The Paradox Of Limits

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2018-06-15 08:00:00-04:00 No comments

Writing Thoughts: Focus, Not Limitation - Steven Savage

We don’t want to limit ourselves. We want to tell every story, explore every nook, paint in colors no one has yet seen. We want to do it all. Creativity means a head full of infinity in a mortal frame that has to pick and choose what parts of that endlessness to let into the world. We make it even harder because we often talk about our need to be selective and to cultivate work in negative ways. Triage. Limitation. Pairing ideas down. Killing your darlings. We come up with the most negative ways to talk about this, ensuring of course we want to do it less.

Steve goes on to suggest that we need to use positive, aspirational, and motivational guidelines, not negative and constraining ones. He admits it's a trick, "but by using negative terms you’ve already been tricked into seeing this as a bad thing." Fight fire with plasma, and all that.

The other day I posted about how simple tricks can often be more powerful than big, systematic things. The analogy I borrowed was, when you need to pay the parking meter, a quarter is going to be more useful than a hundred-dollar bill. Same here: just reframing the way you think about what to keep vs. what not to keep can be more powerful than throwing out your entire self-image or workflow or what have you. Don't think about what you're not doing, but rather how you can make the best of what you are doing.

But Steve's right about how we don't want to hem ourselves in. It's in the nature of creatives, especially those who are young and fierce to prove themselves, to include the kitchen sink. It's part of how they live up to the examples they tend to be surrounded by, these universe-stories that sprawl across multiple installments. They feel like the only way to measure up to that standard is to produce something at least as Big and Ambitious.

This is a terrible trap, and it's driven at least as much by the marketing for the work we're surrounded by right now (and which many young creatives, again, take their cues from) as it is by the actual works themselves. It burns a lot of people out, or turns them into factories for things that can be easily marketed by riding the coattails of whatever's current and recognizable.

I hate sounding like a broken record, but this stuff matters. When you're just getting started making your own things, and you're surrounded by what look like good examples that have been scaled up to maximize an audience's long-term commitment (Marvelverse, etc.), you are going to have a hard time thinking that's not the example to follow. Look how successful it's been! Focus, as Steve puts it, seems antithetical to carving out a niche for yourself. The irony is that focus is how you carve out a niche for yourself, but if it doesn't look like focus to you it won't feel like it.

The larger implications of framing this whole issue in a positive, aspirational light remind me once again of one of my favorite quotes from Lester Bangs: one which frames the need to look up and not down in a far larger way: "It may be time, in spite of all indications to the contrary from the exterior society, to begin thinking in terms of heroes again, of love instead of hate, of energy instead of violence, of strength instead of cruelty, of action instead of reaction." This advice never goes out of style, and never loses focus no matter what realm you're in.

Tags: Steven Savage Dialogues creativity creators ideas writers writing