I came across a couple pieces this week that synched up nicely, clarifying a point that’s been bouncing around my skull for awhile.
Item One: an episode of Extra Credits titled “Fail Faster,” about the power of doing and correcting rather than trying to build a perfect foundation. EC’s actually a show about game design, but this episode’s broadly applicable to any creative endeavor.
Item Two: an editorial from New York Times Magazine called “Be Wrong as Fast as You Can,” detailing the author’s experience as a failed writer – and his ultimate realization that failure is a natural and powerful part of the creative process.
Though by no means a summary of the full article, here’s a great pull quote:
I recently saw a Charlie Rose interview with John Lasseter, a founder of Pixar, about the creative process behind his movies. Pixar’s in-house theory is: Be wrong as fast as you can. Mistakes are an inevitable part of the creative process, so get right down to it and start making them. Even great ideas are wrecked on the road to fruition and then have to be painstakingly reconstructed. “Every Pixar film was the worst motion picture ever made at one time or another,” Lasseter said. “People don’t believe that, but it’s true. But we don’t give up on the films.”
Both of these hit on a point I’ve been revisiting lately: that while it’s important to outline and develop ideas, you can’t get bogged down in thinking about a story rather than writing it. It’s a common trap writers fall into – even professional ones – and it’s often driven by the fear that we won’t do our story justice, that we’ll get it wrong and make mistakes. That it won’t be as good as something else already out there.
Fun story: In the early drafts of Frozen, Elsa was a straight-up villain like Hans Christian Andersen’s original Snow Queen.
Yeah, not so great. The movie was fun, but didn’t have much heart. Then Robert Lopez and Krisen-Anderson Lopez wrote “Let it Go,” and the team thought, Hey, maybe Elsa’s a tragic figure. So they had an interesting villain and a show-stopper, but something was still missing. That is, until an early read-through of the script spat up so much chemistry between Idina Menzel and Kristen Bell that the team thought, Check it – what if these two are sisters and the story’s about family dynamics.
BOOM. Hit movie.
As Extra Credits says, every great game course-corrected for success. To scatologize John Lasseter’s classy quote, every Pixar film was, at one point, a giant turd.
Popular wisdom states that you can’t polish a turd, but that phrase ignores something more important – poop makes excellent fertilizer. In the same way, bad ideas aren’t worthless or hopeless if you take the time and patience to grow a good idea from their nutrients.
But to do that, you have to have some crap to work with.
So go forth and fail today. Make crap – a giant mountain of it – then use that fertilizer to grow a tree, a field an entire orchard of tasty fruit. All you need is time and patience.
And shoveling. Crap requires a lot of shoveling.