Tom Scharpling on Doing the Work

This interview appeared some time ago, but I’ve been thinking about one of its main points over the last few weeks, and thought I’d share. The AV Club interviewed Tom Scharpling, host of the Best Show on WFMU. The whole thing is great and worth your time—even, I’d say, if you don’t know who Scharpling is.

But Tom was asked about the recurrent Best Show theme of “doing it”; i.e., putting in the work, paying dues, etc. To which he replied:

“You get so many people who talk about what they are going to do. I think they get the same kind of emotional, almost chemical, satisfaction out of when they say, ‘I’m gonna write this thing, and it’s gonna be like this, and this is gonna happen, then that’s gonna happen.’ They talk you through it, and they’re getting the same satisfaction from your reaction as if they actually did the thing. And that drives me up the wall. Then they never do it, because they’ve satisfied themselves by talking about doing it. I’ve known a bunch of people like that in life who start a thing, and they’ll talk all day long about the thing they’re gonna do, and how great it’s gonna be. But they’re not doing the thing.”

So good. So well put. Recently I’ve been reading books on investing in the stock market, and a similar point has come up: that investing ruins many investors because they don’t have the constitution for making an investment and sitting on it for years and years; once they’ve gone through the hunt of identifying a promising stock, putting in the research, and making the purchase, the entire chemical thrill of investing is over. When the stock’s price begins to slip, there’s no more satisfaction to be had in staying the course. So they sell, because selling gives them a portion of their money back, and they can go on to hunt down the next stock, and generate the next chemical thrill.

That connection’s a bit far afield, but I know what Tom is saying directly. I do this myself, launching new writing projects, thinking about how good they’re going to be, how well received they’ll be once they’re published, etc. Then I never go back to them.

More to the point, I’ve experienced this lately when working on something with another person. Too often, those talk sessions where you imagine the various jokes you can do, where you look down the road at subsequent ideas or projects you might explore together, prove totally sufficient for the other person’s creative desires.

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