Nothing like having your bluff called by a legendary writer and creator…
For a few years now, I’ve been saying I’m a writer. An author. Ask me what I really want to do and, behind closed doors, I’ll tell you I want to write a transcendent book every 2 years, speak on stuff that changes lives twice a month and teach a course on the renegade lifestyle and entrepreneurship, both privately and at a university.
Holy crap…was that out loud?!
Thing is, I also have to support a family and I like to be comfortable, so when it comes to me being a writer, I’ve been keeping this whiteboard of book ideas that I’d like to write and that I think I can sell to a large, hungry market. And, sitting here, for the better part of a year and a half, not writing my next book.
Not because I don’t have ideas. Hell, I’ve got tons.
But because I’ve been trying to suss out which idea will have the most commercial potential. That, and my “people” essentially told me, don’t bother writing the next one until Career Renegade has run it’s course, because the publishers will tell you what they want you to write next. Plus, you want to get paid to write, right?
Then, along comes book and screenwriting legend, Steven Pressfield (The War of Art, The legend of Baggar Vance, Gates of Fire, Tides of War) with a riff on his blog about how he chooses what he’s going to write next.
The people I was meeting with were uniformly smart, motivated, funny. They treated me with respect. They were good peeps. What was wrong? Was it me? This was serious. The emotion was such a downer that I thought, I can’t keep feeling this and stay in this business. What was happening? Finally it hit me.
I realized that floating in the air over every meeting I had been on was an unspoken assumption. The execs and producers and studio people all shared this assumption, and they assumed—because I was in the room with them—that I shared it too.
The assumption was this: We will do anything for a hit.
I don’t fault that position. It’s a good business model. If ultra-violence will get us a smash, let’s go with ultra-violence. If jerk-off teen comedies work, crank ‘em out. Movies based on board games, old TV shows, comic book characters … cue ‘em up, let’s roll.
The problem for me was I didn’t share that assumption. That was why these meetings were depressing me so much. I hated those kinds of movies. That wasn’t why I was here at all! I had decided to take a crack at the movie business because I loved movies; I wanted to write stuff that meant something to me. Movies like the ones I worshipped. Movies I myself wanted to see.
I want to make money. I need to make money.
But, you know what, I write not just because someone believes my content has blockbuster potential and is willing to pay me. I write at least in part because that’s who I am and what I do. Because it’s proven itself a powerful channel to connect with and impact others.
But, here’s the hard part. The one Pressfield seems to have found peace with, yet I still struggle with.
I drew two big circles on a piece of paper. In one I wrote STORIES I LOVE. In the other, STORIES THAT MIGHT SELL. These were two separate circles. But, I thought, let’s move them together. Is there an overlap? Is there a quadrant, however miniscule, where these two spheres intersect? Yes, there is. That tiny sliver I called MY BUSINESS….Here’s the interesting part: it didn’t work.
…As much sense as the overlapping circles made in theory, they didn’t work for me in practice. What did succeed was being totally stupid and jumping off a cliff. That’s my business plan and I’m sticking to it.
That sliver, the commercially-viable sweet spot of which Pressfield writes is a bit like the psychic Mafia.
Every time you try to get out, it just keeps pulling you back in. I’ve operated within the sweet spot in business and it’s served me well and generated millions in revenue.
But, doing so in the context of my own pure, solitary creative output has become a far bigger struggle.
And, it seems, the more skilled I become at my craft, the more pronounced the struggle becomes.
I know, intuitively, that it is possible to reach a place where craft, seasoning, intention and action become so exquisitely aligned, the rules cease to apply. I’ve seen it happen. We all have. And I’ve experienced passing moments in that gorgeous place.
Questions is, how do you know when you’ve arrive at that place where the rules no longer bind you?
How do you know when to build it and simply trust they will come?
Or, like the guy who asks how much the Lamborghini costs, does that very fact that the question’s being asked imply you’ve not yet arrived?
And, if you haven’t…
Is there some accelerant you can pour on the process beyond time in the game?
I’m working hard on the answer.
And, coming ever closer to getting stupid and jumping off a cliff..
How about you?
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