Even crazy dreams come true

I have a confession to make. I’m a musical theatre tragic, especially when it comes to the works of Stephen Sondheim and Busby Berkley Broadway classics like 42nd Street. So when a musical drama series called Smash about the making of a musical started on television, I was instantly hooked.

Smash featured a song which opens with the following lyrics:

‘Hello you long shots
You dark horse runners
Hairbrush singers, dashboard drummers 
There's a little bit of all that inside of me and you
Thank God even crazy dreams come true.’

This song became my anthem during the writing of my book. I listened to it just about every single day during the four years it took to write my manuscript.

Mine was a crazy dream: the literary equivalent of the Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland ‘let’s put on a show’ movies of the 1940s when a group of aspiring young performers stage a musical in a barn in a small town, all the while hoping they will be discovered by a Broadway producer who just happens to stop by.

Like Mickey and Judy, I too started with a gleam in my eye and hope in my heart, except my dream was to write a book about my experience of mental illness and publish it. My literary dream began somewhat smugly. My plan of attack was modelled on the same approach I use to write the government reports in my day job as a bureaucrat: you prepare a writing plan, start at the beginning and keep writing until you finish according to your neatly organised timetable. Writing on weekends, I figured it would take me a year to finish my manuscript using this approach.

Just like Mickey and Judy putting on a show, I set out to write a book

As well as being a music theatre tragic, did I mention I can sometimes be naïve? (For the policy wonks reading this, it was a classic case of the overconfidence heuristic). I was quickly disabused of my idealistic notions when I realised I needed more than a plan after cranking out a few turgid chapters. I needed to learn a new craft and abandon everything I knew about writing from a bureaucrat’s perspective.

My dream changed course. Instead of writing a book and publishing it, my dream morphed into writing the best possible book I could and I set aside the goal of publishing for the time being. My dream took me to workshops on narrative non-fiction, the human condition, place and voice. I began a mentoring relationship with the magical and wonderful Lee Kofman which evolved into a three year apprenticeship as I grappled with memoir as form and my obligations as a memoirist to authenticity and emotional truth.

I travelled with my dream to Adelaide for a series of masterclasses at the J.M. Coetzee Centre for Creative Practice and I spent a glorious week among the cockatoos and gardens of Varuna, the National Writers House in the Blue Mountains. I learned being a writer requires equal measures of self doubt and self belief as I submitted draft work for critical review, accepting the feedback from writing peers with humilty.

As I wrote, procrastinated and at times struggled with writers block, all the while I kept listening to the song from Smash.

It’s often said that writing is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration. To this I would add it’s also 100 percent a crazy dream. And crazy dreams do come true.

Endnote: You can listen to ‘Crazy Dreams’ here.