Brain Pickings

The Taste Gap: Ira Glass on the Secret of Creative Success, Animated in Living Typography

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“The most important possible thing you can do is do a lot of work.”

The question of what makes someone successful has occupied some of history’s greatest minds. For Alexander Graham Bell, success was bound to befall the person “who carefully advances step by step, with his mind becoming wider and wider.” For Henry David Thoreau, success was a matter of living with presence. According to scientists, it belongs to those who are already winners as success breeds success, and psychologists attribute it to grit. But some of the greatest wisdom on the subject comes from none other than the public face of public radio.

Many moons ago, I featured a short and lovely kinetic typography animation of Ira Glass on the secret of success in creative work, in which he offers indispensable advice that puts in more poetic terms what psychologists call the “growth mindset” essential for success. Now, photographer and visual storyteller Daniel Sax has adapted Glass’s timeless wisdom in this beautiful short film a year in the making, using living typography to illustrate Glass’s words. The result is doubly fantastic.

Nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish somebody had told this to me — is that all of us who do creative work … we get into it because we have good taste. But it’s like there’s a gap, that for the first couple years that you’re making stuff, what you’re making isn’t so good, OK? It’s not that great. It’s really not that great. It’s trying to be good, it has ambition to be good, but it’s not quite that good. But your taste — the thing that got you into the game — your taste is still killer, and your taste is good enough that you can tell that what you’re making is kind of a disappointment to you, you know what I mean?

A lot of people never get past that phase. A lot of people at that point, they quit. And the thing I would just like say to you with all my heart is that most everybody I know who does interesting creative work, they went through a phase of years where they had really good taste and they could tell what they were making wasn’t as good as they wanted it to be — they knew it fell short, it didn’t have the special thing that we wanted it to have.

And the thing I would say to you is everybody goes through that. And for you to go through it, if you’re going through it right now, if you’re just getting out of that phase — you gotta know it’s totally normal.

And the most important possible thing you can do is do a lot of work — do a huge volume of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week, or every month, you know you’re going to finish one story. Because it’s only by actually going through a volume of work that you are actually going to catch up and close that gap. And the work you’re making will be as good as your ambitions. It takes a while, it’s gonna take you a while — it’s normal to take a while. And you just have to fight your way through that, okay?

Complement with some equally fantastic advice on courage and the creative life.

Quipsologies; portrait of Ira Glass by Stuart Mullenberg

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