Last October I began studying for an MA in Dramatic Writing at Central St Martin’s in London. Today was our first day back after the holidays, and there was a tube strike. Some of our cohort gave themselves a day off, and I have to say it was tempting. I had plenty of excuses: I still haven’t finished my schemes of work for my art teaching this term; my daughter is still struggling to settle in to her new school and doesn’t like going in to after-school club; the alarm didn’t go off and we were all running late; the traffic was awful; it was raining; the front wheel on my bike was flat; I could’t find any trousers that didn’t make me live up to my childhood nickname of ‘parsnip legs’ (thanks, big brother – and incidentally, to all partners out there, the answer to ‘do these trousers look awful?’ is NOT ‘well, they’re not the greatest trousers’). So yeah, I could easily have stayed at home and whiled away the day not finishing stuff, but I didn’t. I went in. I cycled to the station, got the train to London and walked from Paddington to Kings Cross. It was a long way. Three miles, apparently, although it felt like longer, especially on the way back. I was going to walk along the canal, but I missed the fast train and it turns out the canal route is 5 miles not 3, so I went for the unglamorous Euston Road instead.
It worked. Not only because it got me to uni in time, but because en route I realised my whole journey was a metaphor (of course it was). My crowded, fume-filled, rain-splattered walk was a metaphor for my journey as a writer, and for that reason ranks as one of the best walks ever. Here’s why:
Last night I got some feedback on a treatment I thought was good. Seems not. Have fallen into my usual trap of getting bogged down in research (that’s what comes of having a father who’s an academic – I kind of need to know it ALL before I can decide what to do with it) and instead of writing a gripping thriller I have written a jumble of confusion. Getting this lukewarm feedback really got to me – not because I can’t take criticism, I absolutely can, and would much rather have it than bland, useless praise – but because I still can’t work out how to fix the problem. How to find the story? And then how to describe the story in a treatment that is clear and exciting? Because at the moment I seem either to gloss over characters so they become simplistic, or put in so much detail no-one knows what’s going on. Last night I went to bed miserable and this morning, having failed to work out a solution (and being quite tired and emotional), I cried (which was yet another excuse I could have used for not going in, come to think of it).
But on my walk I remembered Beckett. Sam Beckett and his wonderful piece of advice ‘Ever tried? Ever failed? Try again. Fail again. Fail better.’ I have had this pinned to the wall in every classroom I’ve ever had, and I use it to encourage my Art students when they think they’re rubbish (they never are, just lacking in confidence). Easy to tell them; sometimes more difficult to tell myself. Certainly last night was not the time – I needed to feel bad and sad for a bit. But by today on the Euston Road it was there in my head, echoing the JK Rowling clip I’d come across on Facebook about the power of failure. That, and the American Frat Guy voice of Bop It, that annoyingly addictive game where you have to pull it, twist it, flick it, spin it or Bop It. After a woefully low score he either says ‘Dude’ in an incredulous, disappointed voice, or he says this, which is kind of all you ever need to know about life: Do it again but better. Bop It and Beckett. My touchstones.
And as I continued along the Euston Road it dawned on me that I really am a writer. I will try again to master the art of writing a treatment. I will most likely fail. But I will fail better. And eventually someone will read one of my failures and say well, not perfect, but it’s got something. And that something is determination. As I put one foot in front of the other I realised that that’s all I need to do. Show up. I showed up, five minutes late, sweaty and with slightly sore feet – and I walked in ready to try, and fail, and I felt more of a success than I have ever felt.