“Creativity is the succession of failure, but with enthusiasm”
It was extremely comforting to hear my much admired host say these words, sitting together in his Kensington study. More so, when a nearby shelf held several Oscars and Tony awards. In truth, I was just tagging along with a friend, who is being tutored by this man (whose name I won’t mention for the sake of privacy). Nonetheless, I obviously didn’t pass on the opportunity to ask a few questions. He had some incredible gems of insight into the toil, failure and giddy heights of being a professional creator. Having deciphered what he was saying through a thick accent, I think I have more or less accurately paraphrased a few here for your perusal:
- CREATIVITY IS HARD. BUT GET ON WITH IT: Writing and creation should be a toil. If it’s too easy, then it’s probably not going to be very good.
- BE PATIENT: It’s easier to spend 5 years writing on the wrong idea, that it is to spend 5 years writing on the right one. Getting the initial idea right is so important. Sometimes, things just will not work out from the start.
- WHERE HAVE YOU COME FROM: You need to take in as much as possible of the content of what you want to write. You need to know exactly what came before you in the genre, living and breathing, for example, the culture of the country you are writing about. If you swallow all of this up, then you can spit up your own ideas. There is (probably) a whole tradition behind you which you can inherit. You mustn’t ignore this, because your work doesn’t exist in isolation to these things, even if you do. If you want to make something of value and excellence, aim to stand on the excellence that has gone before you. What’s the point in starting without a leg up? It will be difficult to keep enough within the rules, but still be original, if you don’t do this.
- NICE IS NOT INTERESTING: The aim in creation isn’t to be polite but to be true.
- WHO ARE YOU: This person told me that ‘the dark side of the author is the only side worth hearing about. A saint is not interesting’. (At this point, I was trying very hard not to laugh, because I’m a Christian. This is where my opinions and the opinions of my host diverge slightly. I agree that drama is obviously centred around showing conflict and so on, but personally my motivation to create is significantly inspired by a belief that I’ve been assigned a God-given gift in my brain which I should make the most of. And, to be honest, I’ll take anything that will make me actually sit down and write every morning. Nonetheless, my faith is quite closely tied up with my creating, and I think it helps me to fear failure less.
If you are still with me, then you may be wondering what on earth the purpose of all this is.
I think having an understanding of why and how we make things is essential to keeping going in the more difficult stages of a writing process.
I am currently rewriting a play of mine, which is the first I’ve ever had performed. The restructuring that I want to give it, is pretty huge, and I am quite daunted by the task.
I’m now in the ‘mining’ phase, as I find myself calling it for want of a better word. Chipping away at lots of mediocre ideas, and occasionally finding a good one. I’ll probably keep doing that for the next week or so and see if I stumble upon the gold that I need to revamp this piece of writing. This all sounds very neat in hindsight, but the reality can be very frustrating. Speaking as someone who literally had to be bribed with a hamster to finish the first version of this play, this whole rewriting process is very slow frustrating for me.
Mid-morning I begin to wonder if I am wasting my time. I spend 3 hours jotting down a few ideas, but mostly ‘researching’, which today consists of reading the entire content of the British Communist Party website, articles on sports doping and FIFA corruption. The rest of the week I’ll probably try and watch a few farces and think about what I like about them (NB. I am trying to decide whether to rewrite my farcical comedy a straight farce…It’s probably the only way to make my current ideas really work, but also farce is SO hard to write I don’t know if I can face it).
The most motivating thing at the moment, is the knowledge that prior to every good idea I have, there is always a certain marinading, yeast-rising kind of time when the thoughts I’ve been collecting have to simmer and will eventually, probably, hopefully, make something half good. Or this is what I tell myself.
Structure in plays looks easy but the making of it is very hard. Unfortunately, for a ‘ideas not execution’ personality like myself, structure is not a dice that you can roll, hoping that random chance is on your side and that all the dots will join up together. Instead, it’s got to be meticulously glued together, in a way that I imagine is a bit like being a warhammer enthusiast, in that it’s quite pedantic and nerdy and lonely and no one actually particularly cares or notices the details of the final result.
I have no idea if this rewrite is going to take me the 5 weeks of this vacation, or until the summer. I’m keen to get moving with some other ideas I have, but I also have a shadow of an idea about what this current play could become. To get something to a professional standard when you are only learning the craft seems nearly impossible at this stage, but it is what I want to do. I absolutely love writing, but rewriting takes quite a lot of courage. And it’s funny how when you have a finished product, the memory of it all, nearly disappears.
In vague linking with this, here is a poem I wrote maybe a month ago, which isn’t about creativity, but it is about hindsight, which I think are quite closely interlinked. How comforting it can be to tie up the ends of things that went wrong, or things you failed at, or just accepting the consequences of bad decisions. I often use phrases such as “I’m glad I did it”, or “it taught me a lot” as a protective reflex of positive thinking, even when, in reality, I had a horrible time or I completely screwed something up. To my mind, this whole concept is best summed up in a stock phrase of the footballing register, as an ‘At the end of the day’ kind of mindset. (It probably needs some editing I admit. I go a bit wild with the line breaks ,but I think the form is true to the pensive mood I was in at the time of writing)
The Consolation of Hindsight
How I failed
With a sugary skin to
Memories of you,
When they regurgitate,
As memories do.
Glaze over me,
Pretend I’m guiltless.
Glug the elixir of loss.
The matte, with my gloss.