I was recently in an amateur painter's apartment/studio with a friend and ex-colleague from my previous career in finance. I have always suspected that my friend, like so many people in business and other "non-creative" fields, had long toyed with the idea of doing something "different" at some point in his life (a writer? an actor?) but had to this point taken the much more traditional and "safe" path in the business world. The painter, who was just starting out himself, asked my friend if he wanted to try painting something; there was a small canvas set up, and we weren't in any hurry to be anywhere, but a look of what I can only describe as panic flashed across my friend's face.
And he is by no means an outlier. There is something about staring at a completely blank canvas or computer screen--maybe the undefined, infinite nature of the creative process, or the complete lack of objective metrics of what is "good" or "bad', or some deep-rooted fear of what other people might think--that can be completely paralyzing to many people.
It didn't occur to me at the time, but I later realized that the source of my friend's panic wasn't just the fear of failing (however he would have defined that) it was even more basic than that--it was actually the fear of trying, or more accurately, of even having tried, as his post-painting self would later view it. It was as if once he had tried to paint something--anything--then that genie could never be put back in the bottle--he would no longer be able to view himself from the unassailable fortress of never having tried.
And maybe that's all it is--the willingness to take that first blind baby-step into the shapeless void of creation might be the fundamental, defining characteristic of "creative" people--and therefore the act itself is by definition self-fulfilling. That's not to say that any art is as good as any other--far from it--but the difference between a Shakespearean sonnet and the hopeless poetry of a lovelorn teenager may be analogous to the distinction between human beings and chimpanzees--vastly different on the outside but sharing 99% (actually 95%, my quick Google fact-check corrects me) of the same DNA.
Let me be very clear: The Good Guy (starring Alexis Bledel, Scott Porter, Bryan Greenberg and Andrew McCarthy) which premieres this weekend at the Tribeca Film Festival is the product of my having written exactly one screenplay, and directed exactly one feature film, so there is hardly a vast body of work propping up these words. And that same fear, that insecurity, that paralyzing inertia which I saw on my friend's face in the painter's studio is not only fresh in my memory, it is still with me every single day. But the thick, insidious psychological fog began to clear with the first line I actually forced myself to sit down and write, the first time I shot-listed a scene, the first time I called out 'action' on set-- and it has been clearing ever since.
I write this in the hope that at least one person might be persuaded to take that first terrifying step that is the start of every artistic endeavor, that at least one person out there will take away from these words this exact sentiment: "I can do that." And you can. You can. There is nothing to lose except your fear of failure, your fear of having tried. And if those old insecurities about what other people might think start to creep back in, maybe you can find strength (as I have) in the great philosophical challenge from a long-dead German writer: "This is my way, where is yours?" Forgive me if I think that bears repeating, but again: "Where is yours?"
So take that first step. Write one sentence. One brush stroke. Make one zero-budget short film. You never know where that might lead you--but you can know for certain what will never happen if you don't. And just send me a postcard someday when you're (existentially, at least) rich and famous.
The Good Guy, starring Alexis Bledel, Scott Porter and Bryan Greenberg, is Julio DePietro's writing and directing debut. It premieres at the Tribeca Film Festival on Sunday, April 26th at 6:00pm (School of Visual Arts, Theater 1.) It's also playing on Tuesday, April 28th at 10:00pm (AMC Village 7, Theater 2) and on Wednesday, April 29th at 1:45pm (AMC Village 7, Theater 1.)