"Art is not a mirror with which to reflect the world; it is a hammer with which to shape it"

Tuesday, 28 October 2008


It must be about four weeks since the deadline for the first 10 pages of the Red Planet Prize. And I have been ploughing on with the full version of mine ever since… just in case I hear the call. However much I suspect this to be highly unlikely but it’s surely better to have something ready and not be called than be called and have nothing.

In the immediate aftermath of the deadline I was comfortably thinking my entry is safely in the post- it’s not an absolutely terrible piece of writing- and I can have a couple of minutes break. It was a good feeling, most definitely it was. For as long as it lasted. Then I started to read the musings of my fellow blogonauts… big big mistake. The brick of reality flew through my window of hope. As I mentioned, I changed horses mid-race, and have probably come a right cropper, but it didn’t stop me from thinking there was some quality to what I’d done. Then I read other people’s accounts of their ten pages; how some got read 5 times, 15 times, 327 times; how they’ve been read and re-read, drafted and re-drafted; mentored, buffed and polished until the gleam would take the retinas from the pilots of passing jets… while I merely thought hard, put something down as best I could, revised it and redrafted it then put it in the post. And I realised what rather smart people I am up against. And that last year’s winner had been working on theirs for years and was mentored by someone smart as well.

I read somewhere that someone had tried to put a small cliff-hanger at the bottom of each page (apparently the new thinking) and yet if I’d tried that, catastrophe would have ensued- I would have gone back, lopped out a line or added a new one and the whole thing would have ended all over the shop pretty sharpish. So, I’ve pretty much convinced myself that I really only stand a chance if the entire pile of other scripts spontaneously combusts. Bizarrely, I will continue writing the project despite this being entirely counter-intuitive.

However, in the end it did start a new train of thought… presumably, everybody gets some ‘reading’ and notes done. Fair enough. Very sensible. And yet… is there such a thing as too much ‘script-reading’? Is it possible to have too many notes? To do too many re-writes? When I was doing the whole giving and receiving notes thing at University, in a group of four and a tutor, most people would get a reasonable consensus while I would get a pretty even split of opinion- two who loved the draft and two who hated it. I never knew why and I have no reason to suspect this situation might have changed in the intervening period. So, who should I listen to- the ones who happen to agree with me- or the ones who don’t? And after a while what happens to the essence of what you’ve written? What happens to the fire that produced that first draft- is it quenched after buckets of notes have been poured over the flames until all that remains are a few struggling embers. What comes of the happy accident? Can it just be that the ur-text is the one that really worked best, the one that retains the anger or the fire or the passion or the pain that inspired the writer in the first place? When I was learning to paint I was told it was not only important to know when to start but, crucially, to know when to stop. To stop before it’s ruined.

So, here it is, my own unique and special skill. Other people have innate talent, some have passion- I have self-doubt. I am neither naturally artistically talented or technically gifted so this self-doubt may not be such a bad thing. For a start, with low expectations there’s less chance of disappointment; also you already know you have to work hard because you know life’s not a level playing field and you will always have to go that extra mile; you work harder, think harder, revise and redraft harder because you will never really match your own exacting standards. With the self-knowledge of self-doubt you have a clearer view of your limitations so are less afflicted with ego; you’re less certain the world owes you a living and ultimately you’ll be more grateful for what you get.

So, if there’s one thing I would be destined to meet in my own personally Room 101, it will be doubt. And yet I should be grateful for it!

Of course there’s self-doubt and then there’s sheer horrible hateful reality…


Janice Okoh said...

I'd try not to think about it... love the painting.

Near by said...

well done for your shortlisting!

Jon Peacey said...

Apologies for the delay in reply- invaded by myriads of problems...

Thank you... I'm a compulsive over-thinker... the shortlisting comes under the heading of complete surprise... I'm still convinced there's been some sort of a mistake!

Near by- you've changed names- spooky! :)