We often have this mental image (probably from a lifetime of Hollywood movies), where the protagonist has a flash of brilliance and starts writing a manuscript for their play and it turns out to be an absolute work of art at the end of the show. Everyone gives a standing ovation and tears stream down the faces of the protagonists’ families.
In true movie logic, we tend to follow the journey of the main character selectively. We see the heartbreak and failure and we tend to ignore it. Maybe it’s just a human instinct to stray away from pain and move towards to pleasure of seeing them succeed at the end.
But the truth is that the story of creating works that last a lifetime is more than just this simplistic version that we see coming out of a screen.
The end goal that we view as the finishing line is really only just the beginning.
We think that producing a investment pitch or sending in a manuscript to a publisher is the end goal, but really the end goal is much further down the path. No one is going to be kicking the door down to invest in your project (unless you have been successful prior to your current project).
If you’re a nobody, expect nobody to turn up at your doorstep. Not at least till your product is ready, truly ready.
Mind you, we’re talking about perennial successes here. Not memes or Tiktoks that you shake your bum for 30 seconds and publish to the world. Those kinds of works typically have a short lifespan and relies heavily on pushing it out quickly and by the dozen.
Are We There Yet?
Dr Disrespect, one of the internet’s most famous and controversial Twitch streamer, has a favourite line he throws out whenever he wins a tournament,
We’re on the tippity top of the mountain, but we’re really only halfway up
It alludes to two truths here.
- We are bound to limitless potential, no matter what successes we enjoy, we’re really only halfway up the journey.
- Just when we think our job is done, our product has been created … we’re really only halfway there.
I shared a little bit about that in the previous segment, but the process of refinement and polishing will take much longer than the actual creation of the work.
It only takes 9 months to birth a baby, but a lifetime of work to perfect a human being.
More often than not, creating a business or a product comes from selfish agendas.
“I want to create this because I would use this”
While that isn’t necessarily a wrong a mindset to have, it has to be coupled with the right refinement processing in order to best cater this piece of work to it’s intended audience, so that they would use it because it means something to them. Not just because you would use consume it.
Refinement is not pretty, it’s painful
Stephen King famously advices writers:
“Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”
It’s easy to create something, feel satisfied that you have birthed something into existence and then want to hand it over to someone else to do the rest of the refinement work.
Why? Probably because being creative is the fun part of creating a product. As Ryan Holiday says, we’re probably drawn only to doing the creative part because we are afraid of what’s next, the poking, the prodding, the tough decisions to make that will refine the product further.
But it’s exactly the process in order to create works that last a lifetime. There is no shortcut to this process.
It is also why many people don’t want to create something that lasts a lifetime. Why bother with the hassle, why go through all that pain and disappointment when I can make 5 second memes?
It is also the reason why whenever movies are released, the commercial release almost always does better than the director’s cut. Although the director is the leader, visionary and can conjure unique ways to film the movie, he/she is still backed by a council of editors and producers that use their expertise to make the movie as palatable to the public as possible.
And you can see the stark difference between one person’s singular vision versus a collective of professionals finetuning the work.
This leads me to the next point.
Find a Trusted Voice
Lady Gaga’s hit single Shallow in the movie “A Star Is Born” achieved many accolades, including the Academy Award for Best Original Song, the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song, the BAFTA Award for Best Film Music and the Critics’ Choice Movie Award for Best Song. It garnered four Grammy Award nominations, including Record of the Year and Song of the Year while winning for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance and Best Song Written for Visual Media.
But it didn’t start off that way obviously …
Gaga first played the melody of Shallow 2 years before they had even begun producing the work. She worked with Mark Ronson who had produced Uptown Funk By Bruno Mars, Dirty Pretty Things’ Anthony Rossomando and Miike Snow’s Andrew Wyatt in order to produce the song to what we now know Shallow to be.
Gaga continues to work with Mark Ronson and credits him for many of the creative break-throughs that she has had. It is that unique synergy between creator and producer that solidifies the quality of work that Lady Gaga continues to put out and he is no doubt a huge part of what made Shallow a multiple award winning piece of art.
Without the Mark-Gaga relationship, would “A Star is Born” be as good of a movie as it turned out to be? I highly doubt so.
My personal opinion is that the soundtrack carried the movie. But that’s just me.
Time and time again, we see great creators and rulers seek the company and counsel of their trusted right-hand wo/man.
Former prime minister of Singapore Mr Lee Kuan Yew credits his wife Mrs Kwa Geok Choo for being his sounding board and his rock. She undoubtedly must be his biggest fan and biggest critic of his work. Without people like her, it is hard to imagine what Singapore would turn out to be.
Before reading Perennial Seller by Ryan Holiday, I had this preconceived notion that the prerequisite of creating works that last a lifetime involved the creator making a drastic decision to rent a cabin deep in the jungle, sitting there for a couple of months and focus solely on the creation process, not letting any distractions of the world to get to the creator.
I’ve come to the realisation that this act only depicts a partial picture.
What happens after the creator comes out of his reclusiveness?
Weeks and weeks of grueling editing, refining and rewriting.
This process is counter-cultural. Growing up in school, every student (and teacher) dread the process of redoing homework because it is shameful to need an additional try to get something right.
But yet, every single creator that is working to create a work that lasts a lifetime knows that failing is part of the process, the rewriting, the editing or the pivoting is the very thing that turns a diamond in the rough into a beauty.
No work that is built to last a lifetime is easy, nor can it be done alone. It is built off the backs of a competent team that you trust in this refining process.
Don’t do it alone.
Till next week!