The worst advice I ever got was never to get a puppy, and never get a dog around Christmas. This advice was from my husband. I ignored it, and on Christmas Eve nine years ago, my husband and I brought home nine-month-old Riley, our first-born. You can see him in yesterday’s News Flash.
As for bad career advice, the worst I ever got was well-meaning, but wrong. The giver was the head writer of one of the more popular Saturday morning Saved By the Bell clones. We’ll call him Benjamin. Ben was young, he was loud, he was smart, he was funny, and he had created and was running his own TV show, all of which made him very cool. He’d also hired me as his staff’s writers’ assistant, which made him even cooler. He liked my writing, and promised to give me my first staff job on his show (didn’t happen — long story).
Ben was also taking a continuing education course in Greek Mythology, and liked to spout kernels of wisdom from the gods. We started calling him Benjaminicus.
I looked up to Benjaminicus. So when he said some words of sage advice for me, I listened. I was all over the place at the time. I was angling to be Benjaminicus’ newest staff writer, I was still “acting,” and my closest friend from college and I had begun Dial Us for Murder, a truly awesome mystery party business. (The site is defunct with lots of broken links, but it’s like looking at the Colosseum — you can see how cool it used to be.)
So Benjaminicus’ advice? “You do too much. You need to focus on one thing, and do that one thing well. Then you’ll succeed.”
Benjaminicus wasn’t the first person to spout this advice. I’d heard it before and since — not always directed specifically towards me — a million times. If you want to succeed, specialize.
I understand in some cases there’s merit to that — it’s probably very difficult to be both a top brain surgeon and a prima ballerina. But Benjaminicus wasn’t talking about that, he was referring to things within the same basic family. Don’t be “a writer,” be “a sitcom writer” — the best sitcom writer in the world. Shut out everything else so you can give laser-focus to the one goal in your sights, and you’ll achieve it.
For me it’s the worst advice in the universe.
I love taking on diverse projects. It has saved me in lean times (somebody had to write everything this guy said, right?), and it has opened up fun opportunities that might otherwise have passed me by. I’ve written television, internet, books, DVDs, travel guides, talking toys, educational guides, and of course the awesome mystery parties. I sometimes imagine that I know what’s going to happen next, but I’m almost never right, and I find that crazy-exciting.
What are your thoughts on this one? Do you like to play in a lot of different arenas with your writing (and/or your life in general), or do you find things flow better when you keep your focus narrower, but absolutely crystal-clear?