Thursday, 23 October 2014

How to be a success.

Is this all success is?
Success is elusive. It can be really difficult to achieve, particularly if by ‘success’ we mean writing a best-seller, earning a fortune, or having loads of people queuing for our autograph.

I confess I felt a pang of envy when I saw a line of people snaking through a shopping centre recently, all waiting for a book-signing at a nearby store.

I haven't yet considered my novel to be a success because I haven’t found an agent or publisher or sold many copies. And, by that yardstick, I may never be ‘successful’, which might be a bit depressing.

But success can take many forms. I can consider it a success I even finished the bleedin’ book at all, seen as I was working on it for four years among all sorts of other life events. And it’s a success it’s available for the world to buy, even if it is only on Kindle at the moment.

I think the modern world throws us so many ideas of what success looks like, and they’re not all helpful. Particularly in a world skewed towards helping those who have already reached that financial/popularity kind of ‘success’. (Publishers only accepting submissions from known contacts/bookstores only stocking books from established authors/marketing difficult to come by unless you've produced a best-seller already…)

It’s tempting to judge ourselves by that standard. It is, after all, quite tangible, and can bring a desirable level of comfort. (I have another blog-post in the pipeline about comfort and happiness, so let this sentence serve as my little ‘teaser-trailer’!) But we can be different; we can judge ourselves a success by meeting our goals, by completing our part of the bargain, by doing the best we can.

It might not bring the recognition of ‘the world’ but, ultimately, when the day is done, the lights go out and you’re lying alone with your thoughts, the only person you really have to answer to is … you. And if you’ve managed to be ‘successful’ in the work you had before you that day, then you can probably sleep a whole lot easier.

Because that’s all we can do: our work. It’s not up to me whether an agent picks up my book, it’s not up to me whether people buy it (did I mention it’s available on Kindle…? ;) ), but it is up to me  to complete my job, the writing, to the best of my ability.

If I’ve done that, then I’ve been a success.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Being crazy.

I always thought a man should have a dream, to dig himself out when he hit the floor.’ 
– Martyn Joseph, 'People Crazy As Me'.

People Crazy As Me - Martyn Joseph

In my darkest times, one thing has helped me to pull myself up again: my dreams. There are a few things I want to do before I die and, if I give in, cash in my chips, call it a day, those dreams will never get done.

But what happens if you try to achieve your dream, and fail? Or, what if you achieve it and it’s not enough?

I wanted to write a novel. It was my big ‘goal’ and I’ve done it. But I guess I was kidding myself: it turns out my real goal was to be a paid writer and, in that, I’ve failed. My novel has been rejected by pretty much every agent I could find to send it to over the course of the last eight months. I’ve received praise from colleagues for my work but there’s no hope, really, that it will ever find its way to the printing press.

It’s a bigger disappointment than I thought it would be and, coupled with the disappointment of still not being able to move back to my 'home', it's tough to take.

Martyn Joseph sings a song I’ve turned to in the past: ‘People Crazy As Me.’ Its opening line is what I felt in those dark times. As I listen to the song again now, I hear a message of a better way to live, a way to make this world better, and it’s not rocket science; it’s a simple message anyone can live.

I need to adjust my goals, again, and there’s a danger I’ll have to reduce them, to minimize them until they’re no longer recognisable as my dreams anymore, just to make them achievable.

But Mr Joseph never says the dream has to be attainable. (In any case, I’m still breathing; the dream isn’t unattainable yet.) I think of another song: ‘Dignity’ by Deacon Blue (I'll warn you now, it's quite '80s!) or, indeed, one I wrote myself: ‘I Want To Be An Astronaut’.

In recent years, I’ve often said I want to make this world a better place, to improve each moment, even if it’s only in some small way. I think I need to get back to that somehow: to write stories just because someone, somewhere, might enjoy it; to sing songs and record albums just because one person might find some hope or entertainment in the lyrics. To live each moment to the best of my ability so others might benefit from my talents, whether in writing, administration, or just through a listening ear.

And, sometimes, I see people as crazy as me.

I wonder if you’re one of them…?

Thursday, 14 August 2014

The unimportance of liking oranges (or not).

Today, I read this article in the Independent about Vicky Beeching, a prominent Christian singer/songwriter for churches.

Firstly, this isn’t a post about religion. This is a post about how we live and how we act towards others. (Some might say that’s what religion is supposed to be about…)

I can’t understand how people claiming to be ‘Christians’ can treat a person, such as Vicky Beeching, in this manner. To claim someone is ill, or possessed, just because they are gay is like persecuting someone for liking oranges. It’s nonsense.

