“Finish what you start.”
That’s the advice Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1 & 2 writer-director James Gunn had for the audience at his September 9 panel at HASCON. Gunn covered a breadth of topics during his chat with Jesse Falcon, Marvel Entertainment’s director of merchandising, at Hasbro’s Rhode Island convention. But it was his advice on turning one’s creativity into professional success that I feel so many current and aspiring artists would appreciate.
If you’re a self-professed creative type, Gunn’s stories about his own experiences likely hit close to home. There was his childhood, for instance, during which Gunn was a one-man multimedia factory, producing his own comic books, films, photographs and music.
“I did everything growing up,” Gunn said at HASCON. “I think I was just a creative person who liked storytelling.”When Gunn took a creative writing class in college, the man who would one day make Star-Lord dance began to understand his purpose in life. Gunn and his classmates were charged with writing a play.
“I stayed up for like two nights writing this play and I thought it was just so fun to do,” Gunn said. “I gave it to the class and I had different people in the class read the different parts of the play, and as they were reading this play, people were laughing and enjoying the play and I feel like that’s when a light went off for me. I think I’m good at this, I think this is something I do well.”
(This particular play, Gunn told Falcon, was about a man who was miserable despite sleeping with multiple hot women. “We’ll have the toys next year,” he added.)
Still, Gunn’s success in creative writing class didn’t necessarily lead him down an entirely productive path. He explained to Falcon that after writing the screenplay for the Troma Entertainment film Tromeo and Juliet, he was very frustrated.Gunn had written a screenplay that didn’t work out the way he wanted, so he moved on to writing half of a book he ended up not liking. He was becoming obsessed with achieving professional success.
“I worked really hard from a young age to the detriment of my life, because i started working very, very hard when I was 18 or so and became obsessed with being successful and didn’t have the regular life that other people have–going to school and things like that, because I was so obsessive about success.”
Finally, one night, like a bolt of lightning, Gunn came to a revelation – finish what you start.
Gunn had received the tools he needed to be successful, but he was trapped in a pattern of starting and abandoning projects–on repeat.
“The truth is, to become successful, you need to just complete projects,” Gunn said. “The first one will probably suck, and the second one will suck a little less, and the third will suck a little less than that. And it really was about just completing things and taking them all the way and moving onto the next thing instead of trying to find that big idea that would make me super successful without the work.”And this new approach to creativity worked well for Gunn. After he finished writing that book he didn’t like, he wrote the screenplay for the 2000 film The Specials. While the superhero comedy wasn’t very successful, Gunn cites it as the reason he got every single bit of work in Hollywood after its completion.
“That moment of clarity really allowed me to go on,” Gunn said.
So, artists, no matter what you’re struggling to complete, whether it’s your first screenplay or your 10th painting, power through it. The success you seek could be just over the horizon.