I seldom play my guitar. My calluses are gone. My fingers are no longer as nimble as they used to be.
I no longer draw with charcoal. The tones created when I try to blend my charcoal are no longer subtle, continuous; instead, they look accidental and slapdash.
Both activities used to be ones that relieved stress. Now they simply increase it. What I hear in my mind isn’t what I hear when I play. What I see in my mind isn’t what ends up on the page.
Beginners suffer the same gap. They, unlike me, haven’t yet felt the joy when execution meets or exceeds expectations. But we can get past the gap.
Here are three ways I've found to do just that!
What’s happening? Why has my enjoyment of these activities changed? Because there’s a gap between my expectations and my execution.
When I pick up my guitar, I’m hearing six years of daily practice. Guitar playing is and isn’t like riding a bicycle. You remember how to do it, but your fingers can’t do it immediately. You need to rebuild your calluses. And if you’ve had your fingers broken, your flexibility continues to decline as you age.
Thankfully, not all creative work is limited by age--like creating remarkable recipes from scratch. And we have the ability to close the gap between our expectations and execution if we so desire and we don't give up.
“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 of 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 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.” - Ira Glass, The Gap
Do a lot of work.
People often ask me how do I find my voice, a point of view? How do I create a consistent visual brand? How do I get newsletter subscribers? And on on.
Like many, I begin by saying you need to start, which I admit is harder than it sounds. I, and others who have been creating and sharing our work online had it easier, blogging and many of the social media platforms were brand new when we started. It was the Wild Wild West. We didn’t have the weight of expectations on us. We created for ourselves and our work improved as we wrote more. We took more photos. The devices we used improved. Both our technique and execution were better. Photos were staged to best show off what we had baked or made. Lots of content fell to the cutting room floor.
We found our rhythm. What worked for us. What didn't. We did more of what we liked and that worked. For example, while I love vintage fashion, I find I don't have enough to say about it consistently. And tracking down clothing available today that matches a look I love from an old movie takes more time than I have.
Try lots of things.
Often we don't know what our strengths are. By trying lots of things we can find out which posts take a lot of time to create and we can space them out. For me, recipe posts take longer than social media growth reports which take longer than thought pieces. The more complicated your content, the more photos you need to show your process, the more varied your data sources, the more time you'll need before you can hit publish on a quality post. For example, I had a Flashback Fashion Paper Doll series at one point. While the idea was novel (and popular) an execution I was proud of took too long. Just try making clothing available for sale today work on a 1950s or 1960s paper doll--the lighting is often different and the creasing of fabric inconsistent. It involves a lot of detail work and greater mastery of Photoshop than I have.
Get inspired by the beginnings of others.
The next time you’re measuring your execution against your expectations—or comparing your early work to current work of others—go back to the beginning. In some cases this might take a bit of investigative work as brands and domains have changed. In other cases, early work remains and you can see the evolution of their work. Simply bring up the site you're interested in seeing at the beginning or the middle using the Internet Archive Wayback Machine.
My first blog is no longer online. It was written anonymously and chronicled the adventures in Internet Dating. This site was my second. Recipes for The Good Life was my third. A Timeless Affair: Inspiration for Vintage Weddings was my fourth. And the current execution of this site is my ninth, counting three blogs for corporate clients.
If you take a look at both my recipe site and my wedding site, you'll see a consistent design--one that's original, but dated. You'll see how my content evolved. Those posts are written very differently from those I currently write here. While I don't always succeed, I try to write so that posts can be easily scanned for main points.
If you go back to the beginning of this site, use the Archives functionality in the right sidebar, you'll see my early posts didn't always include photos. You'll also see a variety of photo widths.
Credits: All layouts designed by and images taken by Eden Hensley Silverstein for The Road to the Good Life.