Aspiring creators often make the mistake of thinking that in order to be successful they need to conjure something great right away.
They imagine sitting down and writing a great novel or building a great app and achieving overnight success.
Ernest Hemingway had an analogy that describes how most breakthrough creations actually work. He talked about the idea of an “iceberg.” Of course you’ve heard the expression “the tip of the iceberg.” Ninety percent of an iceberg is underwater. So if you see what you think is a small iceberg it’s actually a huge iceberg.
Here’s Hemingway describing writing (presumably The Old Man and The Sea):
I’ve seen the marlin mate and know about that. So I leave that out. I’ve seen a school (or pod) of more than fifty sperm whales in that same stretch of water and once harpooned one nearly sixty feet in length and lost him. So I left that out. All the stories I know from the fishing village I leave out. But the knowledge is what makes the underwater part of the iceberg.
Whatever you want to present to the world — whether it’s a book or album or dish—it’s only going to represent a very tiny part of your knowledge. Your wealth of knowledge helps you know what to leave out, and it gives grace to what you include.
This may be intimidating because it means you need to know your craft inside and out. But it’s also freeing because it helps you see why your early work falls short of your expectations. It’s one more reason to give yourself permission to suck.
It may seem like Zuckerberg created Facebook out of nowhere, but he had been doing coding experiments and other projects for years. The Mona Lisa may seem like a simple painting, but Da Vinci put decades of studying optics and studying anatomy from dissected corpses, just to paint that mysterious smile.
Behind every little masterpiece is a massive iceberg—a huge wealth of knowledge and experience that holds everything in place.
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