You have to play a long time to be able to play like yourself – Miles Davis
There is a paradox you must accept if you want to find your voice: it takes work. This is counterintuitive because all of the great voices we admire, whether we find them in reading John Updike or Ray Bradbury, or see it in a Georgia Okeefe painting, seem as if they were always present in those creators. This is a falsehood. If you asked any of them, or any master of any craft, they’d tell you in painful detail how many years of work it took to develop the thing we, as consumers of their work, take for granted. It took them a long time to learn how to create like themselves.
We find this hard to believe because our view of other creators is inverted. We know them after they were famous. The works we know best are rarely an artist’s early works. We don’t see their many experiments, their uncertain output during the long years they developed the craft they’d become famous for. All makers require long, disciplined hours to develop their talents, hours they will never be shown at a museum or on a postcard. Go find the early works of Jackson Pollock: it took him years before he discovered the all-over style he’d become most famous for. Who knows how many plays Shakespeare wrote that he burned, or poems Emily Dickinson tore apart and buried in the dust.
“What nobody tells people who are beginners, and I really wish someone had told this to me… all of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste…. there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff what you are making isn’t so good. It’s 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, is still killer. And your taste is good enough that you can tell why what you are making is a disappointment to you. You can tell that it’s still sort of crappy. A lot of people never get past this phase. They quit.
And the thing I would say to you with all my heart is that most of the creative people I know when through years of this… Everyone goes through this… the most important possible thing you can do is do a lot of work. Do a huge volume of work… it’s only by doing a huge volume of work that you will close that gap and the work you make will be as good as your ambitions.”
Many very talented people never develop their skills only because they can’t stand the feeling of this gap. They’re embarrassed and tortured by it. They expect to be great quickly and when they’re not they feel they’re a failure, despite their foolish comparisons to ghosts of their own invention.
Some legendary writers and makers struggled with their own opinion of their work even after their success No matter how popular they became they felt their work was flawed, inferior and immature, never reaching the standards invented in their own minds. Even the great ones felt doubts and held themselves in judgement. They failed to see how much value they’d brought to their readers in spite of their own criticisms. Some very successful artists never close the gap and you might not either.
Have patience. Be willing to experiment and try different things. Realize you might need to wait a week, a month, or a year to see something you’ve made with eyes objective enough to learn from it. Enjoy making things for the sake of making: what a gift to have the time to make at all! If you were born 100 years ago, or to different parents in a different country, you wouldn’t have the time to feel bad about your work, because you wouldn’t have the resources to make it at all. If you feel love for your craft honor it with the discipline of showing up, even when it’s hard. Take pleasure in small progressions when you see them, and know those hard won gains are the only way anyone in history has ever achieved anything noteworthy, for themselves or for the world.