How lovely things would be if the way we picture ourselves doing something in our heads is the way it plays out in real life. The beautiful prose, perfect plotting, and subtle characterization all laying themselves down on the page when pen is lifted rather than being cruelly translated into the awkward phrasing, cliched plots, and stilted characters plaguing a first draft. If perfect leaps, spins, and arabesques just happen rather than the more likely falls on the bum. If we were already perfect rather than striving. If there were no gap between where we are and where we would like to be.
With all the armchair quarterbacks and critics out there on virtually every issue, you’d almost think effort and expertise don’t count for anything. And yet, mastery is always the result of effort. Full stop. Every master painter, skater, dancer, author, was once a novice. In fact, that journey from novice to master is the important thing, and those hacks on the sidelines are missing the point. As Theodore Roosevelt said:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
So this gap, between where we want to be and where we are, is where we focus our efforts and attention. Not on the critic, because everyone stumbles. But we press on. For to be great at anything takes practice and effort, and our attempt is awkward and halting, ungainly and bumbling at first. But it gets better. And those sitting on the sidelines, afraid or busy criticizing others, aren’t moving forward unless they, too, mind the gap and try.