The other gap

Ira Glass coined the idea of “the gap”, the chasm that exists between what a creative can imagine and what they can currently do:

“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?”

Glass’ advice is both inspirational and pragmatic. After all, getting anywhere near mastery of a subject or skill requires a large chunk of a lifetime. But I don’t think Ira Glass went far enough.

Sure, in the beginning there’s a gap between what is conceived in the abstract and what is possible in the concrete. But there’s another gap and as the best get better they maintain it, instead of eliminating it. Consider:

All that’s possible > All that we can imagine > All that we can do.

Glass’ Gap focuses on the breach between imagination and ability. But there’s a greater gap between what we are able to imagine and what is possible, and it is this gap that the best keep on pushing. As their ability develops, their imagination doesn’t remain stagnant; it too grows. The more they are able to do, the more they realise there is left to do.

So yes, fight through Glass’s Gap. But remember it is only a prelude to a greater struggle—the expansion of our imagination towards the totality of that which is ultimately possible.