As a “creative” I spend far too much time worrying about the (self-inflicted) requirement to “make it.” What does that even mean?
It means different things to different people. Of course it does. But I’ve come to the realisation that it means far too much to me. A possible combination of latent narcissism, the need for validation and a streak of self-protection have resulted in a situation whereby making it has some pretty starry connotations. I won’t embarrass myself by listing them here. Suffice to say that BBC Front Row has surely got a seat somewhere with my name emblazoned across the back. (I’m joking. Really.) Anyway, I’m letting that notion go.
I recently revisited a couple of short stories that I wrote some time ago. Months, years in one case. At the time of writing them I was convinced they were the best they could be. I was proud of them. Coming back to them it’s like they’ve changed without my input. They’ve opened up, suggesting ways in which they could be improved. Exposed themselves to scrutiny. I’ve edited them, applied more precision to them. And now I prefer them. So “the work” is ever-changing. I’m more proud of those stories now than I am of any work that I’ve previously had published. What does that say about the need for validation, which (presumably) comes via publication?
During so-called-lockdown, I turned to screenwriting. I’d previously completed an online course in it and wanted to see if what I’d learned could be applied to my development as a writer. I’d also been inspired by hearing a podcast in which the musician Warren Ellis talked to Edith Bowman about a score he’d written for a short film called This Train I Ride. It made me question and consider various methods of working and I found it inspirational. I approached a Twitter pal whose music video work I admired, Alec Bowman-Clarke. If I could finish the script I had a vague idea for, might he be interested in trying to make a short film with me? His ‘Hell, yeah’ response provided further encouragement.
So over the summer we made a film, in a socially-distanced way. Three parts, each filmed separately in three different locations. And as that project nears completion, it stands as one of the proudest things I’ve ever been involved with. Have ever done. No one’s seen it yet. It doesn’t matter. It’s a type of “making it” that satisfies completely.
When I was little more than a child I used to spend Friday nights in a pub on the Fulham Palace Road watching live music. Two acts in particular were favourites and would perhaps play once a month or so. A band called Blues ‘n’ Trouble, and a guitarist named Sammy Mitchell. My friends and I loved them. Blues ‘n’ Trouble are still playing, I think. Sammy sadly died in 2006. Both had moments of recognition. TV appearances, playing with big artists. Neither are household names. In a modern, media-driven sense I guess neither “made it.” But the point here is that they did to me. That they and their music is still memorable to me all these years later means they made it, in a way.
Over two years ago I read a short story. It was called Sylvia Plath Watches Us Sleep, But We Don’t Mind and was written by Victoria Richards. It was published in The London Magazine. I read a lot of short stories. Most vanish once read. Some linger, fondly remembered. This one sticks around, as much as any short story ever has. I’m jealous of it. It was original, witty, dark and utterly brilliant. With that story, Victoria, too, made it. (She might disagree, I don’t know. Sorry, Victoria. It’s meant with love and admiration!).
Of course, the other element of making it over which we have little or no control is the ephemeral. Talent is not enough. If it were, Sammy Mitchell would be in several Halls of Fame. Victoria Richards would be on the current Booker list. Other things must play their part. Things called luck, zeitgeist, cronyism and its sibling nepotism, catching a wave, right place right time. And if we have no control, why worry about the outcome?
So I’ve realigned the making it requirement. Softened its edges. Popped its balloon. And dare I say it, I think the work I’m creating now is all the better for it.