Writers become writers because they read something that made them want to pick up a pen or open a laptop and do the same thing. They read some piece of literature that inspired.
Did that happen to you? Maybe when you were young? Maybe last week?
You opened a book and thought: This novel makes me want to tell a story, too, with characters as vibrant as these and scenes just as stunning.
Or you clicked through to an online magazine and sighed: This essay gets me thinking in new directions. I want to explore things at this level, too. I want to help readers read, think, learn, and question.
Or you turned the page of a literary journal and sank into the stanzas of a new poem: It has everything I love in it. I, too, want to work with images and metaphor, rhythm and rhyme.
So you go to your computer ready to try your hand at the craft. You can’t wait—your mind is brimming with your own ideas and phrases.
You open a new document and you start writing, and 500 or a thousand words later, you stop. You look out the window for a minute, maybe go to the kitchen and get a sandwich, make some tea, then you come back to the screen and read what you just wrote.
You finish reading and see that cursor at the end of your last line, blinking, like a wicked wink, mocking you, as if to say, What were you thinking? You can’t produce at that level and you never will.
And then, next time you read something in a magazine or at a website you admire, or you open a book or that literary journal, and ponder the poem or essay or novel…instead of inspiring you, it intimidates, and you think, Man, my work will never sound like this. I mean, I want it to. But I tried. And it doesn’t sound like that. Not at all.
And you start to question: Should I keep at this? Or am I doomed to mediocrity?
Might as well slam that laptop shut. Leave the real writing to the experts, the ones who’ve been at this game longer than I have and have the real training—the ones who have arrived.
Yeah. What were you thinking?
Shut it down. Give it up. Walk away.
Why do we let ourselves go down line of thinking? We have to stop it long before it gets to that point.
Because you know what? Your initial inspiration—those experts, the ones who have been at this game longer than you? The ones who have “arrived”?
First of all, they probably have been at it longer than you. You never saw their early work when they were first starting out. You didn’t see draft one of novel one that sits in a desk drawer or on a floppy disk gathering dust in a closet somewhere.
And you know what else? Most of them have probably had these same thoughts. Maybe 20 years ago, maybe ten. Maybe the last time they battled these thoughts was an hour ago.
They read other writers whose work both inspired and intimidated. But they pushed past those voices or shut them down—or they plugged their ears and refused to listen.
They knew that to learn how to write, they had to write. So they kept writing. They kept making their art. They kept learning and growing and improving and trying.
They pushed through it and wrote.
Have you seen that Ira Glass video? Someone took a clip from a longer interview and made into a video. In it, Ira Glass talked about filling the gap. If you haven’t seen it, take a minute to watch it below.
I’ll touch on a couple of his main ideas here, but you’ll enjoy hearing Ira Glass himself say this in his own words. He was talking about how we start out making our art and see this big gap between the kind of art we’re making, and the kind of art that drew us into it, that inspired us to try it in the first place.
He says when you see that gap, don’t stop. Don’t give up. Don’t be disappointed. What you have to do is fill that gap.
You catch up and close the gap between the not-so-great art you’re creating and the kind of work you want to make by creating a volume of work. You create lots and lots of the thing you want to improve in. And this goes for anything from oil paintings and radio programs to poems, headlines, essays, blog posts, and books.
It doesn’t matter when you’ve jumped into this world of writing. Wherever you’re at in life, you’ve got to make art to learn how to make art. You learn how to write a book, by writing a book.
Quiet those voices tempting you to close the laptop and take up Candy Crush.
Resist the Resistance, to borrow a term from Steven Pressfield.
Ira Glass advises: put yourself on a deadline and create something. Start to fill that gap.
Yes. Put yourself on a deadline this week and create something. And finish it. Start to fill that gap.
That’s how you start your training. That’s how you improve. That’s how you quiet the voices and push through the Resistance. That’s how you learn what it means to commit, to create.
One day, you will look back and see that with grit and determination—with persistence and practice—you did it. You filled that gap.
And you’ll step away from the laptop and come back after you eat that sandwich or sip some tea and you’ll read your 500 or thousand words, and you’ll realize the work you’re creating is every bit as satisfying and gratifying as the work that got you into this in the first place.
You learned how to write, by writing.
Fill the gap, friend. Start today.
Click on the podcast player above or use subscription options below to listen to the full episode.
- #21: One Thing Every Writer Needs to Succeed
- Excerpt from Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art
- Ira Glass video
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Featured image by Isabelle Kroeker.
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