Fear, Failure and how my Wife and Daughter Inspire Me.
Ever since I can remember, I’ve pretty much sucked at almost everything I’ve tried. And I’m a Gemini which means I’ve sucked at a lot of different things.
And although it might sound contradictory, I am also very skilled in many different trades. I can weld, build cabinets and pretty much do anything needed to design, plan and build a house from the ground up other than electrical work. I’ve also made about 100 documentary and charity videos. I’ve done events from anywhere between 2000 and 150,000 people including planning them, writing the speeches, coming up with the ideas for the videos, shooting, editing and doing the post work on them and then building the stages and running the show.
But the truth is that, I’ve never really been truly happy with any of it. I’ve just never felt any of it was good enough. Especially not with the level of artistry that I watch and admire from creative friends who make it seem so effortless.
Besides, getting proficient at all that stuff has taken me 25 years and tens of thousands of hours of painful, grueling work to at least get decent at it. It wasn’t the stuff of effortless creation that I perceived from the people I admired. It just wasn’t fair.
But there was always one little private domain in my buried chest of hidden dreams that that had the secret hope of “Maybe one day I will be good enough.”
And oddly enough it was the one area that was the easiest for me to do. It was never work because I loved doing it so much. I suppose the fact that I had read almost 9,000 books by the time I was 10 was partly reason for it. Those 9,000 books cost me friends, numerous beatings from the school bullies and a ridiculous amount of taunting and teasing. But they also gave me a deep seated love of the written word.
Ever since I wrote my first story when I was five or so about finding and befriending a troll in my closet, I knew that what I loved more than any other activity in my life was writing.
I loved to write even when no one else would read it.
I loved to write when my friends said my stories were good and asked me for the next installment.
I even loved to write when people said that what I wrote sucked.
It didn’t matter. It was my secret world where anything was possible. Where I was no longer a mere mortal, but of the fabric of the gods themselves.
It was also a world that I always hoped that I could one day turn into an actual job.
Now, I have always known that the fear of failing is always worse than failure itself. But I also believe the fear of failing as a writer or an artist is the most crippling fear of all.
How do you get over the firm belief that you are not and will never be “good enough”?
Adding to this were a lot of regrets about missed chances and being passed up on things because I didn’t take advantage of moments when the window of opportunity was open.
I was also silently angry with friends who could have given me a connection but didn’t. People say “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” So why weren’t people I knew who could give me a leg up not giving me a leg up? Did I suck that bad?
Nine days after our daughter was born, Christmas Eve to be exact, I was in our bedroom alone with her watching her sleep and make funny little sounds as she dreamed. At one point while I was looking at her I suddenly knew that life would be alright.
I realized that I was helplessly and hopelessly in love with this beautiful and amazing tiny girl lying in front of me and that I would do anything to see to it that she has the best life possible.
It was an epiphany. I was looking at one small part of the cycle of immortality.
And suddenly I knew that I could be good enough. That I could do anything that I truly wanted to.
And what was better I now had a muse. A true inspiration.
So I did what any truly inspired person does, I said “To hell with it,”
I had been designing a story for the previous 5-6 months. It was a film idea that had been kicking around my head which I started laying out on cards, notes and scrap paper from the factory. Roughing out the acts, scenes, beats and all that sort of good stuff. And finally when looking at my daughter it all clicked.
That night I kissed my wife goodnight and wished her Merry Christmas and thanked her and my daughter for making me the happiest man alive. I wrote 60 pages on my final draft software before breakfast.
I wasn’t even tired. We didn’t have a lot of family so we sort of just had a quite Christmas together. A few friends stopped over to give us some company before they left for their own family dinners.
Then my wife did something unexpected. She grabbed the pages of the screenplay I had written and devoured them. She then asked me “Where’s the rest?”
What followed was a mad 36 hours of writing. By the end of the 26th of December. I had written a 142 page screenplay.
Wow. My daughter and wife were not only muses, they were taskmasters!
Predictably my wife loved it, because that’s what marital partners do, they encourage you.
I then put it in a drawer and forgot about it for a few months. I needed some space from it and I also was already holding two jobs and working 17 -19 hour days. I had just used up my Christmas vacation and it was time to go back to the real world for a bit.
Every day on my two hour trip to work (taxi, bus, train and walking) I would do my mental re-writes and make my notes. Over the course of a few more months, I cut the script down to 123 pages (2nd draft = 1st draft minus 10%), I tightened it up, polished the dialogue and so on.
And there I left it. Then my wife said “Why don’t you sell it?” to which I laughed and said “No one would ever buy it. I am a nobody.”
And she slapped me.
After a severe dressing down about my general attitude towards myself, I agreed that I would do something with it.
I sent it to a friend of mine that could give me all the connections I could ever possibly need. He still hasn’t read it. Enter self-doubt yet again.
So my wife pushes me again. I told her I had no contacts and had only written a couple features and had never sent anything anywhere so didn’t know what to do. She didn’t care. We had a daughter. I was holding two jobs already and we still weren’t making enough money to make all ends meet and stay out of debt. So she pushed.
I found a screenwriting competition. I was one of 5,000 people who submitted a screenplay to it.
Months passed and I knew my script wouldn’t make it past the first round. A month later I received an email stating it passed the first round.
I was then totally positive that it wouldn’t pass the second round.
I received an email a month later notifying me that it had passed the second round and I was now in the top 10% who made it into the quarterfinals.
My wife gloated all day. The “I told you so” was thick enough to cut with a knife.
Now here we are. In three days, the semi-finalists will be announced selecting the top 25 of all the screenplays submitted.
I know for a fact that my name will not be on that list no matter what my wife says. It’s a good story, I know that. It has originality, I know that. But I also know that I haven’t worked hard enough yet to land in the top 1% which is where you have to be to sell a screenplay in today’s landscape unless you have a great connection or an agent who believes in your work enough to champion you.
So I know that realistically in 72 hours I will be notified that I got as far as the quarterfinals. And you know, I’m totally cool with that.
Because I also know that if I work hard enough on my future work, that maybe I have a chance of doing so in the future.
Why? Not because I placed in the top 10%.
Because of my wife and daughter.
I’ve always felt that if a person did enough charity work and enough good deeds in life that they deserved a lucky break. That karma one day should turn in their favor. One day someone would say “Today is the big day you’ve been waiting for your entire life”
I just never truly expected that day would arrive for me personally. No matter how much I worked with homeless children, how hard I worked on charity fundraisers, or how many important people I got to come bring happiness into the lives of those who had so little; I just thought I was one of those guys whose “lucky break” or “big day” would never come. One of those people whose karma seemed to say “maybe next life.”
But now, every time I hold my beautiful daughter and kiss my amazing wife, I realize that that “big day” is every day that I have them by my side. Every minute I have with them is the lucky break I’ve waited my whole life for.
I will never stop striving for more, but I am also finally supremely happy with what I have.
For the first time in my life.
And my wife and my daughter gave me that. They made me the winner of the most important contest of all.
And I wish the same for all of you.
PS: I’d also be lying if I didn’t say that I was still praying, burning joss sticks, doing voodoo and otherwise appealing to all gods everywhere to please let my script pass into the semi-finals…