Ira Glass on the Creative Process

Posted by Alex

Ira Glass describes the importance of producing a lot of work to endeavor through the frustrating early stages of a creative career. The first two minutes of this video should be required viewing for anyone and everyone getting into a creative field. In his case, he’s talking about video production, but his points are easily applied to any other realm. Definitely one of the most inspiring (or illuminating) pieces of advice I’ve come across.

The first couple years that you’re making stuff, what you’re making isn’t so good — 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 a disappointment to you. A lot of people never get past that phase and a lot of people at that point quit.

And the thing I would just like 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 they could tell what they were making wasn’t as good as they wanted it to be. We knew that it didn’t have the special thing that we wanted it to have and the thing to do is — everybody goes through that. And for you to go through it, if you’re going through it right now, if you’re just getting out of that phase or if you’re just starting off and you’re entering into that phase, you’ve got to know it’s totally normal and the most important possible thing you can do is do a lot of work. Do a huge volume of work.

30 Comments Leave A Comment


faber. says:

September 21, 2009 at 7:10 am

I remember watching this years ago and I still think about it to date. Did you once post this on your own blog?

I was actually thinking about it lately after making one of the first pieces recently that actually somewhat achieves my overly ridiculously high goals for myself… Glad to see it reposted so I can give it another listen.

Love me some Ira-Glass-Ironic-Detached Advice.


Jeff Finley says:

September 21, 2009 at 7:57 am

This is very true, but I think my taste is growing and changing over the years so that gap between what I think is good and what I actually create shrinks and grows continuously over time. The reason for that is certainly doing a large body of work. The more work you do, you hone your skills AND your taste. Truthfully that gap never really should close. It’s that drive that keeps us alive!


Anonymous says:

September 21, 2009 at 8:34 am

I would have to say I am there…but time will tell what my taste is like. I have little time to produce volumes of work since i am not young, in college, or single, but it is slowly building…


Jesse says:

September 21, 2009 at 8:38 am

I am married, soon to have two kids…producing volumes of work would have been easier a couple years ago (in college) but now…But it slowly builds as long as i stick to it. It is hard to stay up on what is new, and keeping myself from getting redundant – for that I am thankful to have resources like this site, thanks Scott and all who contribute here!


Joe Snodgrass says:

September 21, 2009 at 8:53 am

I’m not sure why, but no matter what Ira says, he always has that one tone… fast paced semi-mumble. But he’s still understandable and interesting. I would say he doesn’t really have a radio voice. … but… he does at the same time. Weird. Any case, I was thinking about the importance of turning out new work all the time (like the “write a novel” month) – setting a deadline, even though you may have nothing at all. I see the opposite being the person that writes one thing and pines over it his whole life. While this isn’t always bad, your setting yourself up for epic failure. However, in the end, it’s about making what you want. Just don’t be lazy about it. Which is why it’s good to keep in mind the fact that you should put something out on a schedule, whether you like it or not.


RA_OUL says:

September 21, 2009 at 9:55 am

Wow! This is really inspiring and relieving for me to here. I often get frustrated because what is in my head is not always what is produced. I am constantly at war between the creative and production process trying to make better work than what I have done in the past. I am a graphic design student and I am still new to this stage and I know that in time my style and skill level will be enhanced with much practice and determination. Ira’s words were right on point. Thanks for the post!


Chris says:

September 21, 2009 at 10:07 am

Great post, my friend and I were having a smoke yesterday talking about this (we are both seniors in design school) and how our foundation year work, and then our sophomore years in our departments (i am a graphic designer, he is an industrial designer) was really bad and we didn’t know how to work well, how to communicate our ideas, but we both agreed that it was important to go through those years of making crap because now that we are seniors we have the knowledge, skills, and abilities to make better stuff, and its from working for years at art school not knowing that.


Lydia says:

September 21, 2009 at 10:49 am

Thank you Ira Glass! Can’t say how good this video made me feel about my work, which I often find has that gap – between what it is and what I want it to be.


Rob says:

September 21, 2009 at 12:31 pm

Thank you so much for posting this.
I’ve been struggling with this for quite awhile, and this got me a little choked up!


Stan says:

September 21, 2009 at 9:09 pm

Wow. This is perfect timing for me. I’ve been at graphic design professionally for almost 2 years and it….is….tough. I’m still in school as well, and tonight was just feeling ready to quit. Thanks for posting this. I will keep working hard.


Brian says:

September 21, 2009 at 9:37 pm

WOW. I really needed to hear this. This might be some of the most important advice Ive gotten this year.
Im a young individual who strives to do a lot of creative work (architecture student) and I am often disappointed in how my work turns out and how few of my ambitions actually come to fruition.
Its both comforting and troubling to know that it is normal to feel this way about your own work. However, the art of ruthlessly producing is something that still eludes me. I guess the only way to get better is to always work MORE.


Adam M. says:

September 22, 2009 at 12:27 am

Oh wow! Thanks so much for sharing this :) Students need these wonderful pick-me-ups every so often fer sure!


Ramune says:

September 23, 2009 at 4:58 am

Thanks for posting this. It’s definitely a good motivator and something I wish I had heard a while back. It can get very frustrating to keep making stuff that doesn’t work out, but every now and then something comes through.

Now to get to those projects . . .


Ryan C. says:

September 30, 2009 at 1:59 pm

I, like many other of those commenting, found Ira’s message to be encouraging. But I’d like some other designers to verify what he said. Is this true? Or is this just a platitude?

There were kids in college who had amazing ideas and executed them beautifully. I didn’t see any gap between their good taste and their work. Are they exceptions to the rule?