I watched part 1 of the new Beatles documentary, Get Back, on Disney+ last night and felt very inspired to create and be artistic and free-flowing again but I can’t think of much else to say about it besides god damn the Beatles were so very good. Just watching them seamlessly transition between one another’s instruments while absent-mindedly noodling what would become iconic songs is so mesmerizing.
It took me back to my days in a garage band in high school and yes, before you type a comment, I am implying we were basically as good as the Beatles. What struck me in watching their process was how, even at a time when everyone is clearly not getting along optimally, there’s still a ton of vulnerability being expressed in sharing their various snippets, lyrics, hooks, and ideas.
“Expressing vulnerability” has been a recurring theme for me these past 2 years.
Rehearsals when I was part of a band, when I dared to actually show up because even going was intimidating to me, were nowhere near as collaborative or free-flowing. The guys who could actually play music would usually have a song or riff in mind, they would work on it, and I would either bring some lyrics I’d been writing separately or try to freestyle something together. When I watch Paul McCartney singing gibberish while he’s hunting down a melody, I see that lack of fear to try something that might not be the best. And he’s Paul McCartney. In the fucking Beatles. In the ’60s. There has possibly never been more pressure on a musician to turn out something pure gold, and yet there he is just warbling.
(And obviously, even his half-baked ideas are better than anything I ever wrote)
But I never could open up to that kind of exposure, even among guys I felt were like brothers to me. It was too scary, too big a risk to take: what if it sucks?
Spoiler alert: it all sucks. At least at first. Even great ideas start out as good ones. I am very well-versed in the fallacy of “I can’t start doing x until I have it all planned out, the path forward is clearly mapped, and I have secured victory.” Culturally, we want our creators to be geniuses, savants, and brilliant minds we can barely comprehend. Because that movie moment when the hero has an epiphany that solves everything is much more exciting to watch than the one where she spends 6 years studying and researching, going down dead ends, thinking she’s solved the problem only to introduce another one, and so on.
We want creativity to be ethereal because that simplifies things; and it takes the pressure off us when we’re not creative: Oh well, the muse must refuse. And that’s less scary than the truth: creativity is mechanical. It is iterative. It is repetitive, often painfully so. And that part, that grind towards something you may not even see or know for sure exists yet, seems like a lot of hard work for nothing if you fail.
After all, not being graced by the divine hand of inspiration is lamentable, sure, but not within our control. But if we try, and fail? We might as well cash out. What could be left? I have tried, I have not succeeded, ergo I have nothing left.
In my line of work writing marketing copy, I get asked a specific question a lot:
How long will this take you to do?
It’s an innocent enough question, often asked by people whose entire jobs boil down to justifying my existence and that of everyone else on the creative team payroll via a spreadsheet. But fuck, man, how can I even begin to answer this? How long will it take me to find the right idea, and then how long will it take me to realize it’s the right one among all the others, and then how long will it take to refine it from the kernel of a good idea into something polished, pithy, and peculiar?
I honestly have no clue.
Now if you need it done by a deadline, I can do that. If you have a set amount of hours you want to pay to get a finished product, I can work within that number. But what you’re getting there is the best idea in the time allotted.
PS I write marketing copy; I’m well aware it’s not exactly Ulysses. But I like to think I’m good at my job, and I like to think I can do great work with a little time and space to noodle around and be vulnerable a bit.
But so often copywriting is reduced to “It’s just a tag line,” or “Just write something catchy,” or “Why would it take you two hours to write six words?”
As soon as I figure out the why of it, my rate is going to skyrocket.