Sunday, August 12, 2012

Ira Glass on Creativity and a Card

I found this on a blog called The Writer Underground, via a Facebook link by Michelle Mathey. Thanks to Michelle for the link and to The Writer Underground for a wonderful blog.

“What nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish someone had told this to me . . . is that 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, and 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.”

Glass is speaking about producing radio, of course, but as the Writer Underground states (and many of his/her readers add in the comments as well), these words apply to any creative endeavor: writing, rubber stamping, any art form at all, teaching, graphic design, advertising, engineering, theoretical physics and any of the basic sciences, gardening, home decorating, fashion, painting your nails. Whatever you want to do well, you do better with practice and can become really good with taste.

There is one distinction I would like to make, however, as Glass's words relate to hobbies as opposed to careers.

You don't need taste to have fun and enjoy the creative process. Whatever you make that makes you happy is good enough.

What Glass addresses is public creativity, the kind that seeks to participate in public discourse. If you want to make a living doing something, you have to plug into the public discourse on the subject. You need to speak the language, learn all the rules (and there are always lots of rules) so you can have good judgment in breaking them, and actively seek to nudge the discourse in new ways that make other people say, "I wish I'd thought of that!"

Hobbies don't need to have this level of ambition to be fun and worthwhile, but if you want to make prettier stuff, stuff that makes your soul happy, you can work on your skills to get there. I find Ira's words relevant to my life as a writer on one level (the public discourse level) and another level as a hobby stamper (the private satisfaction level). Writing comes naturally to me and always has; I work on it constantly, but it's so much fun that it doesn't feel like work...more like a compulsion.

Stamping does not come naturally. For years I experienced that level of disappointment Ira talks about with most of what I made, and I worked hard to close the gap between my design ability and my taste.

Now, however, I've tipped the scale with all that hard work. Most of what I make makes me pretty happy, regardless of my objective opinion about it. I still totally blow it every now and then, like Friday when I tried to make a hot-air balloon card for the OLW100. Yikes. Generally, I see that what I make is good enough, and occasionally I hit a metaphorical home run. But it's all a learning curve, and frankly, I hope I never get it all figured out.

Because then it would be boring and I'd quit.

If you're in that disappointing place where your skill does not meet your taste in this wonderful hobby, take heart from what Ira says. Work hard making stuff. You'll get there eventually.

Because if I can do it, anyone can!

Five years ago, I could not have made this card. Now I can. Five years from now, I might see a dozen things on this card I could have done differently to make it better. But for now, it makes me happy because 1) it was inspired by an article in PaperCrafts about using natural fibers/fabric on cards (this is cheese cloth I picked up at the grocery store), 2)  it has two visual triangles (pearls and sand dollars), and 3) it's light and clean and simple.

Life is good, and so is creativity. 

So live life and create stuff.

Sounds like a great recipe for happiness to me.

stamps: Papertrey A Day at the Beach
ink: SU sahara sand
paper: PTI white, SU sahara sand
accessories: cheese cloth, half-pearls, glue stick, dimensionals, Martha Stewart sand dollar punch, 7/8" circle punch


  1. And THAT, my dear, is why I stop by here every time I see you have a new post.

    Life IS good.

  2. Life IS good, indeed. I love your beautiful card-so light and airy.
    Yesterday at the library we had a card class for the neighborhood kids. One family of kids decided to make cards for their Mom's birthday-a beautiful thing in itself-especially in a neighborhood when're buying cards is not always in the budget. They took the sample cards that had been posted for them to look at it and just ran with it!
    And I, lucky lady, got to make 10 quick cards in an hour to show them. 8 years ago, starting out, that would not have been possible! Most fun I have had at work in years! Indeed, life iS good!

  3. i just love this card!!! the martha stewart sand dollar punch is now calling my name, i liked it before, but always talked myself out of it. you are such an inspiraton.

  4. What I've learned for myself is that I have to enjoy the process and the materials, not just the results. With drawing and card making, I enjoy all the little tasks and actions that go into it. Same with knitting. But not so much with sewing, writing, or cooking. Thanks for your post and beautiful card today!

  5. Thanks, Susan, for those wonderful and encouraging words. I really needed a boost! Love your card, by the way :)

  6. Great post. Loved the encouragement.
    The use of such simple things like cheesecloth is so inspiring. Just goes to show that inspiration can come in many different forms and textures.

  7. I love it when someone articulates what we probably knew deep down (but didn't know we knew), and we just go "that's so true!". I cringe when I think of my first attempts at cardmaking (which I thought were good - and still cringe at some of the stuff I do now, but at least I'm cringing in real time). Keep on educating us!

    I love the card. I don't think I've seen a purer beach card. The pearls look like sun-kissed drops of water caught in the netting.

  8. Love the fiber you used. It's great to be able to pick up "supplies" at the grocery store and turn out such a pretty card. Whether or not my card turns out the way I had hoped I thoroughly enjoy the process. Life is good.

  9. Susan, what a wonderful column! Glass is so well-spoken. Most of us have felt that way. We didn't all start out to be killer card makers (and I'm still not). But my initial reluctance to believe I could make something wonderful is gone. 99% of what I do wouldn't be picked for publication, but every once in a while I come up with something that makes my heart sing! And I'm even happy with that other 99%. Occasionally I make a real stinker even I can't appreciate, and that goes into the circular file. But that's seldom, and I still learn from it. Oh your card is lovely! So clean and white and beachy and beautiful. You are so creative, and we all appreciate you!

  10. Words for thought this morning! I will have to come back to make a comment later, as I feel I need to mull the "YES, THIS is EXACTLY it" and the "how do I apply this to my own little world right now?".

    I really love the texture and lightness of your card this morning!

  11. Beautiful card, Susan, and brilliant creativity!! The cheesecloth reminds me of fish net, as I'm sure you intended. How you managed to make it still look clean and airy with all that stuff on it is what I aspire to. After over ten years at this, I still need practice, practice, pratice.

    But that's okay, that's the fun part. Whether in writing or in art, the muse "takes over" and the artist and writer are primarily along for the ride. We may not always love the destination, but it's still a cool process. As is the fact that you can simply get back on the ride and go to a new creative destination.

    I'm sure your blog will positively impact creators who are stymied, as we all are now and then. You are generous with your talent and your words of wisdom.

  12. AMEN! Wonderful post and card Susan. You are our personal cheerleader. ;)

  13. just beautiful! I pinned this to SCS's CAS board!

  14. Susan, What a wonderful post and so very thought provoking. Stunning card!


Thank you so much for taking time to comment!