Mind the Gap

The distance between idea and execution can be a source of frustration — or of inspiration.

Many of you will know the feeling: you decide to cook something you’ve never tried before (say, pumpkin pie). You find a recipe online, accompanied by a photo of a beautifully lit, perfectly plated slice. You follow it to the letter. It comes out… okay. It might not be a cake disaster — your friends are eating it — but it’s obviously not the Platonic Ideal of pumpkin pie, which is, of course, what you were aiming for. Maybe the center is a little runny, or the edges a bit burnt. There’s a gap there, somewhere.

This example came to my mind because Thanksgiving — and its endless parade of pies — is two days away (if you’re in the US). But I’ve also been thinking a lot about this execution gap after chatting with Deb Perelman, the prominent food blogger behind Smitten Kitchen, for a recent Discover Q&A.

If you don’t know Smitten Kitchen yet, Deb’s Thanksgiving recipes are the perfect introduction to her site.

One of my favorite aspects of Deb’s food blogging is how her recipes (and their accompanying photos) give off the air of flawlessness, while her storytelling brings to the fore all the kitchen disasters — minor and catastrophic — she had to plough through on the way to perfection. She touched on this dynamic when talking about her writing voice:

I think of creative pursuits — anything from painting and writing to synchronized swimming — as an ongoing struggle to close a gap between your idea for what the painting, essay, or routine should be, and how it’s in fact coming out. The more you work at it, the closer it gets to what you have in your head. The more you work at it, the easier it gets. If you’re reading your writing and it doesn’t sound like what you wanted to say, the way you wanted to say it, keep at it until it does.

Hear more about the creative gap from the one and only Ira Glass.

This is great advice — but also an invitation to reflect. For this week’s challenge, tell us a story — in words, sounds, images, or any combination of media — about the struggle to close the gap between an idea and its realization. It could be about a time when you succeeded, or failed, or got stuck somewhere on the spectrum between these two extremes. It could be about helping another person close their gap, or about the people, artwork, or experiences that inspire you to work on yours. It can focus on a time when you decided to push through — or a moment in which the result was satisfying despite falling short of your initial vision.

I look forward to seeing what you come up with this week.

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