Wednesday, April 3, 2013

IWSG: Star Wars and the General Public


It's the first Wednesday of March, which hails the regular arrival of the Insecure Writer's Support Group, hosted by Ninja Captain Alex J. Cavanaugh. The group offers a place for writers of all kinds to support each other in those ever-present moments of insecurity.

While many use this as an opportunity to vent their frustrations, I realized early on that if I keep posting about my own insecurities, these posts will start sounding very similar. So I decided to move away from "woe is me" and focus on motivation and encouragement, centering my IWSG posts on inspirational quotes from people I admire.

This month's quote comes from a man who needs no introduction. But since that sentence is almost always followed by just that, allow me. He's a filmmaker behind one of the most iconic and influential franchises in the history of speculative fiction. His work is so beloved that the very fans who deify him stand at the ready to crucify him whenever he makes the slightest misstep. If you didn't click any of those links, and therefor have no idea who I'm talking about, it's the creator of Star Wars, George Lucas.

It would be easy to look at the mammoth success that Star Wars has had and call Lucas a visionary. But would that be accurate? Did he know he had something so monumental on his hands before he set to work on it? Consider that the project started out as a failed Flash Gordon remake (an influence that can still be seen in many of its hallmarks). If he knew from the beginning what a golden goose he had, chances are he would've wanted to keep it to himself from the get go instead of working with someone else's property. But if that's not enough evidence that even Lucas was surprised by the success of the franchise, check out what the man himself said when asked if he saw it coming:

"I thought Star Wars was too wacky for the general public."


So there you have it. Lucas thought he was making something for a niche audience, and it blew up in his face, making him a multimillionaire and a pop culture icon in the process. He didn't set out to create a global phenomenon; he just wanted to pay tribute to the space opera serials of his childhood. He made the movie that he wanted to see, without knowing if it would ever see success. He took a gamble on his dreams.

What does this have to do with insecure writers? Well, I can't speak for all of you, but personally, I'm driven by a pretty intense fear of failure. And while at times that fear can be very motivating, it can also lead to some fierce bouts of insecurity. It's hard not to question every aspect of the projects I spend my time on. Every step of the way, the temptation to scrutinize your work is there, from the foundational idea at its core, to the method of execution that brings it to the page. And this isn't necessarily a bad thing. Attention to detail often separates the pros from the amateurs.

But we have to be careful of the temptation to chase the trends and fads of the publishing world in pursuit of success. Trying to anticipate the ebb and flow of the mainstream can be a maddening, futile process. It's one thing to weigh the merit of a work in progress in hopes of gauging eventual reception, but its another thing entirely to let your enthusiasm for something hinge on the potential for dollar signs in your eyes. When it comes to artistic pursuits, great success—while often hoped for—is rarely planned and executed down to the letter. There's a reason no one saw Fifty Shades of Grey coming.

So the next time you're worrying over the salability of that shiny idea you can't wait to get started on, think of Uncle George and give yourself a good slap. If it's an idea that you love, that should be enough of an impetus to pour yourself into it. Does that mean you can't draw inspiration from those big bestsellers that are making waves out there? That you shouldn't pay attention to the goings on of the mainstream? Or even that you shouldn't write with an audience in mind? Of course not. Knowledge is power. I'm a huge advocate of the cerebral approach. But don't let the crowd dictate your output. Cross your fingers and tell the story you want to tell. And for heaven's sake, don't drive yourself nuts thinking about marketability until you have something tangible to market.

Who knows? That little seed of an idea you have might grow up to be the Next Big Thing. You might even have the next Star Wars on your hands. But you won't know until the moment of truth. And that will never arrive if you don't let yourself write it.

25 comments:

  1. Love this! Mostly because this is where I'm at right now - putting the finishing touches on a story I'm publishing myself, because it doesn't fit into any genre and wouldn't work for any mainstream publishers. But I love the story, and I love the characters, and while I'm not expecting it to become the raging success Star Wars was, I wouldn't trade the experience of writing it for all the fame and marketability in the world - honestly.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There's obviously a lot of debate out there about self-publishing these days, but to me it sounds like your story is just the kind of story that is right for self-publishing. If you love the story, tell it!

      Good luck, and thanks for reading, Louise.

      Delete
  2. This is such a great point! Sometimes I wonder if everyone will hate everything I've written and think I'm a crazy person, but you never know when that insanity will bring about success. Love your blog, BTW.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's hard not to ask yourself those questions from time to time, but if it's something you love, chances are someone else will as well, as long as you're willing to put the time and effort into it.

