Monday, October 24, 2011

Lifelong Homework

I read something the other day and I just had to share it. I picked this up from a Desert Sleuths’ newsletter and that writer picked it up 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 can hear him speak 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.”

I really liked school and was a pretty good student. I knew exactly what was expected to get the A and when I’d accomplished that, I couldn’t go any higher. (This was in ancient times before weighted grades and advance placement.) I knew when I could quit working.

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?


  1. Inspires because my 25-year overnight story--which I can't yet tell--doesn't feel so wasteful and because I tear my hair out trying to make it right, so I know I'm close. - Inkpot

  2. Thank s for your positive influence and reminder that "we are all in this alone" Lily Tomlin (yet together in our pain and growth. Nancy Brumley