Saturday, May 10, 2014

I Hate This Piece Already

Currently, I seem to have entrenched myself in one of my more involved pieces, one I'm not ready to bring out into the sunlight yet because this just does not want to be anything resembling a short story.

Perhaps by the time I'm ready to put it out there, I'll be pretty proud of it. Five, ten years from now, though... that's a far dicier proposition. I've held that a good way to tell that you're improving as a creator is that you start hating your previous work. You see flaws in things you've previously done that you would never do now. The second you stop seeing those flaws and start seeing everything you do as great and perfect, that's when you start declining.

The thing is, there isn't really a timetable as to how long it needs to take in order to start hating it. In fact, you can start hating it immediately. In the new book Turning Point 1997-2008 by Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki, cofounder of Studio Ghibli, Miyazaki tells that this self-hatred is what keeps him going.

"Making films is all about--as soon as you're finished--continually regretting what you've done. When we look at films we've made, all we can see are the flaws; we can't even watch them in a normal way. I never feel like watching my own films again. So unless I start working on a new one, I'll never be free from the curse of the last one. I'm serious. Unless I start working on the next film, the last one will be a drag on me for another two or three years."
Compare this with Lorne Michaels, head of Saturday Night Live, who adopts the philosophy, "We don’t go on because we’re ready. We go on because it’s 11:30." Sometimes that hatred can creep into the creation of the work itself, where you're never satisfied, always looking for little tweaks and adjustments and improvements to the point where you have trouble letting go of it. Will there be errors? Of course there will. There is no perfect piece of art. There's no maximum 'art score' which upon hitting it means you win art. All you can do is your damnedest and take the lessons you learned on your last piece and apply them to your next. Michaels and the SNL crew have no choice but to adopt that approach, because they have a timeslot to fill and that timeslot isn't moving. When it's showtime, they have literally no choice but to go on stage with whatever they have for a script at that point. Is it just like they want it? No. But they have a deadline, and because they have a deadline, they have to learn to let go and move on to the next work.

As Michaels puts it, at least in an SNL context:

"It’s in no way natural to be performing at 11:30 on a Saturday night in a skyscraper in Rockefeller Center, so to get comfortable, to get loose, to feel that it makes perfect sense, takes just doing it. Sometimes you blow a line, or that thing you’re completely confident about falls apart. There’s no blaming the marketing campaign. You just weren’t good. They didn’t laugh. It was a big moment and you weren’t there for it. And it’s really hard to deal with, but you go through it, and you learn, and you do it again next week. That’s the resilience of the show and these people. You love it and you endure it and you slowly but surely get better. Sometimes the clock runs out for people, but most of the time we stick with them until that moment when they’re just flying, owning the stage, lighting it up and knowing that the audience is with them."
In both cases it comes down to work driving more work. Is there something wrong with your work? Yes. Always has been. Always will be. Give someone long enough and they'll start picking out flaws in the Sistine Chapel. It's still the Sistine Chapel.

Will you know if you have the Sistine Chapel on your hands, or at least something close enough to it? Typically not. But you won't know for sure unless you give it to someone so they can tell you.

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