Apart from an annual retrospective of what my theatre company has been up to, I don’t tend to write yearly summaries here. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever done it before. Partly because I’ve never thought to and partly due to a vague superstition that announcing the glowing quality of the preceding twelve months of your life will consign the next twelve to grim mediocrity (don’t ask me why, it’s dumb). But given everything that’s happened in 2019, given the massive change in my life that it has signified, I wanted to write something about what this year has meant. Largely so I can arrange my own thoughts on it.
Last year, a comment on one of my blog posts pointed out a recent pattern in my writing that I’d had no idea was there. This person suggested that with short stories like Stars or Empty Orchestra I’d been writing a lot about false success, about characters who delude themselves into believing that they’ve achieved a lifelong dream in order to stave off the grim reality that they’re not even close.
I tend to think I have a pretty good handle on the themes I explore in my stories, by which I mean that I’m able to identify and develop them, but those short stories were clear cases of my having no idea until it was pointed out to me. And when it was, I didn’t know how to react. I wanted to argue. But the twisting feeling in my gut made it very clear that this person was right. I was writing about false success because on some level that was how I saw myself.
For my age, I had done a lot worth being proud of. Three published novels, plays produced interstate and overseas, several years of heading up a reasonably popular podcast, a major screenwriting award. And I was proud. I used those achievements to secure confidence in myself that I was doing well, that my writing career was well underway and I could see myself as a relative success.
But there was a needling undercurrent of feeling like an absolute failure. I couldn’t make any film or TV production companies take notice of me. The Boone Shepard books were doing okay-ish, but they hadn’t blown up in a way that would allow me to really see myself as a working author. Even the best of my plays still struggled to find audiences. I made money writing, but doing so meant taking on so many depressing freelance gigs for such a pittance that honestly, I might have been better off bartending again. I would have dreams about the shining success and validation I’d always wanted then wake up to the reality; I was barely getting by financially and my creative projects, when they didn’t stall outright, more often than not were met with a shrug.
I’m aware I’ve said a lot of this before, but I wanted to reiterate at least briefly to underline just how massive the change in circumstances this year was.
Again, I’ve spoken more extensively in other blogs about this. But at the start of this year there was no way I could have imagined the extent of what was about to happen. In January The Trial of Dorian Gray became my most successful play ever; selling out, extending, then selling out again. Four of my books sold to HarperCollins, two adult thrillers, two YA dramedies. Translation rights to The Hunted sold in multiple overseas territories. Film rights were acquired by a major LA company now actively developing with a view to shoot scarily soon. I was lucky enough to write the screenplay. I was flown to Sydney for several paid writer’s rooms. I’ve been commissioned to write the pilot for an in-development horror show that could (provided I haven’t screwed it up) be really awesome. I went to LA for a week of meetings and pitches leading to several ongoing discussions. Any one of these things could have been life changing alone. Any one could have turned 2019 into the most exciting year of my life.
Most of the time, none of it feels real. I mean, I know it is. I’m getting the flights, taking the meetings and for the first time in my adult life I’m financially stable. I’m currently looking at the beautiful first advance copies of The Hunted, complete with the little HarperCollins insignia on the spine. But how can you possibly adjust your mindset to a new reality that looks a lot like every single one of your long-held dreams is coming true? In rare moments that reality hits home and I find myself bursting into uncontrollable giggles. But the majority of the time I remain consumed by the same old anxieties, doubts and insecurities I’d always had. What if it all falls apart? What if everyone responsible for what’s happened realises they’ve made a mistake? What if, what if, what if.
What if it all works out?
The other day I was having a drink with an actor friend of mine who told me that, for the first time in his life, he’s started to enjoy auditions. I asked him why and he said that it’s simply because he’s learned to be content with knowing that he’s done the best job he could. He no longer questions every decision and interrogates where he’s messed up. He goes in, does his best, and leaves knowing that if he doesn’t get the part, it’s not because he screwed up somehow. If he’s right for it, it will work.
Creatives tend to capitulate to the inner critic way too much, that nagging voice whispering those what ifs and perpetually prodding you with doubts about how you handled any given situation or opportunity. But if you know you tried, really tried, then that inner critic has nothing of value to contribute. You can’t do any more than what you can.
I don’t know what will happen next, or what 2020 looks like. I hope for the best, of course, but I can’t really expect or anticipate beyond knowing that I’ll continue to work as hard as I can to keep this train on the tracks.
What I know is this; I worked hard to get here. Really fucking hard. I stumbled and I failed and I screwed up. I worked dreary hospitality and sales jobs for nearly a decade while writing in my spare time. I put every bit of writing I could out in the world and when they didn’t do well, I interrogated why and changed my approach. And what 2019 proves, beyond doubt, is that it was possible all along. That I wasn’t deluded. It took me a decade; more, really. But I got here.
See you in 2020.
Writing words about writing words.