Better Than The Worst

The other day I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts, ScriptNotes, where John August, one of the hosts, interviewed indie film producer Keith Calder. While I recommend the enlightening conversation, there was one point in particular that stuck out. Here’s the excerpt:

Keith: …It’s interesting because I think a lot of people, when they’re approaching independent film, are looking at the movies that exist in the marketplace, meaning like things you can just watch on TV or in theaters or on Netflix, and their assumption is, “Well, if I make a movie that’s better than the worst of those then that means I will get to be released in those same ways.”

John: The plus one fallacy.

Keith: Yeah. And it’s the same thing that happens with people writing spec screenplays. They look at the movies onscreen and they say, “Well, if I write a script that’s better than the worst of them then that means that I will be able to succeed.” And it’s just not the way that the world works.

The concept of being “better than the worst of those” made me stop and pull out my writing app and jot down the beginnings of this post. Why? Because I’m guilty of this paradigm, and I’d bet you are too.

This post will dissect what it is, how it hurts us, and what to do about it.

What Creatives Want

To be successful. To be seen. To be appreciated. To be significant. To change the world? I dunno, that last one feels a bit ambitious to me but maybe that’s 100% what you’re about. No judgement here.

We want to do fulfilling work and hopefully get compensated for it, either directly or indirectly. Sure, many of us dream of the huge payday one day, but most if not all of us will be just fine if our bills are paid and we get to do what we love for a living.

Is that too much to ask?

What Creatives Think

That as long as we’re “better than the worst of them” — than the worst that we’ve seen — then we’ll be successful. Except…that’s not reality. Not by a long shot, unfortunately.

Don’t blame the messenger.

What Really Happens

That “what we’ve seen” portion represents about 1% of the total amount of content that exists. That’s right. 1%. Now, because I love math and spreadsheets you’re gonna have to bear with me a sec here.

As an example, in 2016 there were 736 movies released in theaters, comprised of 93 studio films, and 643 indies. However, that’s the tip of the iceberg, and you probably only saw a few dozen of those movies, maybe more if you have a Movie Pass.

4068 films were submitted to Sundance in 2017. (18%) Let’s be generous and say that 1 out of every 10 films made in 2016 submitted to the Sundance film festival. So what we see in theaters represents less than 2% of the total output from filmmakers, and again, you only saw a small percentage of those movies.

In case I managed to make things super confusing, if you see 50 newly-released movies in a year, you’ve only seen about 1% of the movies that were made and submitted to Sundance or put into theaters. So, if your goal is to be “better than the worst of them”, you still have to be better than more than 4,000 other films, at least.

Put another way, even if you’re in the top 2% based on whatever metric you’re measuring this example by, the chances are you’re still not getting into theaters, let alone having a box office hit. That is reserved for the top .01%.

What really happens when you try to be better than the worst? You fail.

Why? Because you didn’t make your best work. You tried to just be a little better than someone else, without even considering what “better” even means. You were trying to score a touchdown on a golf course. Whoops.

What To Do About It

Focus on making the best work you possibly can, on becoming “so good they can’t ignore you”. Don’t hold back. Give it your all.

Find the people that are looking for “it” already, your so-called “tribe”. Learn how to tell people that you made something that they will like based on who they are and what they’ve enjoyed in the past. Keep making more every day and don’t let some arbitrary measurement of success like followers or subscribers or favorites get you down. Beat back the resistance with a massive stick and get to work.

Brian Grazer once said that “good enough equals shitty” . This is a man whose films and TV series have been nominated for 43 Academy Awards and 131 Emmys. He knows a thing or two about what “good” is.

The resolution we must make is to constantly improve. To seek out mentors, examples, and opportunities that will make us better. To do the hard things that lead to progress and growth. To never settle for “good enough” or “better than the worst” examples of what we’ve seen in the world. To strive to be so good that we can’t be ignored.

Fighting “The Resistance” While Traveling

The “resistance” has reared it’s ugly head on this most recent trip to Italy. My wife booked a wedding out here in Rome last year so we’ve been looking forward to it for a while, and decided to extend the trip into a 2 week Italy/Barcelona excursion. So far it’s been cold but hasn’t disappointed in the slightest.

