Closing the Gap

Four or five years ago, Ira Glass, host and producer of the radio and television show This American Life, gave a series of talks about storytelling.  David Shiyang Liu made a cool video using part of the original soundtrack two years ago.  Janet Reid recently posted the video on her blog.

And I swiped it:

I’m not entirely sure about the quality of my personal taste, but I do feel better about my first two drawer novels.

Like any other art, writing takes practice.  This is something that non-writers don’t seem to get.

Everyone knows that dancers  and musicians practice for insane amounts of time, and even visual artists are allowed to make models or have sketchbooks or paint practice canvases or run up samples without anyone wondering why.

If a writer’s story or book doesn’t snag an agent’s interest or get accepted for publication, though, then more often than not, the assumption is that the writer simply doesn’t have enough talent  and that the time that it took to get all those words down and edit them—and rearrange them and edit them and delete them and edit them and rewrite them and edit them— and polish them and send ’em out five ten twenty fifty multiple times . . . was all wasted.

The worst part, is that we tend to assume this about ourselves.

Why do we do this?

Why aren’t we allowed to practice?  Why are shitty first drafts allowed, but not craptastic first or second or even third novels?

What’s the rush?

No words are wasted, even the ones we delete because they are the suckiest words in the suckiest order that words have ever been placed since the dawn of making marks on a flat surface and if anyone ever found out we’d done anything so sucky, our lives would, for want of a better word, suck.

Because even after those words are gone—don’t forget to run the shredder, clear your clipboard, empty your recycle bin and check for keystroke software, just to make sure—we know now that they don’t express what we wanted them to, in they way we needed them to do it.

And that gets us closer to finding the words that do, more than anything else will.

We never go back to square one.  Ever.  Not even if our desk drawers are so full of sucky novels they’ve overflowed and we have to write at the kitchen table.

We aren’t wasting our time.  We aren’t wasting our lives.

We’re practicing.

And, slowly—sometimes really #$%!ing slowly—we’re closing the gap.

London underground, mark "Mind the gap".

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6 thoughts on “Closing the Gap

  1. YES! We never do go back to square one, and YES it takes practice. I don’t know where the assumptions come from or why we’re so hard on ourselves, but it’s unhelpful and discouraging to be in such a rush. I’m bookmarking this page for future reference.

    XO

  2. Oh Sarah. Thank you. It’s so easy to forget. You know, I think the hardest part is not knowing if you’re ever going to be any good, if anyone will care, and when that strikes, that crisis of faith, it all seems a waste of valuable time. But then to think of it as practice, as one step closer to that million word mark, well then, yes it does matter. I still wish I had a crystal ball to just know, you know?

    • I know.

      I think—and I’m just guessing here—that we need to care, first. And remember that not everyone will care, but the important people always have.

      We are not wasting our time. We are filling it with good stuff.

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