A short essay on motivation and navigating the many waves in creative life.
I've found myself thinking of waves lately. Calm waves, yes, but also thrashing ones. In moments of joy, I think of lapping waves on a blistering hot day on a beach like New Smyrna. But in the dark of night, I fight rip tides.
Whenever I'm feeling lost or overwhelmed, I have one dream on repeat. It changes, morphs like any dream, but still it repeats. In it, I'm treading water in the middle of a hurricane, a strong one that pelts those heavy raindrops that feel wetter and heavier. You know the ones. I'm swimming toward something – sometimes a house on stilts, sometimes a boat – but I can't make it. I'm supposed to be saving someone too, but I can't. Right when I'm about to give into the waves, I wake up. And I'm relieved. But I never feel resolved.
I feel like that now – relieved, but without resolve. I've managed to pull myself out of a creative rut, a lull, a gray space that was steadily darkening like the water and sky does in that hurricane dream.
With a little patience with myself and a lot of love from others, I made my way back to shore. I am here now, shivering but warm, sitting on the sand. Not quite sure what happened, not sure what's next, but safe. Warm. Once more.
So, acknowledging this space I'm in now, I thought I'd share a long quote from Ira Glass that I always read when I find myself caught, breathless and confused, between waves. Perhaps it will help you now, or later, if you ever feel the same.
“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. ...
"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. ... 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. ...
I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take a while. It’s normal to take a while. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”
I have some plans in the works for this newsletter and other ideas. Thanks for sticking around and supporting me – it means more than you now. Here's to riding out the waves, even – and especially – the ones in a storm. As the song goes:
At the end of a storm
There's a golden sky
And the sweet silver song of a lark
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