Visiting From Mars
The old saying “biweekly newsletter blogs imitate life” has a lot of truth to it.
Lately I’ve been writing a lot about the pressure I feel to find my “niche” as a writer. The feeling that I have to specialize if I want to start getting jobs, even if there are still many angles I’d like to explore. This theme has been dominating these blogs because it’s dominating my life. No matter where I go or what I do, I can’t seem to escape these thoughts. And it ends up coloring the way I view all kinds of media.
Last week, I found myself listening to a podcast interview with the legendary economist Thomas Sowell. The content of the show couldn’t have been further from my own career, but a point was raised that changed the way I look at things.
He spoke about how, throughout his career, he’s attempted to observe the economy as if he was a visitor from Mars, who had just landed on Earth for the first time. An alien would never have taken an economics class, and would not have preconceived notions about various theories. It would simply look at the causes and effects of a problem, and try to find the easiest solution.
This idea was raised in a political context, as he was discussing the way economists often feel the need to pigeonhole themselves as “right wing” or “left wing,” and eventually fall into traps of intellectual laziness. But as I considered my writing career, I found a lot that can be applied to comedy writing.
At a certain point, I’m going to have to specialize in something. That’s just the reality faced by everybody in every business ever. I’m going to have to pick a genre to work in, and a relatively specific audience to target. But that is going to influence the projects I choose, not the way I approach them. I may decide to focus on dark cable comedies, or family friendly network sitcoms, but that doesn’t mean I have to write every script in the same way. I should still start every script as if I’m visiting from Mars, ignoring habits and cliches in favor of creating something truly new.
The multitude of contradictions found at every corner of life never fails to amaze me. Television writing is all about creativity, but you need to consolidate your creativity around a specific area. Repeating patterns in your work helps you build a brand for yourself, but you also need to work hard to ensure each script is completely unique from the others. It’s a difficult needle to thread, but hopefully this experience brings me an inch closer to my goal.
I guess I have to listen to a lot more interviews with economists, huh?