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.