When I try to pinpoint how the hell I ended up writing a book, I always end up back at a corner pub in Iceland, drinking Nordically-priced tap beers and eating a bad hamburger. That’s where this all started – the book, I mean, my debut novel, Being Black n Chicken, & Chips. That’s where it all started. Not the idea, and certainly not the first sentence typed. But the commitment. The decision to follow through. I’d promised my agent I would send her six sample chapters by 31 August – and it was the evening of 30 August and I had not written six chapters.
I’d written successful TV shows, and award-winning stand-up shows. But never a book. And I was scared. Really scared.
My mind always comes back to that pub in Iceland because it was the day I’d jumped one of the first hurdles in any artistic process: the point of no return. Standing on the platform of the creative bungee jump, wondering whether this would be the one leap that makes the rope snap. Up until this moment I hadn’t sent my agent anything. Hadn’t put my pride on the line. I could back out. I could just send an email saying I actually wasn’t really interested in writing a book (I was), or that things had gotten too busy making another TV show (they hadn’t), and that would be that. No questions. No book, no nothing. Safety and happiness in my hidey hole.
But, I decided I was going to write a book. And I did. Here’s what I learned.
JUST DO IT
A writer friend of mine recently told me that she isn’t writing at the moment because of a ‘fear of failure’. Not writing is failure. When it comes to creativity, the only way to truly fail is to not create. You get a pass just for making anything, because most people don’t make anything at all. They just consume all your hard work and poop out their thoughts in the shape of Google stars.
When it comes to creativity, you get a pass just for making anything, because most people don’t make anything at all.
Ignore the voice in your head that constantly tells you to re-think what you’re doing. That it’s not right. That you suck. The voice that is unwavering in volume, and only drowned out by the choir of failures from efforts-gone-by, members of which all once listened to that voice and all it did was land them in creative purgatory, where ideas are conceived and abandoned before they ever see the world.
Stop worrying about failure, and just do it.
EQUATE YOUR WORK TO SOMETHING ELSE
Too many artists think it’s all or nothing, that this script/book/performance/Instagram caption will be the one that makes or breaks you. But not everything has to be a masterpiece – realistically, very few things are, and nor should they be. People consume entertainment like they consume food, and while it’d be amazing to visit Noma and eat squid tentacle ice cream rolled in ant butt chocolate crumble (not a real dish, but you catch my drift) once or twice, most days of the week people actually just want a sushi roll. Artists punish themselves for not creating the ten course degustation, when they’ve got perfectly good ingredients to make an amazing chicken salad sandwich on crusty vienna loaf just sitting in their minds.
Make the best meal you can make, and trust that it will suit someone’s appetite.
Artists punish themselves for not creating the ten course degustation, when they’ve got perfectly good ingredients to make an amazing chicken salad sandwich.
STOP CONSUMING, START PRODUCING
I know what it’s like. You’re stuck in the trap. The hole. That vortex where all you do is bounce around from Facebook, to Twitter, to Instagram. Facebook. Twitter. Instagram. The tripod of self-loathing. The sin triangle. The kryptonite of creativity. Attempting to produce while you consume is as gross as eating on the toilet.
Disconnect from the internet and write from what you know. Check facts later. You’ll spend more than enough time on Instagram when it comes time for the promotional phase of your creative cycle.
WRITING IS NOT TYPING
People ask me how long it took to write my book. The answer? It took two years to write, and six months to type. Because writing is not typing. Writing is thinking. Writing is experiencing. Writing happens behind the glazed eyes of a daydream. Writing happens in the midst of an argument at home, when you realise that one of your many undesirable traits would look perfect on your protagonist’s nit-picking, overbearing employer. I wrote my book while floating in my local public pool, or staring out the window of a plane, battling with the dilemma of desperately wanting a cup of water but not wanting to waste a plastic cup. Don’t ever become hostage to the blinking cursor. Only type if you have something to type, and if you find yourself stuck, just type the first thing that comes to mind. You’ll be surprised how good it is. That said…
YOUR WORK WILL SUCK
Creating anything is like cleaning a house after a party. The task always seems too overwhelming to take on, and once you finally get stuck in, cleaning for hours – you take a step back and are pretty proud of what you’ve achieved. You’ve removed most of the bottles, and there’s no longer a stranger sleeping on your floor. It actually looks pretty clean! Maybe you congratulate yourself with a beer? But, the next day you walk back into the lounge room and you realise there’s still spew on the couch, and toilet paper on the ceiling fan, and you think ‘How did I ever think this was clean?!’
Well, that’s what the creative process is like. Every artist I know has work they wish didn’t exist. Demos on tape. Scripts on shelves. Films on private Vimeo links. Get used to your work being a big old stinking dump for a long time, especially during the frustrating moments where you feel like you’ve been cleaning for hours but the place still stinks. Trust me – every single bottle you remove, every chapter/verse/joke you write, is cleaning the house, until one day the place is sparkling and you’ll promise never to live in such squalor ever again. Then you’ll have another party to celebrate!
DON’T START AT THE START
Writing is not a 2D linear exercise where you start at the beginning and finish at the end. Writing is a very 3D game of plot-point Jenga, where some blocks slide out effortlessly, and others need painstaking patience and pin-point poking to budge – and just like Jenga, if a block’s not budging, it’s better to move on to one that will.
Find the pieces of the puzzle that fit together and work outwards from there. Once you think it’s finished, you’ll change half of it anyway.
If you have no idea where to start, but you know exactly how the end is going to play out, then write the end. It’ll probably inform where you want to start. Start in the middle. Start at the end, and work backwards. Write every second chapter. Only write the scenes that involve one character’s storylines. Find the pieces of the puzzle that fit together and work outwards from there. Once you think it’s finished, you’ll change half of it anyway.
But whatever approach you take, just remember:
NONE OF THIS MATTERS
Unless you’re J.K. Rowling or George R.R. Martin, nobody really cares what you do. Everyone is too busy worrying about themselves. Just make whatever you want to make, because when you’re dead, will you really care that @fuckchops69 on Instagram didn’t like what you did?
Seriously, none of this matters. Just do it. Make what you want to make. Fail. Fail with glory. Fail knowing that you at least tried. You won’t regret it, I promise. You’ll just learn from it, and make the next sandwich even better.