Writing

The terrifying gap between what’s in your head and what comes out on paper

So, I have found my calling.

(Hurrah!)

I am going to be a children’s writer!

(Tra-la-la)

Now I just need to sit down and finish writing my book.

(Uh-oh. Can’t I sit here and daydream about seeing my words in print?)

No.

(Can’t I do some research and think about my characters and their names and stuff?)

Well yes, you can for a while, but you’re still going to have to sit down and write the book.

(Right. You know, that fridge looks like it could do with a serious clean…)

This is my problem. I am 5 chapters into my children’s book and I’m struggling to glue my bum to the seat more than once a week. Why? Because what is in my head, and what actually comes out when I sit at the computer, are two completely different species of animal. And I will do anything to avoid facing this shattering disappointment, including cleaning the fridge, unloading the dishwasher, and arranging my books in height order on my bookshelf (they really do look neater that way).

The confusing thing about all this is that whenever I manage to overcome my procrastination and work on my book for a few minutes, or even hours (rare), the clouds part, angels sing and I walk about for the rest of the day feeling completely, utterly, totally, down-to-my-toenails DIFFERENT.

Like every cell in my body has woken up, downed a can of Red Bull and done a Can-Can.

Wow.

Surely I’d want to experience this feeling as often as possible (as opposed to once a week when I’ve had a glass of wine to fortify my nerves)?

If you’re going through the same torturous process, please read the quote below which I came across yesterday. The comforting news is that this disappointment is normal. Yup, NORMAL. In fact, it means we’re bang on course. The trick is to keep going long enough to close the gap. You’ll see what I mean in a moment…

“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 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.”

Ira Glass

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7 thoughts on “The terrifying gap between what’s in your head and what comes out on paper

  1. Yes, all too normal, that disappointment! Across loads of creative field, I imagine. As the late great musician John Hartford said, it’s “trying to teach my hands to do what I hear in my head.”

    But you know, the other thing is it’s not as bad as you think! Let someone else see it, from another perspective, someone who hasn’t got the thing in your head to compare it with. It just might be brilliant!

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  2. That Ira Glass! I want to have him as my best friend!

    I know the writing can, at times, feel disappointing but each time you try something that fails you refine your skills and get better at avoiding creative pot holes. I’m an experienced enough writer to know that. My trouble is more in having too-small ideas. Such is my lot in life!

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    1. True. I think I’m so new to this writing a book malarkey that I pay too much attention to the pot holes instead of realising it’s just par for the course! When I read Ira’s quote, I was instantly relieved and inspired again. Cheers Ira!

      Like

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