The Building Blocks Of Creativity: Ira Glass On Storytelling

by on January 25, 2015

What makes us run up against a creative barrier, and how we can get past it

American radio legend Ira Glass offers a refreshing perspective on what holds us back in our creative endeavours in this episode of This American Life. Our own creative taste is the supreme judge of all our creative work – and, as it stands, it is mighty hard to please. Ira Glass explains what our triggers for creativity are and what inspires a good story.

The main problem when creating a story, Glass points out, is when we push against the contours of a vaguely formed story line, that, although as yet unformed and shapeless, refuses to leave our minds. We get obsessed with getting this ‘one idea’ out there and see it develop in a concrete form – but, as many a creator has known only all too often – the brain refuses to budge. ‘We know there’s something there,’ says Glass, but we can’t quite make it out or shape it out. Glass’s advice on coming unstuck is to throw questions against your audience and your characters, and answer them as you go along.

Above all, Ira Glass expounds on the problem of creative taste: when your own judgement gets in the way of being creative. Offering helpful pointers that seek to demystify self-criticism, he explains:

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. And 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, Okay? 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, your taste is still killer. And your taste is good enough that you can tell that what you’re making is kind of disappointment to you. A lot of people never get past that phase, and a lot of people at that point they quit. And the thing I would just like to 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 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 what to do is everybody goes through that.

And for you to go through it, going through it right, if you’re just getting out of that phase, you gotta know it’s totally normal and the most imporant possible thing you can do is do a lot of work. Do a huge volume of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that you know each week or each month you know you’re going to finish one story. Because it’s only by actually going through a volume of work that you’re actually going to catch up and close that gap. And the work you’re making will be as good as your ambitions. In my case, like I took longer to figure out how to do this than anybody I’ve ever met. It takes a while. It’s going to take you a while. It’s normal to take you a while and you just have to Fight Your Way Through That. Okay?

The talk is available as a four part video on YouTube, excellent in its entirety.

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