As I am currently finding in my creative writing course one of the hardest things in writing is ‘the end’ – and I know from many years of experience that one of the hardest things in the business I run is to completely finish a project – to ‘get it over the line’.
Why might this be?
When comparing creative writing and projects in business, it recently occurred to me that the nature of ‘the end’ in these areas are diametric opposites. What certainly connects them is that in both spheres they are challenging – and critical.
In business we are so concerned that we need to be clear about the specifications, and so the end has to be totally known before we can start to work. It actually defines the product, from the customers viewpoint it is the whole rational for the investment they are making. To them – after their role in defining the prototype – the journey we go through with design, development and testing really is irrelevant – they just care that we produce what they requested. To us any lack of clarity about the end represents a risk – so we make every possible effort to tie up all loose ends, to be crystal clear about every aspect of the ultimate product. The end is where our customer’s experience starts.
In writing however – the product is the work that leads up to the end. The reader joins us at the beginning of the work and will care enormously about the journey – with literature this shared journey is what we are creating. The last thing any reader wants is to be able to predict the end – that would destroy the value. And the way that many successful writers seem to work is that while writing they themselves have little idea – in some cases none at all – about what will happen at the end. They can work like this because the product is not defined by it’s end.
In writing we don’t have to tie up every loose end at all – just the major ones. Some unanswered questions and unresolved minor things are perfectly acceptable. It is a positive experience for the reader to have to finish it themselves – that’s the power of unresolved endings. We need to leave a space for the reader, we don’t want to patronize them, to patiently explain every aspect, leaving them no room to imagine and to think.
The best endings in literature have an element of surprise – but then seem to be inevitable. “I didn’t expect that, but I understand now” – is the kind of response we are looking for. In business the last thing we want as we complete a project is any surprises at all.
So it seems to me that in writing the end is challenging because we cannot define it until we are nearly there – as it must be fitting – and in business we cannot start until we know it completely. But in both cases the consumers ultimate sense of satisfaction with ‘the end’ will define the project’s success – and for us both as authors and entrepreneurs this is what makes it all worth while
We were discussing the importance of the ‘big idea’ as part of our creative writing course with Gary yesterday.
Once again I thought this was a great concept for exploring the implications between my separate areas of interest – what part does a ‘Big Idea’ really play across my major interests of travel, writing, photography and running a business?
Today I would like to explore the “Big Idea” both in writing and in running a business.
Gary – the creative writing teacher – explained that many new writers are discouraged from writing anything of significance because they feel that they do not have that ‘Big Idea ‘. They are not sure why anyone would read their work as they do not have a neat, original significant message that they can capture and present through plot. They are conscious that they lack any well packaged idea that will fundamentally change or illuminate the way their readers feel about life, and for this reason they are reluctant to write anything at all.
However as Gary pointed out a good story teller can put two interesting characters in a room and create a work that runs across the spectrum of human experience – great ideas are not a significant part of the output of professional writers.
Running a Business
I see exactly the same concept in the whole field of starting and running SME businesses.
People are obsessed with a ‘great business idea’ when in fact the success of an enterprise is all about the people and execution. We are familiar with exceptional role models, and indeed we enjoy reading about their lives. But the reality is for almost all people starting and growing a business is that there is simply no original big idea they can effectively exploit with their limited working capital. They should focus instead on the quality of the team and the processes and execution required to deliver the returns anticipated.
What a shame that in both of these endeavors – writing and entrepreneurship – the hunt for a ‘big idea’ can be so counter productive, and so often result in a paralysis that limits our ability to express ourselves and learn these crafts through practice and feedback. Both of these crafts are almost impossibly difficult to do well – but if you don’t start you will never learn.
The business of the novelist is not to chronicle great events but to make small ones interesting – Schopenhauer
Morning walk with Charlie led to many additions to my Autumn shots – great light – just a beautiful autumn day.
Just for variety I spent some time photographing some spiders webs in the wet morning dew.
I really like these three, just the right amount of abstract colour. Better resolutions on Flickr
Fiction is like a spider’s web, attached ever so slightly, but still attached, to life at all four corners – Virginia Woolf
I am currently half way through a creative writing course and as a continuous task, as well as weekly assignments, we are to write a 30 minute screenplay. As I have never thought at all about writing screenplays this is a big ask.
It is proving a really great way to learn about some sides of writing. For me the most fascinating aspects are
- Can’t get inside a characters head at all
- Really have to stay to the point – just action / dialogue / action / dialogue
- Allowing myself to leave some space for the viewer – so not repeating things just to make sure they didn’t miss it
- Having 20% of what I write – at least – deleted by the teacher. And seeing that the piece is better for it.
