After a long Christmas holiday where I switched off from everything; the day job, writing and general real life stuff, I found it quite difficult emerging from my chocolate coma and finding my new year mojo. Going cold turkey and banning myself from eating anything from my Christmas chocolate basket, starting from my first day back at work, didn’t help matters, though the will is strong and I have stayed away….
I’ve found it hard to get back into my writing, spending far too much time over-anlaysing my work, (in a critical way that always kills the creativity), and dithering about what to focus on next.
When I saw a post on a facebook writing group the other week with a quote from the musical drama, tick, tick…BOOM!, I decided to watch the film. (Warning: if you read on, you’re going to find out Jonathan’s ending.) The film is based on the autobiographical musical by play write/composer Jonathan Larson. The story follows his life where he is waiting tables at a New York City diner in 1990 whilst writing what he hopes will be ‘the next great American musical’. On the run up to his 30th birthday, and a very important make-or-break showcase, where a musical he has devoted eight years to writing and re-writing will be performed, the pressure is ON.
I like seeing/reading stories where you get a glimpse into the way writers and artists torture themselves as it makes me realise we’re all a bit mad to put ourselves through so much emotional turmoil, but it kind of goes hand-in-hand when you’re passionate about creating art and trying to connect with an audience. This film sees Jonathan experience all the torture; self-doubt, procrastination, crippling writers block, comparing himself to other successful creatives (listing famous song-writers who had ‘made it’ well before the age of thirty). There is a sense of panic running through the narrative for Jonathan, that time is running out (which is sadly prophetic). He feels crushed when the musical he invested years in doesn’t quite work or make the impact he had dreamed of. (And the performance at the showcase was amazing, which again is a cruel reminder that you can be the most talented creative, but if your story doesn’t quite fit what the industry is looking for, it could be passed over time and time again).
The quote that brought me to the film was from Jonathan’s agent, who consoles him when things don’t go the way he hopes, with the words: ‘You start writing the next one. And after you finish that one, you start on the next. And on, and on…that’s what it is to be a writer…You just keep throwing them against the wall, and hoping against hope that something eventually sticks.’ For Jonathan, something eventually did stick. Six years later, his musical Rent began its run on Broadway for twelve successful years. But to say Jonathan got his happy ending has a tragic finality to it, as he died the morning of the first performance. That was a gutter punch moment of are you kidding me??
And it made me think, thoughts I know I have expressed before in posts. How much time do we waste letting self-doubt hold us back, being too afraid to put ourselves out there, worrying about our audience, giving up after rejections, criticism…or sometimes never even starting because we tell ourselves we’re not good enough, or this is not good enough. Maybe it’s not. Maybe it never will be. But you never know who might read your words and feel a connection. Jonathan left behind words and music that will reignite every time someone new connects with them.
Something I’ve missed during covid times is the lack of (face to face) connection with other writers and readers. Even although things have started to slowly re-open, at the moment I’m still not a fan of spending much time in crowds. (Travelling on a busy train and subway into my day job which is public facing often makes me crave time away from people in my downtime just now) I have recently dabbled in Tik Tok as a way of ‘connecting’ with readers and writers, but in a lot of ways Tik Tok confuses and depresses me, and goes against all of my introvert tendencies.
So I still feel that my life is missing a lot of those natural connections and the buzz you get from ad-hoc, unexpected interactions with other writers talking about projects and ideas, hearing writers perform their work and tell their stories, or getting immediate feedback and interaction from readers at talks and workshops.
There is nothing quite like a young reader seeking you out at the end of an event to tell you they were up to 2am the night before finishing your book, or that your words have made them want to read more and write. A work colleague delighted me recently by telling me Promise Me was the first book she had read since high school and she loved it and it kept her turning the pages, making her want to read more again.
It’s often those little sparks of realisation that my words have made a connection that keeps me believing in the magic.