Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Good ideas, bad ideas

All too familiar

I wish that authors, comedians, professors, musicians, and other great creators of our time would show us their notes, their rough drafts, their first outlines, and their works that just didn't work.

When I read something like Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman, I have this imagery of him sitting at an oak desk on a red leather chair in a small, wood paneled room, quickly typing at a type writer by candle light and with only a cup of tea on the desk, each word being placed exactly as it appears before me. It feels like the story just comes out, that this is the only way it has ever existed because this is the only way for it to exist. Anything else would simply be wrong and Mr. Gaiman knows this, so he doesn't write it that way. It was conceived in it's entirety and written flawlessly the first time.

I'm sure this is not true. While I have spoken of my utmost respect for Mr. Gaiman in previous posts, I cannot believe that all of his stories are written as they appear in the book the first time or that the initial storyline he works up is the exact same as the finished product. He (most likely) works through a league of ideas, storylines, characters, plot twists, rewrites, and any number of things that his editor and perhaps close friends recommend or suggest that he takes to heart. These works are products of years of work on his part writing and rewriting and re-rewriting to make it work as it does. But we don't see this. We only see the finished product. We're never shown the crumpled stacks of paper he went through. (Metaphorically speaking, of course. I'm sure he now writes on a computer. Or perhaps on his G1.)

Comedians are the same way. We don't know what jokes Jerry Seinfeld comes up with and doesn't use; we don't know what observations George Carlin made that didn't end up in his final acts; we don't know what little mimes or scenarios Eddie Izzard thinks up but decides just aren't going to work. Their successes are all we see and so I begin to see this as "everything he writes" or "every joke they come up with" is brilliant and sheer gold.

I mention these amazing minds of our time because they have often inspired me to do what I do while at the same time they discourage me with their work since it seems like they can do no wrong. How can I begin to do what they do when all I can seem to write is menial dribble that might evoke a half-smile from a reader, while they can write jokes that will make audiences of tens of thousands burst out into laughter, or stories that will entertain millions?

I write this not to tell you what you already know but to remind me of what I so often forget: they've all written jokes andstories that have failed, too. Not everything they've done has been an amazing success; we just don't see what isn't remarkable because it never gets out to the public. It stays with them in their studies or in the minds of their friends who told them, "Neil, sorry mate, but that story is terrible," or, "Jerry, that's not very funny."

Mr. Gaiman updates his blog regularly, and while I do read it as regularly as he updates, I admit that there are times when I'm not blown away by his writing. There is always some wit to it, but sometimes it's just kind of "oh." (I must point out his blog regarding making what I think was cranberry sauce from scratch over Thanksgiving, which involved the instructions, "Boil for a long time. No longer than that.") His blog actually inspired me to write more often for my own, because while he has accomplished more in writing than I could ever dream, his blog has shown me that not everything he writes is flawless or brilliant or usable as a standard for currency.

The last few days I've sat here, wondering what to write. Sometimes events happen that I think "this'll make a great blog entry" and other times I'll get an idea and think "write about this." But there are a fair number of times when I don't know what to write about. During those times I try to just write about whatever I can think of, be it something simple like what I did that day or something everyone has read about like the Academy Awards. Either way I'm writing. Either way I have a chance to produce something great -- and there are some posts I'm very proud to have written. I may not have the wit and humor of David Sedaris, but I'm inclined to think he spent a fair share of time on Me Talk Pretty One Day in order to make it so delightful.

That being said, I hope you can all bear with me through the times when I write menial dribble and the times I write things I'm truly proud of.

the joy of success

Hopefully this has helped you to do something as well, reminding you that those whom you look up to in that field have done their share of failures as well. I once read that in order to be a creator/inventor you have to have a certain naivety in believing that it will work despite everything pointing to the contrary -- you have to believe it will work and be persistent against failure. Because you will fail. I'll fail. We'll all fail a lot. But sometimes we'll succeed. And that's why we should keep doing it: because when you succeed there's nothing else quite like it in the world.