After Oprah made the decision to interview Steve, we met a few of her team members. There was the TV show, but also the magazine, and the site, and promotions related to all three.
I spoke with someone at the magazine and gave her the quote from Steve that I’ve seen shared more than any other: “Put your ass where your heart wants to be.” She declined and said that their audience wouldn’t like the language. Fast forward to the airing of the interview and the clips shared online and guess which quote Oprah discussed. Yep. Ass and all.
The quote was known by the TV team and the magazine team, but they went in different directions.
This is an example of when a sure thing isn’t even a sure thing, which brings me to the name of this column, “What It Takes,” and my realization that I don’t really know what it takes.
I 100% know what it doesn’t take—what doesn’t work—but . . . What it takes? No. Not 100%.
Look at Oprah’s interview with Steve. Her team members were provided the same books and information and yet, different decisions were made. During the interview, Steve brings it up, not Oprah, but her team could have edited it out, but they didn’t. Oprah could have redirected, but she didn’t. She went with it. When the team pulling clips for the site and social media made its decisions, it didn’t have to go with that section, but it did.
Is it because magazine readers are more offended by “ass” than TV viewers or social media followers? I don’t think so. I think it’s about that force I was struggling with in last weeks “What It Takes” post, about different forces being at play.
I want to go back to the iron filings and bar magnet.
How much control do we really have? How much of it is us having what it takes and how much of it is another force?
I read an interview with Barbra Streisand this week, during which she said, “These times give me energy.” Maybe our times are the magnets—the force—whether it is Babs writing this new album or Bob Dylan penning his classics. Maybe it’s the same force thundering toward poet Ruth Stone or Steve when the Muse visits. But what—or who—is the force or who is manipulating the force? God? A muse? Or something as simple as a magnet? And can it’s explanation be expressed as a theorem, so that we could reproduce the force on any given day?
There’s an unending supply of courses on how to write a bestseller or promote a bestseller or how to become a millionaire or how to ___________ (insert whatever it is here).
If it was as simple as following those steps we would all be millionaires with bestselling books, perfect marriages, extraordinary kids, yada, yada, yada. But that’s not how it is.
I could even hand you all the materials I’ve written for bestselling authors and the names and contact information for the journalists and producers and others who have helped propel my clients toward great heights, but you know what? It might not be what it takes for you. Maybe it’s you or maybe it’s the world and where it’s at at the time.
Would On the Road or Catcher in the Rye receive the same reception if they were published today? Same with Anna Karenina and Pride and Prejudice. Extraordinary writing all around—and all exploring timeless themes—but would there be the same reception today if they were from unknown writers? Would Sherlock Holmes be published as a series of blog posts by a guy named John Watson? What of Mark Twain? His wit and writing live strong, but would his stories’ original dressings be of interest if presented for the first time today?
I’ve been reading The Odyssey with my son and it’s been a slog. If that came out today, what would we all say? The first few pages are kin to diving into George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice series, starting with book three—or diving into the Game of Thrones HBO version of the series, starting with season four. Who in the world are all these characters?
Or was The Odyssey written and preserved because the magnet underneath it was stronger than the rest and that same magnet was needed to bring us other classic on the road stories, like On the Road or that of Huck and Finn?
Along those same lines, was Dickens the magnet or force for Tolstoy, so that at their dinner, Levin could talk to Oblonsky of “some external power that has seized me” and just a few minutes later, Oblonsky could say, “It’s all very well for you to talk like that—it’s like that gentleman in Dickens, who with his left hand threw all difficult questions over his right shoulder.” And how much of it was the time, with Dickens being born not quite 20 years before Tolstoy? Tolstoy might have needed Dickens to create Levin.
And is there a theorem that could express any of this?
x historical events + y genre, multiplied by z flawless writing, and then all of it divided by who the author is and where he or she lives or was raised, and then, once you get to that point, you multiply it by the artist’s education (her knowledge of Dickens or Picasso or Schubert).
But . . . There’s one more thing. The fire is part of it. How much do you want it? How willing are you to do whatever it takes?
A few weeks ago, we reposted Shawn’s “Cheat Sheet” post. In it, Shawn tells of seeking advice from an industry leader. He tells the guy about a project he wants to do and expects to get a roadmap. Well, the guy didn’t give him a roadmap.
However, the guy did ask him what he wanted.
How much did Shawn really want it?
The one thing I know for 100% certain, when it comes to what it takes, is this: You have to want it. You have to be one of those people who are moved by the force. If that magnet hits you, you have to react. You have to move. You have to do something.
In that interview with Oprah, just after Steve explained his “ass” quote, Oprah brought up Nike’s Just do it. That’s who you have to be—someone who just does it. You have to move with the force.