This article first appeared in modified form on the CreativeLive blog.
I was reading the wonderful show business biography Act One, by the legendary playwright Moss Hart, when the following passage struck me:
It is taken for granted that a cabinetmaker or a shoemaker, or a lawyer or a doctor for that matter, starting with a certain degree of talent for his profession, does, after the practice of that profession for ten or twenty years, learn how to make a good cabinet or a decent pair of shoes, or plead a case or diagnose an illness correctly.
Not so the playwright. He is quite capable after twenty years of practice of having a left shoe for a second act when a right shoe is obviously called for, and is as unable to perceive the tumor in the third act that stares him in the face as the merest beginner or even someone who has never written a line for the stage.
Moss had his fair share of hits and misses over the years, so he was writing from experience here. And as someone who has edited dozens of books and developed a gaggle (a pride?) of online classes, I can say that this insight does not apply to playwriting alone. It is the burden and the privilege of being a creator.
In a sense, outside the creative space, everyone has it easy. Doctors, lawyers, and shoemakers alike—every day they practice their craft, they get a bit better at what they do, pretty much across the board. Practice actually does make perfect. As a lawyer, if you learn how to argue a case on Monday, you’re probably going to be at least that good on Tuesday, and probably even better by Friday.
Creatives practice their own crafts, of course, from Photoshop to audio mixing to typography, but at the end of the day when you face a blank canvas in one form or another you’re right back at the beginning, taking every bit as big a risk as you did on your debut effort. All the accolades of the past won’t protect you from scathing reviews for your next effort. In fact, the stakes only get higher.