      Thanks so much, J.A.!

      Delete
  3. Story of my life. I worry about the commercial appeal of my writing every single day. But I figure, I might as well do what I want. It's the only way I'm going to have fun again. Worrying about what the masses want is rendering me incapable of doing anything.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's certainly not a bad thing to wonder about the commercial appeal of your project, especially if you're in the stage of the game when you might be thinking about agents, etc. But don't let it make or break you! If it's keeping you from moving at all, I say try to forget about it until you have a story in front of you.

      Thanks for the comment, Krystal!

      Delete
  4. Writing for the market is similar to timing the market, and usually has the same result.

    Lauren

    ReplyDelete
  5. I've never looked to trends. I just wrote what I wanted to read. And more than once, I heard that the genre I was writing in was dead. Glad I didn't listen.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I can't tell you how many times I've read that this or that genre is dead. Then the right book comes along, and suddenly it's all the rage again. Or they just start calling it something new, despite that its clearly fits the bill.

      Thanks for stopping by, Alex.

      Delete
  6. Great points.

    Every success seems obvious in retrospect, not necessarily in advance!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. No one can tell the future! Why risk your story on trying? Thanks, bloghead.

      Delete
  7. Excellent post.

    I have a story idea brewing right now that is ...different. I don't know if it will be viewed as bizarre-brilliant or bizarre-sicko, but I'm gonna write it and see what the critters say. LOL

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's the spirit! Why run from something because it's different? Even the weirdest stuff can find an audience, especially today.

      Thanks for reading, Melissa.

      Delete
  8. I didn't know George Lucas thought Star Wars was too wacky for most people. He didn't anticipate all those kids who would glomp onto it like white on rice. Well, I'm glad he made those first three films. Not real happy about the last three, but whatever.....

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You know the funny thing about the prequels is that young kids seemed to love them. The audience that grew up loving the originals (myself included) didn't find much there, but somehow Lucas found an entirely new audience. And even those of us that didn't like them still showed up in droves, so he still made an ungodly amount of money. Funny how that works, eh?

      Thanks for stopping by, Cathy.

      Delete
  9. Very inspiring post. And the next time I even think to question if my idea for a book will be good enough I am going to think of George. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's the spirit! Thanks for reading, Cherie.

      Delete
  10. I definitively think no one can predict where the next big thing will come from. I tend to expect more from those who doubt themselves than from the over confident bunch, though. Great post!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree, when I come across someone who is overconfident in the greatness of their own work, it does not inspire confidence of my own.

      Thanks, Georgina!

      Delete
  11. GREAT advice. When I was in high school I had an English teacher who told me that my writing was 'odd and not fit to be published.' However, almost every short story and poem I've written for her class has been (after serious editing) published. If I'd listened to her, I wouldn't be able to say that!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I hope you sent her a copy or a link to every one of those publication credits, Randi. It baffles me when I hear about teachers saying discouraging things like that, but in the literary world it's surprisingly common.

      Thanks for the comment, Randi!

      Delete
  12. Great points, and overall, one of the most important things a writer must have -- confidence in the stories he tells (not so much confidence in himself, it's pretty clear we're all very insecure folks, but it would be a nice-to-have).

    The temptation to believe that the great successes of our time (and others) have known beforehand what they had, have somehow envisioned the right move at the right time, is sometimes too great. We're so used to be in control of our environment and our lives, we want to believe we can be in control of the crowd as well. But it's impossible to tell what the audience as a large whole will love or not. All we can do is write what we love, tell it the best way we possibly can, send it out into the world and move on to write the next thing we love. The rest is not in our hands, it never will be. Thanks for a good reminder! We shouldn't let our insecurity influence our passion.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Absolutely, Vero. Nine times out of ten, when I'm browsing for new books (whether it's online or in a brick and mortar store), the titles and covers that my eyes glide past are those clear trend-chasers, and I don't think I'm alone in that. Chasing dollar signs and trying to anticipate the masses is usually futile and life-draining. Better to focus on that which calls you.

      Thanks for stopping by!

      Delete
  13. Hi, JW, I just joined Alex's Insecure Writer's Support Group, too. I like how you're giving words of encouragement. We can't forget the advice of Lucas to create what we ourselves would like to enjoy. I also provide words (and memes) of encouragement on my blog. I hope you'll join if you like: http://scrappyblonde.blogspot.com/

    ReplyDelete

Thanks for reading!