To liberally paraphrase my bff Ira Glass, you have to suck before you can kick ass at something. It’s the ultimate lesson in humility, pacing, and perseverance for the creative soul in all of us. And for people like me who have every intention of paying the bills with their creative talent, it’s a lesson we just don’t want to hear. I mean, who’d want to entertain the idea of sucking at something? That’s not positive thinking! We’re creatives! We have “it”! Whatever that is! We don’t want to crash and burn, especially because all creatives have a gang of haters ready to pounce on our smoldering remains and jeer “I told you so. I told you to just get a job in real estate.” No shade to real estate agents.
Here’s the full audio, but be warned: your soul just may do a praise dance. *pentecostal foot stomp*
Like Ira said, no one really tells BEGINNERS that it’s NORMAL to suck at first. Your tangible works won’t measure up to your ideas. There’s a gap between your taste and your execution. What’s missing is experience. And you only get experience when you KEEP GOING. Keep writing, painting, editing, filming, acting, blogging, composing, whatever it is that you do. Do it often. Do it to the best of your ability every single time. Accept failure, but don’t expect it. (Oprah should have me teach a life class — shit!)
At the end of each project, WRITE DOWN what you’ve learned. Keep track of your progress. What did you do that didn’t quite work out? How will you improve? Be specific. See, the thing is, you already have “it”. That “whatever that is” I referenced earlier? It’s your taste. “Your taste, the thing that got you into the game, your taste is still killer,” to quote Ira. So writing down your moments of suckage is a conscious effort to see WHY the end product didn’t match your taste.
I’ll use myself as an example. My recent trip to Austin for SXSW to cover the (first of many, I hope) All Africa Showcase was a tremendous videography opportunity. That being said, there were several missed opportunities. A couple days after I returned home and recuperated, I took time to reflect. I had to look over my footage, think back to conversations the team and I had, and *gulp* look at OTHER people’s coverage of OUR show. If that aint swallowing your pride, I don’t know what is. Yes. There were other websites that had more compelling and well done coverage than me. In comparison, I sucked. But here’s how I’ll do better next time:
- Have a shooting plan. Guerrilla style just aint cuttin’ it. Know beforehand what shots I’ll need. I can’t plan for everything, but I can try.
- Buy an external light. And a rig. And try not to dance too much. Shaky footage is sucky footage.
- Invest in a better lens. This will take time, as I’d have to earn it both financially and professionally. Just because you got a big lens don’t mean you know how to use it… I’m focusing on the fundamentals right now and a 18-55mm will do just fine.
- Always ask the sound guy if you may use the recorded input audio, otherwise buy an external mic. My camera’s internal mic was no match for Seun Kuti’s saxophone.
- DON’T FORGET B-ROLL. Super tight mic shots. The lead’s smile as people sing along to his lyrics. The bass player’s orgasmic facial expressions. The thirsty girl next to me doing that white girl *drunkenly runs hands through hair* dance to the music. Talk to audience members. Show them setting up. So on. And so forth.
- Don’t be scared to throw dem elbows. So what if L.A. Weekly is filming next to you? Just because you’re unemployed, young, and a chick doesn’t mean you don’t deserve that shot just as much as they do no I’m not bitter I’m just saying. Better yet, talk to them. They’re only the enemy if you say so.
My next major project is my summer-long digital media fellowship with Village Voice Media in Arizona. Thanks to the above list, I won’t make the same mistakes in Phoenix that I made in Austin. I’ll make different ones. *winces* I’m not being negative — I’m being realistic! Each article I write, each segment I edit, each interview I conduct will have its own challenges. It’s up to me to keep going and intentionally improve. Ima have to put in work for years. That’s scary. Ima have horrible days where everything goes wrong. I’m dreading it. But what did Ira say???? So shut up and do better next time!
“It’s only by actually going through a volume of work that you are actually going to catch up and close that gap, and the work you’re making will be as good as your ambitions.”
Preach it, Ira. Tell me how YOU’LL do better next time. I’m curious.