You do not need to take a class with a “rock star” to be creative. This faith in the magical ability of experts to transform lives is ironic in our secular society. Gurus, rock stars, life coaches, Oprah – they can make you change. Most people don’t go to a priest for career advice yet believe that taking the workshop of a famous person will cure their creative funk.
I was thinking about this after reading comments by a talented photographer friend of mine, Mary Kate McKenna. She was writing about “rock star” wedding photographers and their high-priced workshops:
REALLY tired of newbie photogs (I still consider myself a newbie in the industry!) doing workshops for other professionals, charging a lot of money, with no real business skills and embellishing the amount of money they make in the industry. Before attending a “rockstar” workshop, do your research.
Take a class with them and, the promise goes, you can be as successful and creative as they are. You can be a rock star, too, as long as you copy their methods and approach. They’re selling a dream, one that you can buy into just by plonking down your Visa card.
Taking a class is easy. It’s certainly much easier and safer than actually trying to be a rock star on your own. That path is risky and dangerous. By taking a class, you indulge in your dream but just a little bit. You go off for a weekend, absorb the lessons of the master, and then return to your life.
And I suspect that’s where it ends for a lot of people.
I see the same thing in screenwriting. There are many, many famous screenwriting gurus that you can take classes with. They have their own trademarked systems, reducing drama to quadrants with required steps. Storytelling is broken down, like diagramming a sentence.
So easy, your screenplay will just write itself, right? No. The screenwriting biz is another big industry selling a dream, the fantasy that a screenplay will make you rich and famous.
I wrote a screenplay, Mount Pleasant, that won the Film DC Screenwriting Competition. I did not become rich and famous but it was a tremendously rewarding experience, one that led to interesting opportunities like working with the DC Shorts Film Festival. But the rewarding part for me was writing the script.
For winning the competition, the DC Film Office sent me office sent me to LA to visit the set of the West Wing, during the final season. That was a great experience but, when I wrote Mount Pleasant, I had no idea that this was in the future. I wrote the script because it was a story I had in my head. I wrote it without any idea of where it would lead.
The problem with rock stars is twofold:
1. The focus on the reward. Workshops focus on an illusory dream of creative life. You will be rich and glamorous. The wedding photogs I know love their jobs but work awfully hard. They spend their weekends crawling around on ballroom floors, trying to get the perfect shot. And a workshop on writing would, if I had it my way, stress the solitary nature of the craft. Writers spend most of their day alone, in front of a computer.
2. Ceding authority to experts. Creativity is an act of rebellion. Aren’t all the millions of books, films and photos already in existence enough for you? What makes you think you have anything to add? The first step in your rebellion should not be slavishly following the teachings of some maharishi.
I wrote Mount Pleasant with the barest of screenwriting education. I had written short stories before and originally thought of the story as a novel. The screenplay format had always puzzled me but, after trying out Final Draft, I got it. I read books on screenwriting and started writing the script. I got stuck a few times but, after putting the script down for a few months, kept at it. I wanted to see it done.
My advice is simple. Do it yourself. After all the classes, once the guru has moved on to another city, it’s going to be just you. For some people, that’s inspiring. For many, it’s terrifying.
To write that screenplay, take that picture, or create that sculpture, you do not need to take a class with a rock star. You just need to get started. Invest your time and money in yourself, rather than some high-priced guru.