass unfurling after a rain, like a timid beak that peeks through the surface of an eggshell, like the slightest breeze that signals the start of summer — I am beginning.

While I’m not beginning to become somebody’s perfectly manicured lawn, a honking, crumb-begging goose, nor a howling gale that blows dust into everyone’s eyes, I am beginning to write. Online.

A few years ago, the mere thought of it would have petrified me. After all, the Internet is a terrifying place, the tenth circle of hell for personal content creators, where leering eyes tear apart every note, syllable, and pixel of your creations. You only needed to go to Youtube comments to witness levels of torment even Satan would be horrified by.

For example, in one of the most exquisite renditions of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade by the Vienna Philharmonic, the keen-eyed citizens of the World Wide Web still managed to find fault.

Gergiev, the conductor, was indeed sweaty and rumpled by minute 2. However, most of us would consider it a testament to his passion, not his inability to iron his clothes.

And perhaps the worst of all..

Horrific, isn’t it? You can be the principal conductor of world-renowned symphonies in St. Petersburg, London, and Munich, and still be ridiculed by some stranger sitting behind their computer screen, chuckling to themselves over their brilliant discovery of the universal insanity, drunkenness, and perversion of orchestra conductors. Nobody is safe on the Internet.

So why am I here?

There is a certain fear of judgement, of creating content that is below my own ridiculously high standards, that has been holding me back for years. It’s disappointing and frustrating when you cannot share to the world something you created simply because you are not proud of it yet.

Last night, however, I attended a talk by Jad Abumrad, the creator and host of the insanely popular podcast RadioLab, and he introduced a quote by Ira Glass that struck me immediately as the essence of every curdled, wretched inhibition that has weighed me down for so long.

It’s called “The Gap.”

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… 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... 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.

To boil down this beautiful idea like a wet rag of spinach and plop it out in my own words:

I am going to suck.

My writing will be a perpetual embarrassment to me. My grammar, sentence structure, flow, and penchant for horrifically complex metaphors will continuously haunt me in life. Every morning when I brush my teeth and every night when I turn over onto my left side for the fourteenth time that hour, I will be reminded of the gap between my literary aspirations and my woefully inadequate work.

But that won’t stop me.

I will continue to write online, despite the anonymous naysayers and my self-imposed censorship on quality, until that stubborn, infuriating gap between my writing and my aspirations is completely and irrevocably filled in.

It may take months, years, or even decades for that to happen.

All that matters right now is that I’m beginning.


The Syzygy is a blog run by the infinitely curious (but finitely mortal) Renee Cai. It is an ongoing writing experiment that explores everything from the minuscule wonders of daily life to the broad wonderings of a lifetime. If you like what you’ve read, please recommend and share this story with others and follow The Syzygy for more updates!

Contact Renee with comments, questions, or book recommendations at reneesyzygy@gmail.com or reneecai@stanford.edu.

syzygy: n. 
1. the alignment of two or more celestial bodies (e.g. a lunar eclipse)
2. the perfect word for hangman (e.g. you will always win the game)