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Saturday 10 March 2012

Get The Work Done Before You Arrive

"It takes twenty years to become an overnight success" -Eddie Cantor

The X Factor paradigm got it wrong. They made it about being 'discovered' and instantly succeeding. Sometimes it works, but then you have nothing to fall back on. You get defined by what you are once everyone knows your name. The chance to learn your craft and become an expert comes when you're in the wilderness, when no-one cares about you.

Being discovered isn't what you need. What you need is to become an expert, and you're better off on the outside. Look at sports, we stand in awe of the 19 year old geniuses, but then you find out they started playing football/basketball when they were 4, and it's the only thing they've ever cared about. In sport, you can't skip the hard work if you want to make it and sustain it.

It's a journey. Look at your writing or acting or directing from five years ago. We improve. But remember five years ago when you were desperate to be discovered... Did you deserve it? No way!

Stop worrying about 'making it'. Instead focus on becoming so good that you're unstoppable. Talent is great and you're privileged to have it, but it doesn't mean anything.

Some people stand out. Let's take actors; there are thousands doing the rounds, auditioning and fighting to make it. Very occasionally you meet one who just HAS IT. That's a natural thing, a fluke, luck, who knows. They have that thing that people thought was "special" when they were young, and they believed it and followed their dreams.

That's the easy part. The hard part comes next: putting the work in. Someone with the spark, who couples it with dedication, is irresistible. And I mean dedication to their development, not to 'success'.Talent comes naturally, but expertise is for the select few who have the dedication to achieve it.

When you get 'discovered', whatever that means, make sure you're prepared. When a director is rude to you, or a producer demands you nail the script in one draft, you need the tools to handle it. They come from experience, from learning, from challenging yourself. Even the task of going to an audition can take years to master. But after you've been doing it for ten years you learn how to play the game and you learn how to be yourself.

I am seeing this time and again with my peers. We're reaching a period of accomplishment, based on experience, on putting the years in. Those failed projects, those nightmare meetings, those awful scripts, they MEANT SOMETHING!

The thing you think is your big break probably isn't, but it is part of the journey. Don't look to The X Factor for how the world works, the winners may get famous and make some money but they're ultimately meaningless. You just wish those shows had been about nurturing talent rather than making money.

With success, comes rules and deadlines and personalities that are difficult to navigate. The period prior to success is your playground, a chance to discover who you are and where you want to go. Follow your fascinations, work hard, and become an expert in your niche. You'll be unstoppable. Knowledge is power. Yes, this is an art form, but you can shorten the odds on creating great work by doing the unexpected: you can dedicate yourself to nurturing your own talent.


  1. One of the most important things I've discovered over the years is that there is no destination; it's all a journey--and I couldn't be happier about that. I don't ever wanna reach a point, writing-wise, where I think, well I've accomplished what I want; now I'm done.

  2. That is such a great point! X Factor and shows like it have an appeal because they draw on our sense of ourselves as being ready for our big shot(regardless of whether we actually are or not), and that all we lack is the opportunity for our giftedness to be seen and recognized for what it is. But for those who get their moment, and seize it, the overwhelming majority quickly fizzle and fade. They're not prepared; they don't know how to handle the challenges.

    The other thing those shows reveal is how many of us possess amazing talent. But without the dedication and tenacity to match, all the talent in the world can end up wasted.

    Great observations and insights. Thanks for continuing to serve as the true north of our creative compasses!

  3. Hard work, learning from your failures and trying your best to improve is so important no matter what career you end up in, but especially when you are trying to be creative. Well put Kid.