The New York Times ran A.O. Scott’s review of the new Anna Karenina movie yesterday, and the first paragraph resonated with me:
“Bad literary adaptations are all alike, but every successful literary adaptation succeeds in its own way. The bad ones — or let’s just say the average ones, to spare the feelings of hard-working wig makers and dialect coaches — are undone by humility, by anxious obeisance to the cultural prestige of literature. The good ones succeed through hubris, through the arrogant assumption that a great novel is not a sacred artifact but rather a lump of interesting material to be shaped according to the filmmaker’s will.”
I think all creative endeavors, not just movie adaptations of great books, require a dash of hubris. “There is nothing new under the sun” is a surprisingly ancient concept. No matter what you’re doing — designing jewelry or clothes, painting or sculpting, writing a book or a fashion blog or a computer program — there’s a good chance you’re not the first one to do it. Even inventors who revolutionize society with their creations are influenced by what came before them. The best evidence of that may be the fact that, often, multiple individuals are simultaneously and independently working on similar projects.
“So many people have already done such-and-such; what could I possibly have to offer?” I hear (or read) people say (or write) that all the time. Banish that thought! It’s paralyzing. You have to believe that your voice is unique and therefore will distinguish your jewelry or blog or gadget from all the ones that have come before or that are out there now. It doesn’t matter if you’re right or wrong about that. You just have to believe.