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Monday Moment: The taste gap

Emma Grey

When I read other people’s finished novels, I often wonder what makes me think I can do this. Usually, I’m neck-deep in a first draft, with bits missing, plot holes, undeveloped characters and a strong desire to clean the house or sort the cupboards to avoid it.

You may have heard the advice that we shouldn’t compare our ‘beginning’ to someone else’s ‘middle’. We can’t compare our first draft of something to polished, finished products.

I get that, but it wasn’t until I watched this video, that the advice really hit home. He’s talking about creative work here, but the advice applies equally to any skill. Sport, craft, speaking, singing, acting, art, project management, baking, teaching… anything where you look at a ‘master’ in your field and think ‘That’s where I’m aiming to be, but I’m falling so short right now.’

Heres the text from the video, in the words of Ira Glass:

Nobody tells people who are beginners and I really wish somebody had told this to me is that all of us who do creative work we get into it because we have good taste. But its like theres a gap, that for the first couple years that youre making stuff, what youre making isnt so good, OK? Its not that great. Its really not that great. Its trying to be good, it has ambition to be good, but its not quite that good. But your taste the thing that got you into the game your taste is still killer, and your taste is good enough that you can tell that what youre making is kind of a disappointment to you, you know what I mean?

 A lot of people never get past that phase. A lot of people at that point, they quit. And the thing I would just like say to you with all my heart is that most everybody I know who does interesting creative work, they went through a phase of years where they had really good taste and they could tell what they were making wasnt as good as they wanted it to be they knew it fell short, it didnt have the special thing that we wanted it to have.

And the thing I would say to you is everybody goes through that. And for you to go through it, if youre going through it right now, if youre just getting out of that phase you gotta know its totally normal.

And the most important possible thing you can do is do a lot of work do a huge volume of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week, or every month, you know youre going to finish one story. Because its only by actually going through a volume of work that you are actually going to catch up and close that gap. And the work youre making will be as good as your ambitions. It takes a while, its gonna take you a while — its normal to take a while. And you just have to fight your way through that, okay?

I love this advice. Love it.

  • Know what’s really good
  • Know how you compare
  • Work, work, work

And the big key: don’t give up because your good taste tells you what you’re doing isn’t up to scratch.

A few weeks ago I shared with you that my daughter had her L plates. That first weekend she wanted to quit. She knew what good driving looked like. She knew she fell far short. The gap seemed insurmountable.

This weekend she drove us all over town for an hour and we drove past the parking lot where she had begun. The one where she couldn’t get out of first gear. The place where she nearly wrecked the clutch.

Just seeing that place again made her realise how far she’s come. She came that far by forging through the ‘gap’. She saw what she was aiming for as a driver, noticed the void between those skills and hers and drove, drove, drove until she got it.


Emma Grey

Emma Grey is the Canberra-based author of ‘Wits’ End Before Breakfast! Confessions of a Working Mum’ and ‘Unrequited: Girl Meets Boy Band’. She’s director of the life-balance consultancy, WorkLifeBliss and co-founder of a fresh approach to time-management, My 15 Minutes. She lives just over the ACT border with her two teen daughters and young son. More about the Author

  • Emma Grey, you are the best! I needed to read this today, so much. Thank you!

    • Emma Grey

      Thanks, Alex! I’m just the messenger with this message, but isn’t it FANTASTIC! I so wish I’d heard it about 30 years ago, when I was ten! 🙂

  • Trish Smith

    YES! I love this quote and it applies to so many things in life, not just writing books.

    • Emma Grey

      That’s so true, Trish. I feel it at the moment most with my writing, but could equally rewind about five years and feel it in my business, and then rewind and feel it throughout my career – and with a whole lot of other things involving various skills, too!