What it takes to write your way to the top

Yesterday I saw Fame the musical performed by STP Musicals at Fareham’s Ferneham Hall, Hampshire. I’m a great fan of musicals and being a former dancer I also adore the dance scenes. But the reason for me going to see Fame this time round had more to do with my niece appearing in the production than a desire to see the musical for itself. What struck me though, while watching this highly professional performance, was that although I’d seen the film of Fame many years ago I’d forgotten the storyline and this time I related to it because I am working in one of those ‘creative industries,’ as portrayed in the musical.

In today’s culture of the X Factor, and similar type programmes, we’re force fed the instant fame message and with it instant wealth as being the only goal, rather than doing something for the sheer enjoyment of it and to enhance our own self development. The pursuit of this single goal can lead to frustrations and bitter disappointments. While it is good to have goals they also need to be realistic and achievable over time, and that ‘time’ can be some considerable years before we attain them. Carmen in Fame is in too much of a hurry to be ‘famous’ for fame’s sake to bother with the hard grind of learning and perfecting her craft, which in turn leads to her downfall.

Some people believe that if they write a book it will instantly become a best seller and shoot them to stardom, like J.K. Rowling, or Dan Brown, nice though that would be the chances of it happening are about as rare as finding an honest politician. The creative industry is a tough one. Although vastly enjoyable it can also be soul destroying with countless rejections. That comes with the territory. But working in one of the creative industries can also be extremely rewarding, especially when someone tells you how much pleasure and enjoyment you have given them.

We all need to find our style, or voice as it’s called, and that can take years of hard work learning our craft. Getting a book accepted for publication is a big hurdle often only happening after years of writing in one’s spare time, grabbing every possible moment to flesh out the plot, create the characters and actually write the thing. Learning how to create pace, tension and dialogue and revising the work until you feel you can’t do any more with it and even then never being completely satisfied. And even if you get it published there are more anxieties to come. Will it sell? Will anyone like it? Will I be commissioned to write another book? Can I even write another book? Just as actor will worry if he will land another part, earn enough to make a living, get a good review…

When you enter the world of writing (and performing) you are entering a marathon, not a sprint. There are no quick routes to the top only one and that requires hard work, perseverance, persistence and patience, a desire to constantly learn and improve and develop and experiment with your craft. And, as Longfellow said, ‘Learn to labour and to wait.’ Oh, and enjoy it along the way.

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Comment by B.R.Stateham on February 22, 2010 at 2:00am
The operative word is here LUCK. Lots of writers work hard at their profession and are never heard or seen in the published ranks. Only those with a certain measure of luck make it. And honestly, I'm not trying to sound pessimistic. That's just reality speaking.
Comment by I. J. Parker on February 21, 2010 at 8:07am
Well, you know what they say about winning the lottery: it won't happen if you don't buy a ticket. (Maybe I should confess that I've never played the lottery).
Comment by Pauline Rowson on February 21, 2010 at 4:40am
So true. I love the quote too.
Comment by Jack Getze on February 21, 2010 at 4:24am
That's where we agree 100%. The top is having people tell you sincerely they loved your work, they can't wait to follow your characters again.

Becoming a successful fiction writer is like trying to become a successful movie actor. The odds are so long, you have to be crazy to imagine it will happen. That's a quote from one of the top book agents in New York, Donald Maass.
Comment by Pauline Rowson on February 21, 2010 at 4:13am
Yes, you need that little bit of luck that sometimes places you in the right place at the right time, but without the hard work you will never get that luck. I also think you need to create your luck by making things happen and not waiting for others to do it for you, and to recognise and seize opportunities, which isn't always easy. Maybe, that's part two of this blog, Jack. That, and the fact of reassessing or defining what is the TOP.
Comment by Jack Getze on February 21, 2010 at 3:58am
Are you sure just hard work and perserverance are going to get us to the TOP? Over forty years of daily writing so far. Maybe we need a little luck, too.

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