This is another one of those letters where I’m going to figure out what I want to say as I type it.
It’s also going to be an attempt at some radical honesty. Here goes.
So, I take what I do inordinately seriously. I’m a serious person by default and was a very serious child. I try not to take myself seriously at all but, as readers who have known me for some years will know, the mask slips.
Taking your work seriously is, on the whole, a good thing. It creates the conditions for focus, dedication, commitment over long periods of time - all the things that make us good at something.
But it has downsides. When work becomes a serious endeavour there’s less room for play. Everything feels heavy, strained. The work becomes overthought and overwrought, weighed down by its own self-righteousness.
Sometimes, I just can’t seem to get out of my own damn way.
When I watch the work of others, I’m struck often by how effortless it appears. Like somehow the idea came to the creator whole and they just threw it together.
There are so many great YouTube channels by people who are not video makers per se but bring visual ideas that I don’t think of. For example, the channel ContraPoints by Natalie Wynn, who came to YouTube from academia and has developed a unique visual style that’s really original.
Do people who aren’t trying to be good filmmakers have some kind of outsider’s advantage? It feels like it. By not taking the craft so seriously they play, almost with a lack of self-criticism and in doing so, make something new and interesting.
“A writer is someone for whom writing is harder than it is for everybody else” Thomas Mann once said, and I always thought there was truth in that. But at the same time, the idea that the work should always be hard is sad, another symptom of struggling artist syndrome.
Then, take this screenplay I have been working at since last summer. Writing it has been a blast. It has felt surprisingly effortless, like the idea came to me whole and I just had to write it down. Is it any good? I have no idea and, given that it is my first attempt at a feature script, all probabilities are that it is not.
But that’s fine with me. What’s strange is that making a bad video is not fine with me.
Where am I going with this? I realise as I’m typing I am having the same debate with myself as the fictional Charlie Kaufman and his brother Donald in Adaptation.
Perhaps it’s uncovering a spectrum of two extremes: at one end, being a creator who takes what they do so seriously the successes and failures become connected to their self-worth; at the other end, someone who doesn’t take any of it seriously. The sweet spot is, as usual, probably somewhere in the middle.
I wish I could play more with my art, but I don’t seem to know how.
Sorry if the letter feels a bit disjointed this week - I started it this morning without really knowing how it would finish.
Until another Sunday soon,