HOW TO BE SUCCESSFUL

A funeral and then a visit to Warsaw since my last blog.   All that is another story…

…for now I’m still thinking about the censors inside our own heads.  Every creative workshop is about trying to outwit them. How easy it is to spoil an idea with anxiety about its success or failure.

I have two friends – let’s call them Tom and Jerry. Tom’s book has just been short-listed for a prestigious prize.  On the strength of that he’s been offered a book tour and is meeting authors and festival organisers and getting more invitations.  His confidence is buoyed up and he’s already started a new manuscript.  Jerry thought he’d got the big break when a renowned agent enthusiastically approached him for his manuscript and said he’d get a publishing contract in no time.  Three years down the line the agent is no longer returning Jerry’s calls while other agents say the book is excellent but it’s a difficult time… Jerry decides to give up writing altogether.  Life’s short and the sense of failure is making him too miserable but he then finds he can’t actually stop writing.  Something makes him keep going even though he isn’t getting anywhere…  Which of these two artists will do better in the long run?  Is it a foregone conclusion?  Will Tom become complacent and stop honing his skills or he will he blossom with all the encouragement and attention? Will Jerry become so depressed he can’t see his projects through or will rejection spur him to write even better?  What’s next?

I expect you know Tom and Jerry too.  Maybe you identify with one of them?  Tom-everybody’s-darling or Jerry the also-ran – or maybe with both of them?

We artists like to think we’re above all that.  Surely all we want is to focus on our own creativity, not worry if our work is a) any good and b) marketable.  But we do.  And there are electricity bills to pay.  And we’re living in a society utterly obsessed with success and failure.  (It should be a double noun: Successfailure.) Singing, ballroom dancing, baking, going on a date, putting an outfit together, bush tucker trials, losing weight, living in a house – everything is a competition.  One of my favourite recent books is The Hunger Games, a young adult novel by American writer Suzanne Collins – thrilling social commentary on competitiveness taken to its extreme.

So there’s something very gratifying knowing J.K Rowling got half a dozen rejections from publishers before placing Harry Potter and – at the other end of the spectrum – that Polish poet Wisława Szymborska, who died earlier this year, referred to winning the Nobel Prize as the ‘Stockholm tragedy’, because it held up her writing for a few years while she was fêted by all the media.

Why write about this slightly embarrassing and ignoble topic?  (It’s a bit like talking about an itchy infection with a nasty smell.)  Why admit to my own sleepless nights of corrosive anxiety – feeling I am the only one foolish enough to be worrying this much whether I have truly ‘nailed it/made it my own/given it 110 per cent etc’?  Why?  Because it’s there.

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