In recent weeks I’ve found myself talking about writing much more than I have been actually writing.
In giving these talks, variously to TV production students, journalism students and aspiring theatre writers, I’ve learnt a few lessons – and I thought I’d share them. It does occur to me that there are common threads in the talks I’ve presented that apply to each of the three different types of writing I’ve spoken about – and they are things that I think apply to anyone pursuing a creative endeavour.
A couple of years ago I set up a personal website: not entirely for reasons of megalomania, but to deal with the look of confusion I was increasingly met with when I tried to explain my seemingly odd career. I’m a journalist and radio presenter who also writes stage plays and have written for Emmerdale. My work has also been published in a couple of books. I don’t really understand the confusion – it’s all storytelling.
It’s all writing and it all comes from the same creative impulse – I have things to say about the world – it’s an impulse anyone with creative tendencies will understand. Whether that’s the impulse to carve a sculpture, paint a picture, write a book or dance. To me, whichever particular aspect of my writing I’ve been discussing this past fortnight, it’s all come back to an over-arching theme – storytelling, something I think all artists are doing in whatever medium. So, in a tribute to one of my favourite columns I have ever read: I shall dispense my advice now (I’m borrowing from Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich).
Be passionate. This can’t be overstated enough. On the mornings when I stare at an empty screen until it feels like my forehead is going to bleed, I have to remind myself that I chose this because of my passion for writing (although there are times when it feels like writing chose me – as Orwell said of writing “one would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand”.)
Keep failing. From Beckett to Chumbawamba, the notion of failure is both deeply motivating and inspiring. Whether the motto is to get knocked down, but get up again, or to fail again and fail better, failure is an absolutely intrinsic part of the creative process. Also, it’s really, really hard to get up and carry on after each failure. But you have to keep moving forward because, well the other choice is to give up. If you can give up, then lucky you, Orwell’s demon probably doesn’t reside within.
Enjoy your ignorance. When I made my first short film, the budget was miniscule. It should have paid for two minutes of screentime at the most. I didn’t know that so made a 12-and-a-half-minute film. I could only do that because I didn’t know the rules.
Just do it. Create. It’s not always easy, sometimes it seems downright impossible, but sometimes, that’s all you need to do.