“How come the stuff I spend two years working on doesn’t go anywhere and something I spend, like, 10 minutes on, people go crazy over?” I read that Facebook post over the weekend from one of my former students (I can’t remember who wrote it – but alas – that is the Facebook way, isn’t it?) and smiled in a bit of recognition. I’ve felt that way over the years but it’s certainly not something I want to confirm publicly to young creative people. I want them to try hard and do their best. Sometimes it takes two years to do something really well. In this age of fast returns, you really DO need to train yourself to put the time in.
And then this weekend happened.
Without going into too much detail (because my therapy appointments are between TWO people, not the five or so that read this blog), I wrote something in that period that I spent – well, a weekend on. It was hard work. I didn’t just toss it off like I
sometimes NEVER do here. But, I mean, it was only a weekend. Yet something clicked. In a very good way. If I knew what it was I’d do it again. And maybe I will. Or not. But the point is – people love this thing I created and it is now “making the rounds.” While another script I spent two years on (okay, off and on) is languishing.
Talk about prescient. Who IS that student and my apologies for not mentioning you by name. And for not giving you your own blog or at least providing everyone I know with a link to your existing one. Or at least referring my 392 virtual friends to YOUR Facebook page (“He’s only got 392 friends? Wow, I thought he was more popular than that…”) so they can closely peruse your likes and dislikes and can become as smart as you so obviously are.
I preach passion and hard work to myself and to my students. But – what does working hard and bringing your passion mean exactly? Do you measure it in hours, weeks or years put in? Does the amount of time you spend slaving and sweating diligently directly correspond to your level or potential level of success? How do you measure the (work) years in your life?
(Note: I actually still love the score of “Rent” despite the fact that we’ve all probably heard this song 525,600 times.)
While intense repetition and study certainly cannot hurt in improving your abilities at anything, particularly over a long period of time, does it guarantee success? Certainly not. And – can it actually, well, have the inverse effect – that is to say actually hurt what you’re doing? I hesitate to say this, but sometimes – YES.
My small triumph this weekend (and it’s a treatment, not a feature script, no one tosses those off in a weekend, despite what they tell you) might have taken a shorter amount of time than many of the projects I’ve written, but it is also attributable to all the years of experience, hard work and time I’ve put in on EVERY project, good or bad. Taking two weeks or two months or two years instead of two days probably will not make it any better and, in fact, might have made it appreciably worse.
On the same token, I can’t help but wondering – was the two years I took on the project that’s languishing too long? Did I shoot myself in the foot (although there were times I would have liked to have shot myself in the head) by painstakingly reworking so many drafts, rewriting and restructuring and rethinking over so long of a period of time? Only time and I can be the best judge of that but, in retrospect, I suspect – Yes. (Or Maybe. Or really – I just don’t know. But possibly).
Now before you all jump up and down with permission to cut corners and limit your work time, let me be clear – this is NOT what I’m saying!
What I am noting is that the intensity of how you work (and take it from someone who is VERY intense that way – if you don’t believe me, I’ll give you my shrink’s number) can cut both ways – it can draw on passion that fuels great drive and a wonderment of creative energy. Or – it can drill you right into the ground with self-hatred – flagellating yourself for not ever being able to get your art right; convincing yourself you have no creative talent; or overchecking your ideas with anyone on the street (sometimes literally) who will listen and with your inner self. You end up wondering aloud or silently if what you’ve created in your little lair is any good at all, or will ever be good at all on this or any future project you’ll ever do.
(As if you really don’t know. I mean, really – everything you do for the rest of your life will be bad? Really? Come on)
Bottom line: If you’re so worried about the judgments people will make on your work that it’s always (or mostly) in the back of your mind while you’re doing it you’re guilty of the great sin of – OVERTHINKING. And you’re not working at your craft at all. Because what you’re really trying to work at is pleasing other people, or presumed people, or your idea of what people want – which has nothing at all to do with creation and only to do with getting praise, pleasing your mother, or father or some other “parent.” Or perhaps proving to yourself that you actually, truly and really do have the right to be doing what you’re doing and might, just might, have some small, tiny, invisible unseeable and yet just not noticed, modicum of talent.
That’s self-flagellation. And about as far from creativity as I can imagine. And if you’re also doing your work over and over and over, reinventing it in endless and various ways just to achieve that end because deep down you doubt that your work can ever be right, especially when at least one of two other people disagree – that’s OVERTHINKING AND self-flagellation. And it’s time to stop it. Now.
The very nature of facing a blank canvas of anything takes a great deal of faith and a lot of courage. It’s wonderful and fun, and tricky and rewarding. If it wasn’t all of those things, everyone would be doing it and, believe me, they’re not. What they’re also not doing is ALWAYS judging you. That’s all in your mind. Oh – of course they’re JUDGING (you and your work). Every one does everyday. But not constantly. Chances are they’re only judging themselves constantly (unless they’ve read this blog, have been in therapy or are somehow one of the 32 people in this world who’ve had a healthy upbringing). And as for your work (and you) it’s judged barely, and often by people who are unqualified. You know the old Hollywood expression – “Opinions are like a—holes. Everyone has one.”
But who cares what they say anyway. You’ve got, like, 6.94 billion other people in the world and they might feel exactly the opposite way. And because you’re not omniscient, you’ll never know all of their opinions. So why pick and choose the negative one that any one of them might think? Or why be that voice yourself? Think about it.
But don’t overthink it.