Reflections on Ira Glass (pt. III): Suffering Through Your Own Good Taste

Here’s another interview excerpt from Ira Glass (host of This American Life):

What he’s getting at is simple. Don’t give up. If you think you suck at this, you’re probably right. But that’s not the real point. The real point is that everyone sucks when they start. There’s just way too much too learn, and you can’t do it all at once.

This point is closely related to the point I tried to make in my last post. That you can’t waste time on projects once they’re clearly not going to be decent work. I know this might sound like a contradiction. It’s not. You need to understand “decent” in terms of your own development. Keep getting better. Or keep improving different parts of your process as you move from one text to the next. If you’ve screwed up a project to the point where it just can’t be salvaged, chuck it. That’s the point of the last post.

But the video above makes me think of something else. It has to do with the extent to which you pay attention to the details of your production. There’s another phenomenon that occurs with lots of people who are making digital texts, especially those who don’t yet have a lot of experience under their belt. I call it the “stalled bulldog.” We don’t know exactly how to make something exactly the way we want to, but we are so committed that we can’t give up. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a details-oriented person. But when you’re first starting out at this, you really need to stay cognizant of that point of diminishing returns when it comes to the amount of polish and attention-to-detail with your early texts.

There’s always a danger that you’ll spend so much time on the details that you might never actually finish the project. It took me a long time to accept that I am like this. It’s helpful to remember. Sometimes you really just need to just see these texts as exercises or practice texts. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t care so much. Not at all. I’m saying that sometimes there’s a use to accepting that when you begin, you’re learning the basics, not the details. You can only internalize the basics through practice. And there’s really no point in trying to get really good at the details right away because the details will vary widely from text to text. What I’m saying is… prioritize finishing the text and getting it to do what you want it to do. Then move on. Do another. Trust me, no matter how much time you spend on your early texts, you’re always going to look back at them and see flaws. Think of your early texts as preparation for the really good texts you’ll eventually be making.

Let it go. Let “finished” become a term of practicality as much as it is one of quality and coherence.

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