Shut up and make the stuff you’re good at
Are you sitting on a mountain of ideas?
Goals, dreams, grand plans for this or that? A story, a painting, a life changing program that will slim your waist and tighten your abs? Does it only exist in the form of an idea? Has it been like that for-goddamn-ever?
Enter the concept of ‘idea debt’, a term originating from an interview famous cartoonist Jessica Abel conducted with cartoonist Kazu Kibiuishi. In the interview, Kibiuishi outlines a scenario in which an idea is allowed to germinate for too long, and the expectation and the vision reaches a point that the outcome can never live up to. Essentially, you are setting yourself up for failure by spending more time imagining than acting.
Kibiuishi’s solution? Do it in the moment, or skip it instead of letting it build.
Your vision will always exceed your grasp. The only way to move forward is to take the jump.
Do you have any ideas that you’ve been sitting on for years, always waiting for ‘that day’ when you’ll finally be prepared enough to start? Are you still passionate about those ideas, or do you simply feel like you owe it to those ideas and to yourself to birth them into the world? As a side effect to our dream projects remaining stuck as dreams, we can sometimes lose the fire that we once had for the idea. At that point, is it something that still is important to you? Or is it just an obligation, something you begrudgingly feel like you need to do, that you keep putting off? Kibiuishi’s advice applies here as well. Take the leap before you let your idea stagnate.
How do we find ourselves buried under a mountain of idea debt?
Why is this a concept so familiar to each of us, even if we’ve never had a name to assign to the experience?
In Steven Pressfield’s brilliant book ‘The War of Art” he outlines the concept of Resistance: a sentient, malicious, and ultimately relentless entity whose ultimate goal is stopping worthy pursuits before they happen. Any attempt to elevate your life in a meaningful way will be met with Resistance.
Writing, painting, dancing, overcoming a bad habit, starting a business, getting a flat stomach for beach season. All of these fall victim to Resistance. Sound familiar? Pressfield even goes so far as to say that were Resistance absent from all of our lives, the world would be a much brighter place. Substance dependence would evaporate, prisons would be empty and schools full. Even wars could be avoided, writes Pressfield. Exaggeration? Maybe. But maybe not as much as you’d think.
Resistance does not take one form, but rather whatever incarnation it needs to in order to stop actions towards positive change. Rationalization, distraction, fear, self doubt, inner criticism – whatever shape will do the most damage, this is the one that Resistance will take. Historically, it’s been pretty good at its job in shutting shit down before you get started.
Let’s look at another concept.
The nasty cousin to the big ideas are the insidious doubts that accompany those dreams.
The fear of failure. This is the nasty cousin to big dreams, the dark side of the coin. Instead of fantasizing about the outcome, or trying to overprepare for it, you’re already thinking about the what ifs. The obstacles, the curve balls, the stumbling blocks. All the ways that you could fail, or not live up to your vision. That fear of failure leads to so many ‘what ifs’ that the project never gets off the ground.
If you’re a creative (and I assume you are, given you’ve read this far), you’ve more than likely created something (or a hundred things) that failed to live up to expectations. For some, they shrug it off, and give themselves a pass as they don’t view themselves as a painter/singer/writer/sculptor/what have you. But for those who do, it can hit hard. You might wonder if if you have any right to even call yourself (see above). If you couldn’t paint/sculpt/sing the way you wanted to, who are you to call yourself a creative? This is a difficult point to overcome, and you’ll be happy (or unhappy) to know that it happens to even the most experienced creatives.
There’s even a name for this phenomenon! Are you ready? It’s called “imposter syndrome,” and it very appropriately describes the pattern in which a person doubts their own credentials or accomplishments, even leading to fears about being outed as a charlatan.
The only way out is through.
Everyone, no matter how green or how seasoned they are, will face these doubts. Their product isn’t living up to how it’s been built up in their mind. It’s been said that it takes 10 years to become an expert at something. Those first few years can be rough.
Media personality Ira Glass has been quoted thousands of time on the subject, often referred to as ‘The Gap’. I’m sure you’ve heard it a thousand times before, but it bears repeating:
Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, and I really wish somebody had told this to me.
All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But it’s like there is this gap. For the first couple years that you’re making stuff, what you’re making isn’t so good. It’s not that great. It’s trying to be good, it has ambition to be good, but it’s not that good.
But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is good enough that you can tell that what you’re making is kind of a disappointment to you. A lot of people never get past that phase. They quit.
Everybody I know who does interesting, creative work they went through years where they had really good taste and they could tell that what they were making wasn’t as good as they wanted it to be. They knew it fell short. Everybody goes through that.
And if you are just starting out or if you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important 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 you’re going to finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you’re going to catch up and close that gap. And the work you’re making will be as good as your ambitions.
I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It takes a while. It’s gonna take you a while. It’s normal to take a while. You just have to fight your way through that.
Creative work is hard.
Putting a piece of yourself out into the world is hard. Negative feedback is hard, and no feedback perhaps even moreso. But the only way to get through all that is to put your head down and keep going until you make it.
Stop thinking, and start making!
For your sanity, and because there’s probably some really cool shit you can give to the world. Ultimately, whatever it is that’s stopping you from getting your work out there, shoo it away and get back to your writing desk. And guess what… we know some folks who can help you get your stuff you’re good at out into the world. Give us a shout!