The taste gap

“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.”

–Ira Glass of PRI’s This American Life

Now that NaNo is over I am back to editing Curve of the Corridor, aka Space Crazies: The Recrazening. It’s slow going. All my editing is slow going–possibly because either I am terrible at it or because I am very thorough moving from Draft 0 to Draft 1 or a combo of the two–but Space Crazies is particularly slow going and I hate it. A lot of it needs to get rewritten at the line-level, there is so much telling instead of showing, and so, so many instances of the words “just a bit”. ARGH.

I wrote it for my first NaNo in 2010. I had no inclinations towards professional writing; I was competing a) to get back into writing after dribbling and drabbing through my 20s and b) to get my mind off a bad break-up a month or so earlier. So I picked a story idea I’d been nibbling at since my college days and I jumped in with my boots on, not caring about whether the end result would be worth reading. It was my first time writing fiction with daily deadlines or indeed any sort of deadline at all.

And it shows.

But I realized last week, while forcing myself to do pomodoro after pomodoro (I even made myself a graph of pages edited vs. pages left to go because I need visual encouragement) that part of the reason it needs so much work done is because I wrote it seven years ago. (I mean, duh, right? Do the math, Biku.) But I’d become used to thinking about it in terms of when I wrote the ending, which was only two years ago. There’s a five year difference between the beginning and end: Part 1 was written November 2010; Part 2 in bits and pieces over the following year; and Part 3 in 2015, after writing and finishing both Ashes and Creampuffs. Even in December 2015 I was focused entirely on “get it done before the 31st”, ignoring quality for completion.

Conversely, when working on Blackout Odyssey, even with the daily wordcount goal, I remained conscious of what I would edit out later. I verbed more and was’d less; I backspaced ‘just’ and ‘about’ and ‘a bit’ when I caught them because I know they’re going to go in the bin later anyway. I definitely used them less to start with. Space Crazies–I didn’t care about the language. I just wanted to write an adventure story fast and have some fun.

I don’t think the taste/skill gap ever goes away. But it does narrow. Line-editing on a piece from 2010 that I thought of at the time as “basically done if in need of spellchecking” shows just how far I’ve come in very, very plain language.

And that’s a good thing, even if it does make for long and boring days of work. If you’re feeling low, try digging up some of your old work as an example of how far you’ve come, how much you’ve levelled up since then. There’s always more to learn, and that’s exciting!


In other news, I am putting together an info graphic for my Action Plan series, hopefully in time for January, so that people can use it while the fresh new year energy is high. Is there anything you’d like to see? A break down of the steps? Examples? Blank worksheets? Let me know in the comments!

One thought on “The taste gap

  1. Space Crazies was a really fun read and I feel lucky to have read draft 0.

    I can’t wait to see what it looks like when you tighten it up to your standards.

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