The learning curve: a psychological hurdle to creativity

March 4, 2007

In our second installment from a podcast by Ira Glass, we learn about the steep learning curve in becoming a professional storyteller. One consequence is that you learn to recognize good work sooner than you learn to do good work.

This is a huge insight into one of the great banes of graduate student existence. You are a grad student because someone has recognized your raw talent, because you have a latent barometer for distinguishing good science from bad, and because you have a passion to do good work. Yet unless you are extraordinarily lucky, your first efforts, your second efforts, your third efforts, will be pretty bad. And the painful fact is that you will recognize it as not very good because, as Glass points out, you have good taste.

Remember that this is a common dilemma in mastering any creative skill. If you don’t have the tenacity and the work habits, it will grind you up.

But if you fight through it, and resolve to apprentice yourself to the task, you will move forward. As Gideon said in some earlier comments, you have to immerse yourself in grad school, absolutely drown in it.

Also, note Glass’s little diversion on how you speak to your audience. You don’t underline every third word for its emphasis (i.e., the “BBC voice”). Speak with the tones and inflections as if you were telling a story to friends around the table.