Friday, 8 June 2012

Keep calm and carry on writing

As a writer or other creative, it's crucial that you learn to handle the quiet times. You know, the Absolutely Nothing's Happening in My Writing Career times. Actress Joanna Lumley, 65, of Absolutely Fabulous fame, shares her philosophy on the subject in a Woman & Home (June 2012 issue) interview: 'I believe strongly in discipline - in work, in the way you live, in the way you approach every day. You have to make yourself do things. When you're busy, it's easy to be disciplined, but when you're unemployed, unwanted, out of work - which happens as an actor - you have to discipline yourself to do something. It's about getting up, having faith and hope, and doing everything you can to make life agreeable.'

The secret to success in all things is not giving up, and taking a longer view of your writing career. As Tom Butler-Bowdon, author of the inspirational book Never Too Late to be Great, points out, if you see your productive life as being from age 20 to 80 - a total of 60 years - at age 35 you still have three-quarters to go! 'When we give ourselves slightly longer timeframes, anything is possible,' he writes. 'At the age you are now, many famous and remarkable people were only getting into their stride. Given longer life spans, it is likely that you have more time than you think to achieve your goals.' What if you give up just as you're about to approach a breakthrough? Take a break, by all means, but don't give up on your dreams.

Anyway, the pre-breakthrough period is apparently to be treasured. It's a quiet, golden age in which you, the writer, can experiment, indulge your whims, and generally do whatever you like. Which bestselling author trotting round the world on endless book tours can say that? I remember a conversation I had at a Cape Town party with Richard Mason many years ago. A fellow aspirant novelist friend and I were telling our tales of unpublished woe to the author, who sold his first novel The Drowning People to a publisher as a 19-year-old Oxford student. Sure, he shot to international bestseller lists and became an admired literary figure at an almost unheard-of young age, but he paid the price with a breakdown a few years later. I remember this handsome, passionate young man shaking his head and saying to us with urgency, 'Enjoy this time - really,  you must - because once you've become a success, you can't get that time back.'

If you have time to savour the craft of story telling, be thankful. And don't stop just because nothing seems to be happening. Give it time, and it will.

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