The title may be a tad on the dramatic side, but Joanna Schroeder does owe an awful lot to Ira Glass.
I read the quote in the video above in 2011, and it changed my life. I mean that literally. Every single thing I’ve done, writing-wise, is because of this one statement by this one man.
I’d been hating my work life, and was miserable and drifting. I had somehow fallen into writing technical copy, really hard stuff actually, but it wasn’t what I wanted.
But it was writing. And that was the only thing I’d ever wanted to do. I’d had fun with other stuff, but the only dream I ever had – as faint as it was – was to write something.
Then I read this quote by Ira Glass and I thought, “I just have to write. And I have to write publicly with my name on stuff so I’m forced to hold myself to a high standard.”
So my pal Eli and I started a goofy little blog where we answered sex and dating questions (the first two weeks of questions were made up by my sister and our friends) and we grew a little following. Soon we were getting more questions from readers than we could answer. We did this for a month and a half, every day, until one day I get an email from Lisa Hickey, publisher of The Good Men Project, who said, “We want to syndicate your blog!”
I felt our posts really weren’t that good yet. I didn’t think we were ready. But my friend Lisa Marie said, “the door is opening, you have to walk through it.”
So we did.
Then, after a few months volunteering with GMP and having posts syndicated, Lisa Hickey hired me to write the Good Feed Blog – five posts a day, with my partner Jamie Reidy. We wrote little random news items every single day for more than a year. Some sucked, some were great, but it all got better. I re-learned how to work with HTML, and I learned social media strategy.
GMP continued syndicating our blog for two years, until Eli and I both got too busy to keep it up. But I’m still proud of it.
In the last month my work has appeared on TIME.com, Cosmo, Salon, Redbook, xoJane and more. Maria Shriver has twice tweeted out my work. Just this month! It’s really, really weird if I stop and think about it.
But I wouldn’t have done any of it without this quote from Ira Glass, because I would read my stuff and think, “This just isn’t as good.” But after reading the quote, I could hear Ira telling me that it wouldn’t get better if I didn’t write every single day.
So I wrote every day, and literally made it my job.
And now I’m looking at the 85,000 words I just wrote in a novel and I think, “It’s not good enough” and maybe it’s not. It’s probably not. But it won’t get better if I quit. I’ll write another book, or I’ll fix this one. But I’m not going to just NOT write books because of the fact that this one might not be up to my own standards.
Ira told me it’d get better, that I’d get better. And he was right.
Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. 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, 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 its 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.