With Creativity, Quantity Comes Before Quality

The other day my wife Kathleen and I were in the car listening to the new “Beatles” channel on our satellite radio. She remarked on the number of songs the Beatles had obviously recorded that we’d never heard before, and honestly, a significant number of those songs are junk. The Beatles literally transformed rock and roll, and we’ve come to think that everything they recorded was brilliant. But the truth is – even with the greatest artists – quantity comes before quality.

In other words, to mine gold, you have to dig through a lot of dirt. With the exception of only a handful of artists (although we don’t know how much artists like Shakespeare tossed in the trash or has been lost), the vast majority of creative geniuses had to learn the craft. And in that process, they created a lot of forgettable work.

The point is, don’t assume your first screenplay, novel, song, or other work is the big one. I met someone new to Hollywood last week who told me he was a screenwriter. “What have you written?” I asked. His reply? “One screenplay, and I’m trying to sell that.”

Good luck. Most successful writers have boxes full of screenplays, novels, notes, aborted projects and more that they would be embarrassed to show anyone. But all that work was a training camp; the roadmap that got them to where they are now.

So get to writing, filming, composing music, developing ideas – just do the work, and worry later about what’s good and what isn’t. Because that’s what it takes to get from where you are, to where you want to be.

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  1. On a context where immediate results are expected, and profit and popularity are the ways to measure success, this “reality check post” it’s very well needed. Thanks for sharing it!

  2. Someone exploring freelance writing reached out to me for advice. He said he was taking classes and listening to podcasts. I asked him if he was doing any writing because really that’s the only way someone is going to pay you is if you do this everyday on topics you have zero interest in. One of my clients is a financial services company and writing about 401K, 403B isn’t necessarily a lot of fun but pays well. I wrote ALOT while in college for free to build my portfolio. I told this guy to focus on building his portfolio by writing for whoever will let you write for them lol. I’ve also written a lot of ho-hum, crappy copy that no one has ever read but it has led to amazing work. I’m sending this onto my musician sons.

  3. Just read an interview with the screenwriter of ‘Gifted’, a good movie… he had written 14 comedy screenplays that had not been made before he got ‘Gifted’ made. It’s a craft, and as with any craft, you get better by doing.

  4. Agree completely Phil. As we keep telling our church, “Don’t skip the process”. The current generation wants overnight success, instant fame. But they forget that there is a process. And this process teaches you to be disciplined, resilient, determined, to be faithful in small things. “To mine gold, you have to dig through a lot of dirt”

  5. This is absolutely true. I have written about a dozen screenplays, and maybe three are half decent. I have self-published (to date) nine novels, but have written over twenty, some of which will never see the light of day.

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