Finding A Decent Story, Killing Crap and Reaching Your Potential

- - Working

If you’re not familiar with Ira Glass, he’s an award winning radio (yes radio) host who presents an hour long show on a particular theme. His podcasts on iTunes are always the most popular and if you haven’t listened to one before they are highly addictive. Each and every one is a lesson in story telling.

I found these interviews with Ira where he talks about what I consider one of the great underrated skills in the creative process. Finding a decent subject. Ira says, “No one ever tells you how hard it is to find a decent story… often the amount of time finding the decent story is more than the amount of time it takes to produce the story.”

Also, It’s not surprising that failure is closely tied to finding great subjects. He talks about getting a subject on tape and discovering that it’s not all that interesting after all and “by killing you will make something else even better live… not enough gets said about the importance of abandoning crap.”

In this next segment he talks about how it’s unavoidable, if you are going to be great at something, that you go through a phase where the work you create is not as good as your expectations. “People get into creative work because they have great taste… but the first couple years that you’re making stuff what you’re making is not that good… but your taste is good enough that you can tell what you’re making is not good enough, it’s kind of a disappointment to you… a lot of people never get past that phase… they quit.”

Here’s a bonus quote I found on Gothamist (here).

Do you think we’re living in “an age of great non fiction writing”?

I do. People don’t talk about it that way because we’re also living in an age of incredible crap. Especially in journalism. But yeah I believe that giants walk among us, that writers are doing things in nonfiction – in their reporting – which is sort of breathtaking. But mostly we don’t talk about them that way.

There Are 26 Comments On This Article.

  1. In the second video, Ira said (and I’m quoting loosely here) “… they could tell what they were making wasn’t as good as what they wanted it to be… they knew it fell short…”

    So true. Sorting though my contacts, that’s what I’ve been seeing lots lately because my work isn’t NEARLY as good as it should be so my camera and I took a break. I’ve began working again and needless to say it was one of teh best things that happened.

    I suppose even if we’ve heard advice like this time and time again, a refresher never hurt anyone. These interviews are what everybody needs to hear.

    Thank you.

  2. Greg Elizondo

    Advice like that given in the second video should be mandatory watching every month or so for new photographers. I know that it is exactly what I needed to hear (and will need to hear in the future). Thanks.

    • @Greg Elizondo,

      Exactly right. I watch these every couple months as a reminder to just keep on going and sacrifice to make it work.

      I also show the second video to every creative person I know, and everyone relates. Everyone has gone through it or is going through it. If anyone hasn’t gone through it they’re not critical enough of their own work.

  3. I remember so clear just over a year in at Outside Magazine just treading water thinking “ok this is so not going to work out like I thought it would.”

  4. Thank You.
    Great to know that there is an end to the the “dissapointment with your own work” phase as well.

    Don J.

  5. After a break for the holidays… (and returning to work on Sunday night?) this entry was perfectly timed. I am beginning a new personal project for 09 and have been dreading the fact that some shoots may not be up to par. As I like to say “sometimes you’re the windshield, sometimes you’re the bug”. In lieu of sweating the shoots were I was the bug… just kill them… Leave it on the hard drive (never delete, the subject may end up (in)famous!) and find a better subject!!!
    Have a great 09!!!

  6. Thanks for pointing to this for us, Rob. I like that Ira’s solution for the problem of creating a lot of bad stuff is to keep doing it, work harder and harder. It’s amazing to realize how deluded I have been for as long as I have about the subject of talent vs. hard work.

    In addition to this and your Chris Buck interviews, I recently read two articles that brought home the idea that genius is “99% perspiration”:

    This is from a NY Magazine article from almost 2 years ago:
    http://www.pantherhouse.com/newshelton/a-total-of-50-minutes-spent-teaching-not-math-but-a-single-idea-that-the-brain-is-a-muscle/

    And the George Carlin piece in this week’s NYT Magazine:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/28/magazine/28carlin-t.html?_r=1&ref=magazine

  7. Dave Villemure

    Thanks Hags!

    Just what I needed to get me fired up about KILLING IT on my trip to Brazil and Columbia this week. Ira is spot on!

    DV

  8. Solid video and advice. I find it so hard to kill work that is essentially mediocre but the subject matter is too important to let go of. You hate to hear it, but its gotta be done. Thanks Ira.

  9. In addition, I think This American Life is the best thing going on any media right now. Every time I listen, I experience a combination of joy, sorrow, and laughter. I literally laugh and cry during each “episode.” Thanks for also reminding us of the merits of quality content, Rob.

  10. Awesome software. They can completely change the look of your whole photo. I prefer Adobe photo shop cs2 most of all for regular usage.