Everyone is different. We all have different talents, likes and dislikes, and we all have different struggles to face in life. Some have health issues, others abusive parents, or financial difficulties; life is hard enough. Why make it more difficult for anyone? *

Instead, let’s focus on and celebrate the things we can do to improve the world: creating, caring, encouraging, looking after the environment, to list only a few, all hopefully with some good fun and humour along the way. 

Do your best, live well, and help (or at least let!) those around you do the same. I think the world would be a better place if we lived like this.

(And I think Jesus would agree.)

*Just to clarify: I’m not saying that being gay is a difficulty in life to be overcome like those listed (although, sadly, it seems it is such a difficulty in some circles). I’m saying that, regardless of anyone’s likes, dislikes, talents, beliefs – or indeed sexuality – there are enough problems to deal with in life without making things harder.

Friday, 1 August 2014

What if...?

One of the key questions an author asks when writing a story is: ‘What if…?’ What if our hero met someone in a bar? What if they got lost on the way home? What if they found a treasure? Or, if we’re particularly short of ideas, what if ninjas burst through the wall?

In life, I ask the same question and, having finished my novel, I’ve been considering it from both sides: what if I am successful in my quest to find an agent/publisher? And, what if I’m not?

One time, I wrote a song, just after I’d finished recording an album:

Welcome by Martin Flett

Basically, I was tired, and on the way down from the completing-a-project buzz. I had no new material left and the last thing I wanted to do was to face writing a whole new album, to start from scratch, when I hadn’t been that successful with my previous effort.

But, I wrote the song, and my next album, Becoming Human, was born which, incidentally, remains my best musical work so far.

It is difficult facing the ‘what if not…’ question: the answer can seem to be that we’d have to give up on whatever ultimate ambition we have. For me, it might mean I can never earn my living as an author and will have to settle for writing for fun, alongside whatever average admin job I can find.

But, if we pick up the tools again and make the first step towards our next project, then the dream isn’t lost. It may merely be over the next mountain. If your dream is really worth it, then you’ll make that climb.

And, you never know: what if the second one is the best…?

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Achieving life's goals.

Two years ago, I wrote this about some of the things I wanted to do in my life.

Re-reading it now, I’m pleased to see I’ve succeeded in a couple: I visited Findochty, and I’ve finished my first novel. Unfortunately I haven’t yet learned to play Johnny B. Goode Marty McFly style and I may have to accept I will never achieve this one.

Finishing my novel gave me a weird feeling: I’ve done something I’ve wanted to do for years. Now, it’s complete, on the page, out of my head and in the world. It’s finished. It feels good. 

But it brought to mind a question: what do you do when you’ve achieved your life’s ambition?

The answer is, of course, make a new one. Find something else to work towards. For example, I'm glad, even two years ago, I included ‘write another novel’ on my list of things to do. The best ambitions don’t end, they grow.

I’m proud of finishing my novel; I’ll be even more proud if I get it published. And prouder still if I end up with a whole shelf of my own in the local Waterstones.

Whatever you’re working on, keep at it. Achieving a goal is worth the time and hard work it takes. And, when you’ve done it, you’ll find a whole kaleidoscope of new ambitions and opportunities appear over the horizon.

Bring it on.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Reasons for creativity: are we 'adding to the noise'?

It’s been a year since I last posted on my blog. I stopped writing it because, firstly, I wanted to prioritise my novel (which I’ve now finished!) and, secondly, I became aware of the sheer volume of ‘stuff’ that is posted online. What made me think I had anything to add worth reading?

There’s a song I like by Switchfoot:

'Adding to the noise' - Switchfoot

I look at various social media sites and see a constant stream of, mostly banal, posts (no offence intended to anyone in particular!) and wonder: why should I add to it? What makes my musings more worthy of airtime than those of anyone else?

Eventually, I’ve realised it depends on why you’re writing/posting – or indeed doing anything else creative. If you’re doing it because you want to, because you feel you have something to offer that might be of benefit to the world then, great. But if you’re doing it because you want attention, and your work is screaming: ‘Look at me! Look at me!’ then maybe you shouldn’t be doing it at all.

Don’t get me wrong, I love it when my blog-views go up, or when people comment on or share my work. My ego gets a boost and I feel validated, of course I do. But it can’t become the reason for writing, otherwise I’m just selling out.

So, I’m back. Because I like writing on here, and because I think I have something worth saying.

If you disagree and it’s just more ‘noise’ to you then, please, turn off this blog…