Ira Glass on Closing the Ideal-Actual Gap in the Creative Process

by | Jun 23, 2020 |

Several years ago, while procrastinating in graduate school, I discovered a short video clip that helped me at the time—and has now helped me again. 

The clip, posted below, is of Ira Glass, the award-winning producer of the radio show, This American Life, discussing a problem that all creative people experience at some time or other: the problem of having high standards or good taste, but not yet being able to meet those standards.

The creative process is notoriously difficult for many reasons. Among them, one can lack knowledge, skills, or confidence in some area or aspect of the process. Or one can lack creative ways to express what one does know. Or one can be overwhelmed by data and ideas and not know where to start or how to boil it all down. I’ve experienced all of these and more.

But one of the greatest and most frustrating difficulties for me is when the finished product falls way short of my expectations. There’s the intended product, the one in my mind that matches my ideal, and it looks nothing like the actual product, the one before my eyes.

For example, when I was writing academic papers, I intended to meet a certain level of clarity and precision. I would read papers by some of the leading scholars in their respective fields who wrote with great clarity and precision, and I’d aim to write as they did. Yet my papers often would not meet that ideal.

This can be deeply frustrating and debilitating. And it’s been frustrating me again lately. So I was relieved to relisten to Glass’s encouraging and actionable advice about how to close this gap. (His understanding of economics is another matter, but we can set that part aside.) 

If you write or make videos or do any other kind of creative work, check out this short clip. I think you’ll find it helpful.

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