I was mostly excited to have some extra time to write and make progress on some of my goals. Without the commitment to leave at 8am every morning and go to work for 8 hours, I felt a huge opportunity to spend more time being creative.

So, I hopped on the 8 hour flight from Philadelphia to Rome, put my laptop on my tray table, and… slept. The whole time.

I did wake up for numerous bathroom breaks and to eat some cheap airline food, but other than that, I didn’t even crack my laptop once. Pathetic, I thought.

Arriving in Rome, we did some sight seeing and got home early because of the time difference (+8 hours from Utah). We both fell asleep around 6am, which meant I was WIDE awake at 1am, as I normally only get about 6.5 hours of sleep a night. Not recommended, but it’s what I can do at the moment.

I got up to write since I had all of this energy and went out into the living room area. Cracked open the laptop and… wasted about three hours of time. I did manage to write a few emails to get ahead on my Daily Mormon email list, but wrote exactly ZERO words on my book, which is what I had intended to do. Pathetic, yet again.

Yesterday, we took a train to Venice. The total time was 3.75 hours, so clearly I had ample time to write. You’ll never guess what happened…

Normally when I set out to get some deep work done I make a concerted effort to turn off my notifications, close the door, flip on Brain.fm for some extra neuro-awesomeness, and then start a Freedom session to really make sure nothing interrupts me. Sure, it would be easier to just turn off the wifi and go to work, but we all have our process.

Naturally, then it should have been easier to write on a train with wifi that was existent but not functional. Yet, that’s how resistance works. It flips the script on you. What should have been a boon ended up being the death of my writing habit for the day. To be honest, the habit didn’t even put up a fight.

“No WiFi!?! Well, looks like I’M not getting anything done today.”

Pathetic.

It wasn’t until this morning that I actually realized what had happened. The resistance won a battle I didn’t even know I was in. 

The takeaway is that the resistance is always there, always seeking an opportunity to prevent you from doing your work, to stop your art or your writing from being able to affect the world in the way you want to. Each of us has a different, personalized version of it, and we each need to know how to recognize it and fight it.

This morning I got up after a luxurious 8.5 hours of sleep, made sure I did my morning routine, and am sitting here writing. (With working WiFi…)

It’s a never-ending battle with resistance, and there will be days that we lose. The important thing is that we get back up the next day to fight it again, and again, and again.

The Resistance Is Real

Guys. The resistance. It’s real.
 
Two days ago I parted ways with my business that I’ve been running for about 10 years now. The moments and days that have followed have me realizing that my options are infinite. That feeling is equal parts motivating and crippling. 
 
If you can do anything you want, how do you decide what is and isn’t valuable? How do you define “value” in the first place? Why seek “something of value” at all?
 
After the crippling thoughts came the crippling guilt . “What if the thing I want to do isn’t big enough? Isn’t valuable enough? Doesn’t provide value to the “right” people? Or provides more value to me than it does to others?
 
What if what I’m “supposed” to be doing is much, much bigger than what I’m considering doing?
 
If you’re looking for answers to these questions as well, I’m sorry. This isn’t that kind of a post.
 
The thing I realized today is that all these issues do one thing well: prevent you from creating anything at all. 
 
Questions like these are ones that I’ll never be able to answer. They only serve “the resistance”, as Steven Pressfield calls it.
 
They prevent you from writing, from creating, from putting your art into the world.
 
To divert a little bit, I love Seth Godin’s definition of “art”, that it’s the idea that a human puts out into the world. Whether it’s received or not is irrelevant.
 
So, after two days of crippling questions and expectations and fighting the resistance, I opened wordpress and started typing. This is what came out.
 
There’s no such thing as “writer’s block”. I stand by that. Because I didn’t have anything to write about, that is, until I started writing. That’s what I’m going to try and do when the resistance shows up again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day.
 
When the resistance comes, (figuratively) get out your pen, and write.