Last year I had some of the biggest ups and downs I’ve ever had with my writing.
At the start of 2017, I took the plunge and reduced my working hours (changing jobs in order to do so) to 4 days a week, buying myself an official ‘writing day’ for the first time. My writing seemed to be on the up – my short stories were getting published on a fairly regular basis, and I was getting paid for at least one professional theatre project a year. It wasn’t much, but it was a start. I felt justified in making more space in my life to do what I loved.
But then it all went a bit pear-shaped. I got through the first couple of months feeling pretty buoyant, thanks to my second playwriting commission for LGBT History Month. But when that ended, the usual post-show crash turned into a downward spiral that felt like it might never end. I was writing a lot, trying to make the best use of my new dedicated time, but I just didn’t seem to be getting anywhere. I spent several months working on a new full-length play, something I hadn’t had the time to do for years, and submitted it to several major playwriting competitions to find that it didn’t even longlist for any of them. My short story acceptances were drying up too, and for the first time in a few years I didn’t have a paid theatre commission on the horizon. At its worst, I felt like I was kidding myself – and that I’d made a terrible mistake.
It wasn’t until right at the end of November that things started to look up again. The play I’d been feeling too disheartened with to even keep submitting got me an interview for Channel 4’s brilliant 4Screenwriting course, which I got my place on for 2018. It was a submission I’d barely thought twice about – I’d applied several times before, years ago, and received encouraging emails but never got any further – and I’d applied just because I happened to have something ready at the right time. Rejections continued to roll in for exactly the same script from other places – because of course they did – because reading and writing is subjective after all. I am trying very hard to make my peace with the fact that this career is always going to be part lottery.
The thing my dad always likes to say – whether it’s a writing commission I’m chasing, or a job, or whatever it might be – is: ‘Persistence is incompatible with failure’. It’s often not really what I want to hear when I’m nursing a bruised ego from yet another rejection, or bitterly comparing myself to other writers, or people I graduated with, or miserably googling the age of celebrities to measure how far behind I am. But I think it is true. Other factors are important too, sure – you need talent, and skill (which is not the same thing), and luck, of course you do. There are thousands (really, literally, thousands) of other people in the same position trying to do exactly what I’m doing. But I can only expect to earn my seat at the table if I am resilient, and, most of all, if I am persistent. And that (I am only just starting to realise) means writing when it’s difficult, writing when I don’t want to write, writing with the door closed, writing even though the pile of washing up by the sink is playing on my mind and there are a million other demands on my time.
Persistence. Is. Incompatible. With. Failure.
Now that I’m in less of a panic about it all, I’m able to look back on and enjoy some of the highlights of last year. In amongst my writing despair, I performed at some fantastic events, including Bad Language at the Elizabeth Gaskell House as part of Museums at Night, Flim Nite‘s Fifth Element, and the first brilliant edition of Hors Lit Manchester: a curated festival in people’s living rooms and other unexpected spaces that I can’t recommend highly enough.
Between 4Screenwriting and another big project that I’m not quite able to talk about yet, I’ve suddenly got most of my creative time this year pretty much planned out. Up until just over a month ago, I’d been readying myself for a pretty quiet year of knuckling down to a first draft of a novel, which is now going to have to go back in the drawer for the foreseeable. How fast things can change when you’re trying to do a job that means sending out hopeful attempts, like birds, with no guarantee that any of them will ever come back to you.
Right then. Door closed, eyes down. The window is open to visitors, whether they fly home or not.