Recently, I made the mistake recently of exposing some of my very early-stage ideas to the ruthless scrutiny of outsiders.
This rarely goes well, and I know better than to do this under normal circumstances. Young ideas need to be coddled and protected, like vulnerable children. You need to keep them close until they are strong enough to withstand exposure to outside criticism.
That’s the usual law I abide by. But in the case of this particular idea, I wanted to be accepted into a program which was designed to develop early stage ideas, so I went for it, despite my better judgment.
It shouldn’t have come as a surprise then when this idea was brutally rebuked by the judges. The judges didn’t seem to understand or like the idea. And their feedback was cryptic and frustrating. It basically amounted to: they didn’t like your movie. It sucks.
Is this because my idea is, in fact, terrible? Or is it because it’s unusual and new, that it bears no comparison? And…does it matter, either way?
I had to sit on this criticism for a while today. I take criticism of my work very seriously. I’m not the type to disregard people’s opinions off-hand. Yet, if I were to follow the line of this criticism, there’s a good chance I would start second-guessing all my choices at this very early stage of development. There’s a good chance I would lose faith completely in the project and give up.
How much weight should we really assign to such feedback in early stages?
It took me an afternoon of reflection, but I think I’ve come the conclusion that I haven’t gone far enough down the rabbit hole yet to put weight into it. Let people tell me they hate it when I’m done the first draft. Don’t tell me now, before it’s even been translated to the page!
So, people don’t get my concept. This has happened plenty of times before in the past when I’ve shared early-stage ideas, that’s nothing new. And even if it ends up that I waste a few months pursuing something that turns out to be ill-advised and stupid- is that really a waste of time?
Past experience reminds me that no writing pursuit is a waste of time- even if your idea doesn’t appear to go anywhere initially: Dead projects give way to better ideas. Failed ideas morph into successful ones. If you’re passionate about something, you need to let it percolate in your mind a while, and give it the opportunity to develop into something better.
There are safeguards in place to protect fawn from being hunted too early in their life-cycle. Likewise, we need to create similar safeguards to prevent our work being torn down before it has legs to stand on. I can’t allow my babies to be shot out of the sky before they’ve even had a chance to spread their wings.
Following this event, I found myself revisiting this amazing old blog post I had clipped by Steven Pressfield. If you haven’t yet read any of his incredible works (like War of Art), I highly recommend running not walking to pick them up…
“There’s an axiom among artists and entrepreneurs: to succeed, you have to be arrogant or ignorant or both. What that means is you have to blow off every response that says it’ll-never-work. Be arrogant. The nay-sayers are idiots. Or ignorant. Stay stupid and plunge ahead…..Almost no one recognizes a good idea at the idea stage. And the more bold the idea, the more people will be blind to it. That’s human nature. It’s the way the world works. If you’re seeking reinforcement from outside yourself, you’re in for a long, lonely haul. The answer to self-doubt is self-reinforcement.”
With that, I’m forging ahead with confidence. It’s too early to be listening to the cynics.