They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result. But they also say “if at first you don’t succeed, try try again.” So what do they know?
Look, you’re not going to get lucky. Nobody does. Whatever it is you’re trying to do, you need two things to succeed: a great idea and the skillful execution of that idea. One without the other isn’t enough. Where do you get these ingredients? The short answer is this: trial and error.
You try and try, over and over, discarding the weak ideas and refining your execution, going through your process. Always hoping for a different result this time.
Sometimes – too many times – you get one without the other. On the one extreme you have the killer idea that goes nowhere. On the other there’s the immaculately-polished turd.
How do you get past these? You work through them, all the way, as deeply and as completely as you can, then throw them away and keep going. Keep driving. Keep moving. Send your stuff out if you’re happy with it, but move on. The clock is ticking and you still need more practice.
There’s a saying in the writers room: “You’ve got to kill your babies.” Harsh? Definitely. And that’s the point.
You’ve got to be willing to throw away everything, even the ideas you’re most in love with. Especially the ideas you’re most in love with. You’ve got to keep cranking. You’ve got to keep yourself honest. You can’t hang on to anything that can slow you down, that can keep you from moving forward, from driving the process along. Hanging on to one idea is just going to keep you pinned down and preoccupied when the next idea – a better idea – comes along.
When I think about creative people who have been successful, their success has almost always come from a steady progression of projects through which they’ve practiced and improved and reached a critical command of their skills. Then at some point that key idea comes along, and BAM! the idea gets executed with these skills and the rest is history. It is rare to hear of a creative person coming across his killer idea at age 19 or 23 or something and then spending years sheltering and nurturing and protecting that same idea until a miracle happens and the skills of execution arise out of nowhere.
But you see people – talented people – clinging forever to that one thing. That one pet idea. For years, wasting time. And it breaks your heart. Forget about doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result – these people do NOTHING and expect a perfect result. Now that’s a definition of insanity.
These skills are learned. You have to earn them, from stretching. From work. Not from babying that same idea you’ve held onto forever. In love with your idea? Terrific. Now go write that idea. Then write another one. Just do it. Kill your babies.