Saturday, July 11, 2009

Fire the Critic

I'm 51 pages into the first full-length play I've attempted in 11 years. The current writing spurt is a by-product of my reaching out to an old colleague, Guy Sanville of the Purple Rose Theatre, and asking him if it would be to his liking if I finished an assignment I left unfinished 11 years ago. I was commissioned by Guy to write a play in 1998, and did so, but delivered a story that lacked emotional coherence. My need to live up to the expectation of being smart led me to write something that would create the appearance of intelligence. As such, it didn't seem true. Guy demanded re-writes which made me afraid that I wasn't really as smart as I pretended to be and, therefore, I stubbornly invited an impasse which led to the project's downfall. I didn't write with any consistency for the next 10 years until I started this blog. My internal critic told me that my last attempt was evidence of my mediocrity and therefore I should think of other things than writing. I've since earned an MBA and started a new career in Marketing. Both pursuits have been interesting but not satisfying. The dissatisfaction stems from the fact that these pursuits seem to benefit from enabling the internal critic.

As Billy Crystal said in his alter ego, Fernando, "It is better to look good than to feel good." Or as an old friend of mine who is a recovering alcoholic says, when faced with the reality he has to practice rigorous honesty or die drunk, "You can't save your ass and your face at the same time."

Creativity in the business world for the most part is about looking good and saving face. It is sales. I mistakenly thought it was creativity when I pursued it and thought I could put the internal critic to rest. People practicing innovation in business will probably tell me I say this because I am no good at it but, recently a friend of mine, an Account Planning Director and therefore a "thought-leader" in the world of Advertising (a seeming contradiction in terms) admitted as much to me when he responded to my criticism of his blog as self-serving by saying, "I guess you could call this blog self-serving, but what blog isn't? I think most planner's blogs are self-serving to some degree". I agree with him. This blog is self-serving. I write it so I can practice respecting my opinion and clear up the confusion I've created by trying to look good. The only difference is, I am not trying to look smart in this blog by turning sales promotion (e.g. Advertising) into a pseudo-science and saying things like, "In a world where sharing is the new media, friendship is the new currency and advocacy is the new goal," which is a thought my friend promotes at his blog. That sounds creepy and Machiavellian because it is and it is evidence of the type of creativity one manages when the internal critic motivates looking good and saving face as a means to selling.

Part of the brief I received from Guy was to, "fire the critic" because you can't, "re-write an empty page".

The poet Dudley Randall once wrote, "a poet writes what agitates his heart and sets his pen in motion." Firing the critic allows this. Practicing it with my creative writing has led me to practice it in my work-life too and I no longer look to offer ideas as a means of selling an image that will allow me to look smart. Instead, I'm watching out for my own bullshit and when I start looking to position intrinsically meaningful realities like friendship in fungible terms I fire the critic and seek honesty.


Russ said...

Hey Chuck,

I've bumped into Guy a couple times over the past few years. Not that he'd know me, mind you. I first met him at the Boorshead in Lansing and then a couple of times at the Purple Rose. I "know" him every bit as well as I "know" Jeff Daniels!

An old friend of mine, Andy Jentzen, has directed and performed at the Purple Rose. He writes, too, and is currently working on a series of crime novels.

All the best with that new, old playwriting project.

I've been involved in over a hundred theatre productions myself as producer, director, actor, singer, propsmaster, set design and/or construction. Some of my theatre work has been at one of Daniels' old haunts, the now defunct Spotlight Theatre in Grand Ledge, MI.

Sounds to me like that image-honesty quandary is seeking resolution as a one-act.

feeno said...


My Dad's motto is "fake it 'til you make it". It sounds cool to say but I've never liked the meaning behind it.

Late, feeno