Are you frustrated with your writing? Tired of writing words you know aren't as good as you want them to be? Frustrated writer, I know why.
It's called the Creative Gap.
The creative gap is the space between where you are and where you want to be as a writer. It's frustrating because you can feel and see what you want your work to be, but it isn't there yet. So what do you do?
Have Patience With Yourself
A weird thing happens when we finally sit down to write The Book: we expect it to come out as magnificently as it has seemed in our heads, sometimes for years.
We see or feel what it should be, and hey—we've read and written stuff all our lives, right? It should just come out!
But it doesn't.
This is normal. (As every professional writer will tell you!)
I'm gonna repeat that because you need to hear it: the book doesn't come out the way we want it to, and that is normal.
Ira Glass is the one who names it the Creative Gap, though it isn't anything new. The gist of it is this: you get into writing because you know what great storytelling tastes like. You know the flavor. You love the flavor. Something in you burns to create that taste for others, so you start writing—but what you churn out in the first few years is so terrible that it shakes whatever confidence you had.
The Creative Gap
The gap is one of the toughest writing frustrations we face, if for no other reason than we think we can't overcome it.
We all go through it, but the nature of this particular doubt is so intimate that we usually don't talk about it—which means we think we're alone.
We're not alone. I need you to know this.
Ira Glass talks about it in this video. In case you don't have time for a 2-minute clip, here's the crucial text.
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.
I know that's a long quote, but it matters, and here's why: every single writer goes through this phase. Every successful writer. The distraught writer. Every career writer.
We ALL struggle with writing sucky work.
We ALL struggle with being incapable of bringing our imagination to life in the way it deserves.
This is normal.
Know this. Embrace it. Why? Because it will give you strength to keep writing.
Don't Compare, But Keep Reading
One of the biggest challenges as a writer is to continually fill yourself with terrific writing without comparing yourself to it. There's no easy way around this. If you do not read great work, you will never write great work; but as you read it, you can't help but compare it to where you are.
“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. […] There is no shortcut.”
This dichotomy is normal: yes, try not to compare yourself, but still read, and in the meantime ignore the horrible gap you feel between what you create and what you WANT to create.
You may feel a little crazy, frustrated writer. Welcome to the club.
If you have the courage to keep writing and reading even when you're writing crap, you will eventually write stuff that is not crap. The challenge is continuing when you're disappointing yourself.
There are three keys to surviving the creative gap:
- Know you're not alone. We all feel this way, and we writers have throughout history.
- Know that you can get past this phase. The writers who continue survive.
- Repeat points one and two.
Take heart, fellow writer. What you write isn't what you want it to be. That's a normal part of the process.
If you keep going, keep reading, as well as practicing, you will succeed. There is no shortcut. Fortunately, there is a well-trodden road. You are not alone.
Have you struggled with confidence in your writing? Let us know in the comments.
This one is going to be a challenge. What I ask you to do is this: take fifteen minutes and write something. It may be crap. It may be terrible. Your taste will scream that it sucks; post it anyway.
I mean that. Post it. You'll be surprised how many other folks struggle the same way you do.
When you’re done, share your writing in the Pro Practice Workshop. Don't forget to leave feedback for your fellow writers!
Best-Selling author Ruthanne Reid has led a convention panel on world-building, taught courses on plot and character development, and was keynote speaker for The Write Practice 2021 Spring Retreat.
Author of two series with five books and fifty short stories, Ruthanne has lived in her head since childhood, when she wrote her first story about a pony princess and a genocidal snake-kingdom, using up her mom’s red typewriter ribbon.
When she isn’t reading, writing, or reading about writing, Ruthanne enjoys old cartoons with her husband and two cats, and dreams of living on an island beach far, far away.
P.S. Red is still her favorite color.