Conveniently it transpires that a minute of screenplay is a page – so the target is clear – I need to write 30 pages. Currently I am on page 13, so a bit behind. And in true amateur writers procrastination fashion I have done just about everything today – including blogging about writing – rather than actually write.
When in doubt, make a fool of yourself. There is a microscopically thin line between being brilliantly creative and acting like the most gigantic idiot on earth. So what the hell, leap.
I have been thinking about focus – something that keeps coming up across the main things I am interested in – Business, Writing and of course photography.
In business anyone can be a busy fool – and much of the challenge is to focus. Doing this consistently, for a long enough time to get results, is far from easy.
In writing it can be so easy to drift off and just write almost because I can, rather than to contribute anything to the plot or action. This is particularly tempting in novels – but less likely in screenplays – as I am finding out in an exercise on my current creative writing course. The constraint in screenplays of not being able to get into a characters head – as frustrating as this feels sometimes – helps us to stay on subject.
We are all surrounded by so much potential for distraction. In business we can work with the wrong kind of customers, or pursue products and services that are outside of our brand and our strategy. In photography we can just snap away with little plan or thought for the story we are portraying. In writing it is all too easy to let one’s thoughts move away, and fail to finish the piece we are working on.
Focus seems to be something I need to work on, it’s challenging and interesting in many areas of my life.
One of the best Sundays for a long while – really enjoyed a morning walk with Charlie – and taking photos of some Sussex Puddles…. and then all about a log fire, family friend popping by to take Mum on a well deserved vacation – Mark Shepherd, Karen and Abbie dropping by for coffee – then a log fire, learning LIghtroom 4 – starting work on this website and generally doing the things I love.. fantastic and energising!
I am really enjoying the chance to touch base with the more creative side of myself, something that during the last 10 years I had really let slip.
Not just going to shows, but participating and pushing myself in areas which I find difficult and challenging. I am loving a creative writing class in Brighton, and have also started photography again. With all this has come new friends, and I am really enjoying being around people who love the night and can lose themselves in creative projects.
I took this photo last night and I think it captures something of that kind of atmosphere – late night working, deadlines and passion for what you do that breaks down barriers and conventions – which is so attractive and exciting to me.
After this year – which has been the worst time in my life – I feel so strongly that I am now coming out the other side.
I was sitting today in Sadlers Wells watching the Ballet Rambert and I just thought “it’s working” – this is what I want to do. This kind of life, the life that I am constructing now.
I do now want to let the barriers that I have had to put up over the last 15 years of crap completely go. It seemed that in the darkness of the theater I could feel them finally fall away, and I could sense the rush of excitement that was pushing against them just come flooding in.
I so want to find myself again. And I am.
I know its not going to be easy, but I am rebuilding something – an attitude and a world view that I always wanted to be, that I did once have – but has been lost to me for well over a decade. Multiple, thought provoking experiences. Pushing myself in areas that are uncomfortable – new experiences, travel, writing, the arts.
I am even thinking that I can actually improve on my old self from 15 years ago, build on it and leap over it – not just get back to some baseline but become something quite different. I have been through a nightmare but out of that experience comes lessons, wisdom and new opportunities.
I feel I can be softer, able to let things in because my own world is finally strong and not built on sand. It is a new place for me but I no longer need to be defensive – I can be comfortable both with where I am and where I want to be.
Personally I have really enjoyed the challenge of running and growing a business for the last 10 years.
There are numerous challenges, and anyone who survives it all and prospers needs personal skill, a great team and a fair amount of luck. To succeed in growing a company from nothing is indeed tough.
With this in mind I have been thinking of the business model that the politicians have who are notionally in charge of this country. Here is their complex model as I see it :
- Everyone must buy my stuff
- I can charge whatever I like
- No-one can buy any competitor’s stuff
- I can provide whatever level of service I want to
Indeed this must be a challenge. Its not surprising that you have to behave like spoiled children all the time in order to let off the pressure.
It would take a great level of incompetence to so mess this up that we are paying £3.5 billion a month in debt interest alone. And to deliver such poor long term standards of living that we have an underclass that will threaten our stability. But that is exactly what you have managed to do.
Congratulations to the public sector in general and to the political system in particular. You have managed to completely fail in delivering the most simple business model the world has ever devised. I cannot begin to describe the difference to our society if we could get rid of all politicians, and spend £3.5 billion a month directly on the well being of our citizens.
Not just failed, but so spectacularly failed in your duty that you are in danger of permanently destroying something that has taken centuries to build – a civilized culture.
If you had any decency you would fall on your swords.
You would inevitably miss.