This is one of those rules on creativity that people talk about a lot. When you are creating something, especially something you are creating with other people, you cannot be precious with your ideas. Some of them will get used, some of them will not get used. You must know this going in otherwise you’ll be setting yourself up for misery.
This rule struck me one time when I watched it happen right in front of me. In 2003, I was lucky enough to be invited to hang out on the set of a Muppet commercial shoot. It was the Dominoes Pizza Super Bowl ads that they were in. For two days I just sat, like a fly on the wall, and watched as the people behind the Muppets worked their magic. As a side note here, my favorite Muppet is Gonzo, so I kept a close eye on what Dave Goelz, Gonzo’s performer, was doing.
During one break I noticed Dave was over near the Puppet Wrangler’s table working on something. He had some items from the Craft Service table, a long puppet rod and some tools and was busily building something. Someone asked what it was and he said he felt lil Gonzo should be doing something in the background of the next shot they were filming, so he was building a stack of food for Gonzo to balance on his finger. The rig would have made it appear like Gonzo was balancing a peanut on his fingertip, then balanced on that, a soda can, and then a bag of chips and so on. It was really a great looking rig and it was built out of actual stuff! He drilled holes in a REAL peanut in order to slide the rod through.
I’d say he spent about a good thirty minutes of his lunch break on this neat little addition to the commercial. When he was done he tried it out and the effect was hilarious, it looked like Gonzo was balancing all this stuff on his finger. Everybody loved it. They tested it out on camera and it looked great. But then, somebody decided that it just wasn’t right for the scene. The Muppets mantra has always been, “Pull Focus” but this gag was pulling a little too much focus. Ultimately, the decision was made not to use it. I guess in a commercial you don’t want to pull too much focus away from the product you’re actually selling.
So, after working so hard on this little piece of puppetry fun, what did Dave Goelz do? He just tossed it aside with a smile and got ready for the next shot. His attitude was one of, “Well, that would have been fun but, oh well, no big deal.” Now, he could have been upset or fought for it or thrown a big-time hollywood star tantrum, but he didn’t. He moved on to the next order of business with a smile.
Seeing this happen really struck me. Something you work hard on, no matter how good of an idea it is, may not make the final project. This happens all the time when creating things with others and it can happen in working on your own stuff as well. A particular exchange of dialogue in your writing may be the best you’ve ever written, but if if doesn’t work with the story, you have to toss it. You can be upset for a moment, but then you have to move on with your creating.
This is a tough one. Usually us artists go from thinking everything we do is crap to everything we do is good. Sometimes, even when you know you have something good, you have to let it go if it’s not working.
Take a lesson from Gonzo: you can’t be precious with your work.