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Just went to the exhibition of Van Gogh’s paintings and letters at the Royal Academy in London last week. Amazing.

The  most striking thing is the sheer amount of work he put into improving his technique. The early sketches reek with the physical effort. His pencil and charcoal lines are virtually gouged into the paper. He would determine a particular skill he wanted to master, such as perspective, and go at it 100%, picture after picture until he got what he wanted. Then he’d move onto the next skill.

It makes me feel very humble. How many of us could even dream of working so hard at our weaknesses. Most inexperienced (and experienced) screenwriters I know much prefer working on their strengths. Because that’s more fun. And it’s certainly important to work on your strengths – and equally important to be aware of where you need to be stronger and to work on that too.

The results show in the later paintings – filled with energy, feeling and a superlative technique. No-one has ever handled paint like Van Gogh, before or since. And he didn’t get to do that without honestly facing up to what he needed to learn.