The Third Something

002 / Trust The Process

Thoughts on patience and the creative process on months-long projects.

There’s a busy construction site outside the back of our house.

Our living room window looks out over it and from my desk, which is just perpendicular, I have a front row seat.

I watched, back in the muggy heat of August, as demolition workers peeled tiles from the roof of the condemned buildings, which had stood there since the 1950s. I felt my desk and chair shake as the bulldozers razed the walls, simultaneously showering them with water to quell fires. Through October and November I watched as bright orange machines scooped ton after ton of brown soil, creating a huge pit in the ground. And then, with Christmas approaching, I was transfixed as a big white crane was erected.

(Have you ever wondered how a crane is built? Unsurprisingly, it requires the use of another crane.)

Each day now, if I turn away from my screen, I can watch the crane pick up a huge pile of steel poles, slowly carry them from one end of the site to the other, and gently lower them down.

It’s like this, piece-by-piece, the building will be made.

It was around the same time, in the muggy heat of August, that I began a major construction project of my own: a feature-length screenplay.

Two years ago, I don’t think I could have written a screenplay. Not because I didn’t have the tools or the stories; I was missing something else.

In scenes that I am sure will sound familiar to you, for much of my life my creative process has been an anguished one, riddled with self-doubt. I couldn’t put a stroke on a page without immediately questioning whether it was exactly the right stroke in exactly the right place.

My motivation was mercurial: if I wasn’t immediately happy with one small part, I questioned the whole endeavour.

And the result (in scenes that I am sure will also sound familiar) is a long list of abandoned projects and stories.

Something has changed since the summer.

Every weekday morning for four months, I have woken up and written one scene. There has never been a question of motivation. If it’s a weekday, I get out of bed and write a scene. I stop when I’m done and put it away for the rest of the day.

And like this, piece-by-piece, the screenplay will be made.

(On Friday morning I finished Act II..!)

So what has changed? I haven’t got more money, time, or talent than I had before.

I think partly it is age (I say that for the benefit of readers who might be younger than me and wondering why they can’t finish anything.)

And I think it is certainly experience. In the last two years I have finished two big projects: my sci-fi project Parallax and the New York Times documentary Operation Infektion. Both took more than a year to see through, and both required patience plus a trust in the process.

Having those two wins under my belt gives me the confidence to think, even on the difficult days, I will see this one through too.

So start small if you have to, but get some finished projects under your belt.

Completion begets completion.

And like this, piece-by-piece, the thing will be made.

Thank you reading this week. If you know someone who might like this letter please forward it onto them. Each letter is also a webpage so you can share it online too!

Until another Sunday soon,

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