Time And Tide Melt The Snowman


Some portions of this entry have appeared elsewhere.

After slightly too much procrastination, I’ve managed to do some writing. Well, sort of. I’ve had a couple of days off. Well, sort of. Having a day off is a spectacularly rare occurrence for me, and that’s not just exaggerated hyperbole or a plea for sympathy. Well, maybe the second one a little bit. But, generally speaking, it remains true that I don’t usually have a full 24 hours straight in which I’m not earmarked for something. Usually, obviously, it’s the full time job, but if it’s not, then it’s delivering workshops, or taking rehearsals, or .. well, whatever. People will spot me stumbling incoherently from one appointment to the next, smile indulgently, and tell me ‘well, it’s your choice ..’ as if they think I actually have a choice. Seriously, if I didn’t spend my ‘spare’ time trying to create stuff, I would probably get quite depressed.

Obviously, however, this means that the time in which I try to create stuff is severely limited. I might have to do an edit on a play within a 15 minute tea break, which isn’t exactly the most conducive of environments. And anybody who thinks that they can get some writing done on the commute clearly isn’t a regular on the Southern railway at 5.00pm.

Occasionally, some rock legend informs us how it only took three minutes to knock out their greatest, most famous song. They suggest a three minute pop hit took only those three minutes to create – an irritatingly perfect stream of consciousness of verses and choruses with absolutely no error or rewrite.

But three minutes of genius never takes just three minutes, does it? When singers and writers create their three minute best sellers, it takes a lot longer than 180 seconds. They’ve woken up – probably a fair bit later than the average cab driver or shelf stacker – worked their way through toast, newspapers, and perhaps something with a bit of bacon in it. They’ve ambled across town to meet whoever it is they’re collaborating with, had a bit of a gossip, had lunch, strummed a few notes, knocked ideas back and forth, come up with a pretty good idea for a song (in three minutes), got distracted by Countdown, checked that the song was actually as good as they thought it was, refined it, popped down to the pub with the vague idea that they’ll write it properly tomorrow.

It’s about where your head is at. What space you’re in. There’s no way you can write your great novel if you have to spend all week selling £1 frozen meals to unimpressed customers. We all need to support ourselves, obviously, but arguably, in order to be in any way creative means having the chance to withdraw from that demand occasionally.

I’m not sure that I’ve known anyone who’s had any success in the creative industries without having some kind of help along the way, whether it’s a couple of train fares paid, or some patience regarding that month’s rent. Time really is money: you have to pay for it.

We’re told that George Orwell and his contemporaries managed to create great novels while working as bank clerks and the like. But they did have TB and revolutions to inspire them. Whereas my inspirations tend to be restricted to shopping in Lidl and being born in Croydon.

Right now, I’m managing to get some stuff done, although it’s mainly editing. I have a short story to deliver, which is supposed to be 1,500 words. The original manuscript was around 3,000. It’s gone through about six edits, each cut being more impossibly deep than the last. To quote Tarantino, it’s now cut not only to the bone, but past the bone. It’s been amazing that I’ve been able to retain any of the humour or dream-like quality of the original: it’s certainly been an education experience in discovering just how much you can edit after thinking ‘no, I can’t possibly cut any more’. That said, I don’t think I can possibly edit any more.

In addition, I’m attempting to write some sketches. As I’ve spoken about before, sketch comedy is something that I’m really wanting to solve: I often come away from watching / listening to sketch comedy really inspired to write my own, admittedly sometimes buoyed by the fact that what I see / hear isn’t always wholly successful in its aims. Of course, then I try to write some sketches myself, and it is savagely proved to me that it’s not nearly as easy as it looks. Plus, what I’m trying to write is topical sketch comedy, which is almost Da Vinci Code like in my (lack of) ability to crack. After staring at a blank screen for two hours, I finally come up with a halfway decent idea, only to discover, after a quick sweep of NewsBiscuit or DailyMash, that someone else has got to the gag before I have, and done it better.

But I won’t give up. I still have six minutes spare in March, I’m fine.


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