Start with Ugly


This week, I read a great article in the magazine Fast Company by Ed Catmull. Entitled “How to Unleash Creativity,” the article explored animation studio Pixar’s use of creative collaboration through their “brain trust.” This group of creative minds, constantly changing with the needs of each project, is a key to what sets Pixar films apart. Compelling stories are hashed out and shaped through ideas that emerge in these brain trust meetings.

Catmull, who has led Pixar since 1979 and rubbed shoulders with Steve Jobs, John Lasseter and the other Pixar greats, has an amazing perspective on the development of a story, which is what really caught my attention in this article.

“At some point, all our movies suck–they really do,” he says of the journey through the creative process. In another portion, he says, “[A movie is] a baby….we all start out ugly. Every one of Pixar’s stories starts out that way. A new thing is hard to define; it’s not attractive, and it requires protection.”

Toy Story, ugly? Yep. The Incredibles, ugly? Yep. Finding Nemo?! Yes.

Writing a novel is not much different. First draft. Ugly. So ugly. Not-even-gonna-show-your-mom ugly. This is usually when the voices start screaming in your head to quit, to hide the manuscript, to burn that piece of crap!

Don’t listen.

As I work through the revision process, I am seeing tons of garbage, but in the midst, I am finding gems. There are things about your story that are worth saving. There are compelling themes and images that drove you to get it down on paper in the first place.

Find those things.

Dig them up.

Hose them off.

Study them.

Then use them.


This was a photo I took in Scotland. The artist had done this on the back of a finished painting and I just fell in love with it. It is rough, unfinished, rustic, but it draws you in all the same. No one else will see this side of the canvas, only the artist, but it is a place to begin, an inspiring moment that propels the artist forward.

These inspiring moments are your anchor, your home base from which to focus and sharpen the rest of your story. It’s okay that everything is ugly in the beginning. Besides, some may argue (and I would be among them) to start with ugly is better than not starting at all.

Don’t be afraid of ugly. The greats start with ugly, and while everyone else scoffs, they craft a masterpiece. Don’t give up.

Do you have trouble working through the “ugly” of writing to find the beautiful? What has helped you in forging through the creative process?



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s