Douglas Adams once said something that struck a very deep chord with me, along with many writers, performers, and other miscellaneous creatives around the world.
In 1999, in a discussion thread about novel writing on his website, he wrote:
In my experience what you end up with is the by-product of your failure to achieve what you set out to do. It may turn out OK, but it wasn’t what you meant and you’ve no idea how you got there.
That, in an elegant nutshell, describes nearly every show I’ve ever done, every routine I’ve ever worked on, and every piece of text I’ve ever written.
(Well, maybe not EVERY piece of text I’ve ever written. There were some SMS messages and tweets that I reckon I totally nailed. They’re short, so you can crank out more of them until you get a really good one.)
I think about that quote frequently when talking to people after shows. So far I’ve never done a show that I was even close to completely happy with. Hence it can be a jarring and isolating experience when the audience assumes that this is what you *meant* to create, and bases their judgements on that. Even if that judgement is wildly positive, it still feels weird to listen to someone rave enthusiastically about a performance of yours that was mostly just pissing you off.
Douglas tapped into something with that comment that has really stuck in my head ever since. Though I know there are people out there, gloriously gifted and blessed people, who do manage to create exactly what they intend, most people I know (doing any kind of creative work) are in exactly the same boat as Douglas.
And even though that quote may sound pessimistic at first, there is something I find genuinely inspiring about it. If Douglas’ works were, as he said, by-products of his failure to achieve what he set out to do, then clearly it is possible to end up with some really frigging brilliant failure by-products.
The by-products of Douglas Adams’ failure captivated and entertained millions of people around the world. I feel that if mine can do even a the tiniest fraction of that, then that makes them by-products that are worth celebrating.
They’re still going to totally piss me off in the meantime though.
(Thumbnail image by Flickr user Effervescing Elephant, licensed under Creative Commons CC-BY-SA-2.0)