On being a constant failure

No, this is not some dreary confessional.

Author Brian Ruckley wrote this interesting blog post: Everything I’ve Ever Written is a Failure.

In the post, Ruckley quotes another author, Scott McCloud, from his book Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art:

Ask any writer or filmmaker or painter just how much of a given project truly represents what they envisioned it to be. You’ll hear twenty per cent … ten … five … few will claim more than thirty.

Media convert thoughts into forms that can traverse the physical world and be re-converted by one or more senses back into thoughts.

While I certainly agree with this, and Ruckley’s post about it, I think there’s another perhaps more subtle reason a lot of finished artwork can seem like a failure to the artist.

When we are excited about a new project, we’re excited not about the end product itself, but about the project’s possibilities. It’s like the start of an adventure. I’ve got a few ideas that mysteriously excite me; the project is exciting because I don’t know what the specifics will be. I’m excited by my own ignorance. It’s like getting a big present at Christmas, all mysteriously wrapped up. There could be anything in there. That’s the fun of wrapping gifts. Not knowing and wanting to know is thrilling.

The problem is we tend to mistakenly attribute the excitement of potential to evaluation of the end product. But after a project is finished, there’s no more mystery to it. We can no longer wonder and dream about what it could be. And so it stops inspiring that same feeling of excitement, and it can feel like a failure, because we can never again experience it with that same sense of ignorant wonder.

Is there a solution to this? I’m not sure; it might just be a natural part of the creation process. I suppose the best we can do is to try to understand what exactly is exciting us about a potential project, and always turn our attention to the elements in our stories that are exciting us the most.

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