Most creative people I know consume reams of information each day. Maybe on the way to finding inspiration for our own work, or simply in the course of the work we do that pays the bills, if that happens to be different from the passion work.
Sometimes in the course of this daily consumption, we find a quote or a passage that sticks with us long after we read it, and even changes the way we think about something important, or the way we approach our work.
In December 2013 I read an article about director David O. Russell, of American Hustle, Silver Linings Playbook, The Fighter, and Three Kings, among other movies, fame. There was one specific passage in the article, a quote from Russell, that changed the way I think about what’s “ok” to write, and what’s not.
Here’s what he said:
Nothing is really a cliché when you really, really do it from the heart. And if you really feel it, and it’s real, and you know people who have felt it, there is nothing clichéd about it. It will bring you to your knees. It will make you cry. And that’s my job: To tell those stories in ways that surprise us and remind us of the opera that we’re living with every mistake and every new chance.
As creators, we all have times when we look at our creative output and think it can’t be good, it can’t be worth sharing, because it’s cliché, because it deals with well-worn territory that’s been trod a thousand times before.
Often when I read over what I write before hitting “publish,” I’m thinking that. And if not, “That’s been said a thousand times before, so why bother?,” then “Everybody already knows this,” or “This isn’t new, different, or interesting enough to write about,” or some derivative thereof.
And then I start to feel constricted creatively, because here’s a thing I want to write about, but I’ve told myself I can’t. I can’t because it’s been done before. Which when you get right down to it, is patently ridiculous, because practically everything’s been done before, written about before, explored in writing or art before. “There’s nothing new under the sun,” as the saying goes.
But the truth is, like Russell says, “ . . . if you really feel it, and it’s real, and you know people who have felt it, there is nothing clichéd about it.”
And besides, each person’s approach to life’s big (and small) themes is their very own, a unique expression of that writer’s or artist’s perspective.
So whether your art is about heartbreak, overcoming obstacles, embracing love, finding the courage to do something different with your life, or any of the other “big” topics that art typically explores, it’s yours to write about, paint about, photograph, illustrate, or whatever it is you do, with wild abandon.
Because nothing is a cliché when you really do it from the heart.