Through the brick wall

Sometimes, trying to succeed at any endeavour can feel like hitting a brick wall. Especially if you’re trying to get into the kind of career that has no training scheme or internship programme. Everywhere you turn there’s a barrier, and you have no idea how or where to push against it. So what’s the best way to bash through that wall?

One important strategy is to focus. If you keep tapping away lightly all over the wall, it’s unlikely it will fall down. But if you direct sustained and and firm bashing towards one particular brick, you’ll have more chance. So, for example, focussing on novels rather than novels and short stories and plays and blogging and articles (at least until the wall is partially bashed). And don’t let anyone tell you you have to write short stories first in order to get a novel published – they are totally different art forms. Decide what your actual goal is and work towards that.

Another strategy is to use tools. This might be an MA, or a book about writing, or a blog post, or a short writing course. People are there and waiting to help you. Get them to assist you with the bashing. The contacts you can make through courses and networking can even be like someone reaching over and unlocking a door in the wall, then ushering you through.

Getting an idea for what’s behind that wall would also help, and this is where information is needed. What if there’s yet another wall? But most creative industries are not closed off and actually want to find new talent. They hold networking events and book readings and anyone can buy the industry magazine (like The Bookseller or Broadcast). Learn as much as you can about the place you want to be. Hold the glass up to the wall and practice spying.

You also need strength and tenacity. It’s no good tapping a few times, lightly, and then sitting down in the corner to wait, sure that the wall will never crumble. You have to hit it hard and for a long time. You have to believe it will come down, and that you’re going to give it your best shot. Swing hard, swing often. In writing terms this might mean sending out a lot of submissions, always having another project on the go, entering competitions, and telling yourself that each time you hit and the wall is still standing, you will at least have chipped away at it. Imagine if Andy Dufrense had given up after the first few years of scratching away at his cell in the Shawshank Redemption. It wouldn’t make for quite such a good story.

One final strategy is to observe. Is the mortar starting to crumble? Can you see chinks of light through the bricks? If so, keep going. Likewise, if you’ve been getting some interest from agents, nice feedback, a few competition listings and so on, that’s a sign things are starting to shake. This is when you need to keep chipping away. And also get ready for life on the other side of the wall, which as we know (again from the Shawshank Redemption) can seem so frightening that people sometimes want to stay where they were. Holding your nerve when success is near is a whole other skill in itself.

So there you have it, bash hard and often and decide where to place your blows, watch to see what works, and don’t give up. Shout through the wall and ask people for help. One day, that wall is going to come down, and you’ll need to be ready.

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