For people who do not suffer from perfectionist tendencies, it can be hard to understand the crippling feeling a student feels when their work doesn’t match their expectations.
Ira Glass, who you may know from This American Life, has an incredible talk that, to me, gets right at the heart of this.
Video by David Shiyang Liu
“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.”
Great line: your taste is why your work disappoints you.
Ira Glass continues…
“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 it’s 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 through.” (via Good Reads)
I love the word “taste” in this situation. I think it is a valuable tool for helping students, parents, and teachers to understand this struggle. Students’ beginner-level work simply cannot match their sophisticated taste. But, given time and practice, that beginner ability will improve and eventually catch up to their taste.
Glass’ focus on finishing small things frequently echoes my own experience writing here at Byrdseed. Lots of small practice, not one giant attempt. Look for many chances to improve that beginner’s ability. Make little bets. Don’t bet the house.