man in art museum

It’s the most common place for creatives to give up on their dreams— that spot where you know enough about your craft to realize how utterly unimpressive your work is. It’s when you realize how far away you are from your goals and wonder if your work is even worth creating. This is where people put down their pen or camera believing that they just aren’t good enough. Maybe it’s because they are improving too slowly, lacking encouragement, or too busy to spend time on their art. I call this The Trench.

In The Trench? Welcome to the club.

Most people who produce creative work experience The Trench at some point in their lives. If you are currently in The Trench, don’t feel ashamed. It is normal, and more importantly, it is escapable.

I’ll pause here to say that I have been stumbling in and out of trenches my whole life. I’ve spent time trying to become an expert at all kinds of things: creative writing, drawing, performance art, videography, graphic design, and even Bob-Ross-style painting. I certainly know what it’s like to suck at something, even after putting in a lot of effort. I read a quote from Ira Glass about The Trench, which he described like this:

Most everyone I know who does interesting creative work 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. They knew it fell short.

Ira Glass

For your convenience, I attached a short video of Glass’s full quote below.

I thought Glass meant that I wouldn’t be able to feel good until my work was as spectacular as I wanted it to be. I thought I would be stuck in this awful stage of disappointment for years. But what I learned was that your work doesn’t have to be spectacular for you to leave The Trench. It doesn’t even have to be good.

Escaping The Trench is about learning to love creating instead of the creations.

People naturally want to be good at what they do, so this is not to say that ambitions and aspirations for better work are bad. It is also not to say that people should never be critical of their own work. The idea is that if a person cannot love the process of getting better — the very act of mixing the paint, making the drafts, or combing through b-roll — then there is little hope for finding lasting joy in their field. This is because the work will never be perfect and the learning process will never end, even when the work becomes spectacular.

While most of my creative endeavors have been abandoned, I do still love to paint and write. I find it incredibly relaxing to come home and add a little color to a canvas. Writing is my greatest catharsis. I know this to be true because I write the most when I’m so overwhelmed that I feel like I have time for nothing else.

If you don’t learn to enjoy the process, you may never leave The Trench. This is not due to a lack of improvement, but the high probability that you will simply quit. Most people don’t keep doing things that don’t bring satisfaction or joy.

As for how to enjoy the process— I can’t help you there. I believe this is where passion comes in. Perhaps you will find a reason bigger than yourself to do what you do. Maybe you will have someone to encourage or inspire you along the way.

If not, it’ll just have to come from within.