I love Elvis…um, Marcus Graham.
MARCUS GRAHAM tells a funny story about the moment, many years ago now, when he gave up on Hollywood. It meant, as for any actor, letting go of a big dream and, like any adult, discovering that the dream wasn’t what you thought it would be. But in that pivotal moment in Graham’s life, he grasped the seeds of something else.
“I’ve learned that the less the ambition, the greater the happiness,” Graham says cheerfully.
And then later: “Letting go of the blind ambition of his 20s and 30s made him happier and calmer.”
Life today creates strange pressures: it’s not admirable anymore to just be quietly good at something that you’ve worked away at for years. You have to be the best! And do it really young! And really quickly! In writing, that’s first-time authors winning the Booker or 16-year-olds writing bestselling fantasy novels that get made into movies and spawn lots of sequels (though, hey, it is fantasy, so there’s got to be at least three books).
It leads to expectations that work against new writers. They expect too much of themselves, too quickly, and too much of the publishing industry, and others expect too much of them too. Something like Harry Potter or Twilight….those are bolts of lightning. Those authors themselves were under pressure to re-create the phenomena with every new book. How can a new author expect to create the next phenomenon when it is unpredictable, crowd-driven, faddish? How can a literary author aim to win the Booker when the judges’ tastes change every year and their decision-making is often obscure and apparently random?
Becoming an A-list movie star in Hollywood is the pinnacle for many actors. Wanting to be the next Rowling appears to be the goal for many fantasy writers. Winning the Booker is the dream for many (British Commonwealth and Irish) literary writers. Those are the sorts of big and glorious ambitions that might set you on your path, whatever it might be.
But to paraphrase the article, the dream is not always what you thought it was going to be. The amount of publicity, pressure, and sheer fan obsession must have given Rowling cold sweats. In this discussion, a Booker prize winner complains of having no time to write because of the touring expected of her since she won. And Marcus Graham woke up in Hollywood one day, and thought:
‘Bloody hell, here I am getting paid all this money to not work, while I wait for a job that I actually don’t want. What the f— am I doing here?’ So I took the $US10,000; they decided I actually was too mysterious [for a show called Mysterious Ways] and I left town.”
But: “despite letting go of ego, he still has the drive to act.” A writer can let go of unrealistic dreams of fame and fortune, and still want to write and be motivated to sit down and write (rather than daydream about having already written and receiving the accolades). It’s about deciding on workable goals, realistic goals.
For me, it’s regular publication for a small, niche audience. I don’t want lots of money, I sure as hell do not want fame, I don’t need critical recognition in the form of awards and prizes. I want to say, here, here’s a fun book, hope you enjoy it (and I want my small audience to say, thanks, I did, when’s the next one coming out? Write faster, lady).
We’ve all been trained to think of sensible, achievable goals as giving up. It’s not. It’s reaching for the happiness, the satisfaction, the contentment within your grasp, not those fabled distant stars that are so far away that their light takes millions of years to reach us. Reach for the Sun instead; its light only takes 8.3 minutes – a star less daunting to reach for.
There’s a greeting card in that, somewhere.