Don’t Give Up (Slight Return)

That was me at Horror-on-Sea earlier this month, delivering the gospel of never giving up.

You can tell I mean it.

I try not to stand on stages, or in lecture halls, or whatever, and say things I don’t mean. My sign-off line of ‘my conscience is clear’ (which I seem to have used for 9 years now, which shows how insanely time flies) is tied to that, I suppose.

You can tell I mean it, and you can probably also tell I’m tired. Not just because I’m just finishing up an hour or so of talking non-stop, but because not giving up is exhausting.

When I wrote that final piece of advice for the 2019 show (the last of 50 bits of advice scattered through it), it was as much for me as for anyone in the audience. My career over the last 15 years has had an awful lot of points at which I’ve nearly quit. Funnily enough, they often seem insignificant in the past tense.

One stands out, though.

Some time after we’d shot TrashHouse (my first movie), I hadn’t been able to sell it to a distributor. I’d sunk a huge chunk of savings and over a year of my life into something that looked unlikely to ever see screens other than those of cast and crew. This was before YouTube or streaming sites; there wasn’t even a way of allowing people to watch it for free.

I can remember dropping in and visiting my parents, having a coffee and announcing very calmly “I really blew this, and I think I’m done”. At that moment I not only thought I’d never get to make another movie, I also thought I’d never write another script. I looked out at the rest of my life stretching ahead of me without screenwriting and filmmaking at the heart of it, and I actually made peace with it.

Made peace because I’d given it my best shot. Made peace because I’d genuinely thrown everything I could into it, and my massive gamble hadn’t paid off.

This story has become a punchline to an anecdote I sometimes tell onstage (“I added three seconds of nudity and sold it to the very next distributor to watch it”), but it was something a lot more profound than that. The desire to quit resurfaces all the time. Every time a project collapses or someone in a comments section tells you to kill yourself, that glimmer of despondency flickers your internal resolve. Your motivation often feels like a pilot light threatening to go out. That’s the day-to-day version of ‘not giving up’. It’s just what you do.

The TrashHouse one was different because of that sense of peace. In that moment, at least, it wasn’t just that I felt like giving up. It was that I genuinely thought that I already had, and it was only inertia carrying me forward.

I think about that sometimes, but I also think this:

Don’t give up.

Don’t give up.

Feel like giving up. Think about giving up.

Then don’t.

My name is Pat Higgins and my conscience is clear.