'Being Creative Requires Massive Failure All the Time'
The internet is full of advice on how to be more creative — advice that may or may not work. But Brian Koppelman tells it like it is.
In case you need a refresher on Koppelman, he's a renowned screenwriter, producer, and director, most widely known for penning the scripts for Rounders and Ocean's Thirteen, producing The Illusionist, and directing The Solitary Man and the excellent ESPN 30 for 30 documentary This Is What They Want. He also helms one of the most fascinating podcasts around, The Moment with Brian Koppelman, where he interviews creatives and delves into specific moments in their lives that changed everything.
In a recent interview with Ramit Sethi, a prominent writer and entrepreneur, Koppelman shared some candid advice that applies to all people who do creative work. Check out the interview below:
There are a few things that stand out to me from this interview:
First and foremost is the "rigor" that Koppelman describes as a necessary part of the creative process. Of course, everyone knows that you have to work hard to produce great work. That's just common sense. But what Koppelman is describing is more about being honest with yourself, and being objective about the shortcomings of your creative work. Sometimes your ego can get in the way of making meaningful progress on a project, but giving yourself honest, critical feedback, and applying a sense of rigor to said feedback, can help you break through those creative barriers.
Feeling like a failure is totally normal
Another key insight here is that the creative process is rarely a fun one. More often than not, it's going to feel like you're failing. Your brain, fueled by the incredibly high standards that you set for yourself, is going to tell you that your work isn't good enough, that you should just give up. To deal with those negative impulses, Koppelman reminds himself that the greatest filmmakers — he uses Coppola and The Godfather as an example — probably had days where they felt as if they were complete failures. Instead of giving in, those filmmakers got up the next morning and kept working, kept tackling the project head on, even in spite of their doubt.
Not having much time to write might actually be a good thing
Last, but certainly not least, is Koppelman's advice for people who claim not to have enough time to write. He uses his experience with the screenplay for Rounders, which he wrote for two hours every morning while he was working full time, to demonstrate why having limited time can actually be a blessing in disguise. If you carve out time in your life, maybe an hour a day or less, and devote yourself 100% to your craft during that short period, you will make constant and meaningful progress towards your goal. Having such a short amount of time forces you to use it wisely, to attack your project with an intensity that you probably wouldn't have if you had seven uninterrupted hours per day to write.
All in all, Koppelman's advice here is great, largely because it's so straightforward. It's not about flashy techniques for being creative. It's simply: work hard, be honest with yourself, and be persistent, even when you feel like throwing in the towel.