“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But…
First, try to be something, anything, else. A movie star/astronaut. A movie star/missionary. A movie star/kindergarten teacher. President of the World. Fail miserably. It is best if you fail at an early age — say, fourteen. Early, critical disillusionment is necessary so that at so that at fifteen you can write long haiku sequences about thwarted desire. It is a pond, a cherry blossom, a wind brushing against sparrow wing leaving for mountain. Count the syllables. Show it to your mom. She is tough and practical. She has a son in Vietnam and a husband who may be having an affair. She believes in wearing brown because it hides spots. She’ll look briefly at your writing, then back up at you with a face blank as a donut. She’ll say: “How about emptying the dishwasher?” Look away. Shove the forks in the fork drawer. Accidentally break one of the freebie gas station glasses. This is the required pain and suffering. This is only for starters.
Too many people harbor the misguided belief that humans are motivated solely by biological urges and by carrots-and-sticks. Those two drives matter, of course. But we’ve neglected that humans also have a *third* drive — to direct our own lives, to get better at stuff, to make a contribution. Here’s an example. This weekend somebody’s going to be practicing the clarinet — even though it won’t get him a mate (the first drive) or make him any money (the second drive.) Why is he doing that? Because it’s fun, it’s interesting, it’s meaningful. Because the act is its own reward.
It’s a lot. But, in fact, it’s fairly simple. Try to be anything else. That’s where it gets all tangle-y and difficult. Then go back to the thing that drives you; that act is its own reward.