I was lucky enough to see Neil Gaiman speak about his book, Neverwhere, at the Chicago Public Library a few years ago. He answered a lot of great questions, one of which was about his book idea for Coraline. It may have been Stardust. I don’t quite remember. Let’s go with Coraline.
What I do remember is how he spoke of the idea. It was a perfectly good one (as evidenced by the many awards it won, as well as the hit movie and musical based off of it), but he waited to write it, because sometimes, you’re not ready to execute the idea the way you've imagined it in your mind. Sometimes, he said, the idea is better than you are. But you mustn’t despair. Give it time. Give it patience. Keep the idea in your mind, and someday, you will be ready.
I think this goes back to what Ira Glass said about art. “There is this gap,” he says. “For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good… We know our work doesn’t have this special thing we want it to have… It is only be going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions.” In other words? Practice, practice practice. Making good art only happens after a long while of making bad art.
I think Neil and Ira are coming from similar places. This gap Ira speaks of isn’t just for beginners. I think every artist has the occasional (or not so occasional) struggle based on the gap between what they want to achieve and what they know they’re capable of.
I heard Neil Gaiman’s words. I read Ira Glass’s advice. But I didn’t get it. Not really. Not until recently.
See, I have tons of ideas in my head. Loads of them, really. For books, movies, songs, short stories, poems. Hell. I think there’s a play or two in there somewhere.
And last week, I wrote a song that I’m incredibly proud of. I feel like I’ve been writing such crap music, but I finally grew proud of my own work. And it was only through the process of writing crap music, realizing it was crap music, and playing other people’s good music that I got to where I am.
The thing is, my journey’s not even close to done. I still have so many song ideas that will not work until I reach the next skill level. Stories that I don’t know how to tell yet because I don’t have the writing muscles to flex. And that’s fine. Because all we have to do is continue on. Push through the doubt, the fear, and trudge onwards.
If you make good art, you can't grow complacent; there's always tomorrow, and you have to work to keep whatever you've earned and get even better at what you're doing. If you make bad art, don't let it get you down; there's always tomorrow, and tomorrow is a new day. It might help you bring a better piece of art into the world.
Give it time. Give it patience. Keep those ideas in your mind, because someday, you’ll be ready.