Coffee. It always starts with coffee. A cup of hot, sweet, milky nectar that gives you a much-needed jolt, like Dr. Frankenstein animating his Monster. (It’s alive, ALIVE!) But in my case, this usually means producing some writing which makes sense, rather than going on a homicidal rampage. At weekends, this might stretch to a cup made of freshly-ground beans brewed through an American-style coffee filter (alas, espresso machines are a little too expensive). But generally—or on a weekday at least—a cup of instant does the trick with a little soy milk, after a recent conversion to veganism. (I know it’s an emotive subject and promise not to attempt any online conversions.) But this is not a paean to coffee or veganism.
As a writer, you will perhaps spend more time in front of a laptop than anyone, bar computer programmers. This is not an exaggeration, or at least is only partially so. What typically happens is you’re either in a research phase, spending between six and twelve hours reading books a day, or a writing phase, where you spend the same amount of time writing at a laptop. This might sound excessive, but writing is kind of an obsessive task. And it’s great. And sometimes it isn’t. I think for some people this might sound like hell. As a writer, you might be more inclined to believe that “Hell is other people.” Although one of my absolute favourite playwrights, Lucy Prebble, thinks you should spend most of your time living and a significantly smaller amount of time writing. What ever works for you, I guess…
To be a good writer, you need to read a lot. This doesn’t mean reading things you don’t enjoy. Find what works for you. I used to love novels, but then I discovered modern plays. I was surprised to learn that Tarantino learnt how to write dialogue from a playwright (David Mamet), not a script writer. If you like dark comedy films, you might be surprised to find out that there are many talented playwrights that write gritty, humorous, and/or realistic plays with a decent amount of action. People like Martin McDonagh, Philip Ridley, Annie Baker, etc. But there’s plenty of slow middle-class plays set in drawing rooms too. (But we don’t talk about that, that’s the dreaded “Thee-oh-Torrr”.)
Distractions. This is perhaps one of the most difficult obstacles for the writer struggling to stay productive. For instance, how do you stay focused when you’re sat in front of a computer with internet access all day? And when you self-isolate, not just for Covid-19 but for any type of concentrated writing phase, how do you stay focused on your subject matter? This becomes especially difficult when you have multiple writing projects and a tendency to flit between them. Should you be starting a blog when you have a university Final Year Project to research and write, not to mention many outstanding writing projects? Maybe not. But who knows? Maybe it’s therapeutic—and we could all do with a little bit of that right now.
Let’s see… what else? Ah, yes, the dreaded writer’s block. There are lots of way to tackle this, and even more ways to pretend you don’t have it. For instance, if your research phase has gone on for more than a couple of months, perhaps even more than a year, chances are it’s become counterproductive. If you want to start on a new piece in the middle of writing another you might have the dreaded Shiny-New-Idea Syndrome (it’s a serious condition). But sometimes that’s genuinely the right thing to do. If you ever turn to your laptop and dread writing another page, you should probably put it far, far away.
Anyway, I’m going to try and follow my own advice and do some writing now. Today that means working on a social realism play I’ve been writing about drug abuse. I started it two years ago, shelved it, and return to it periodically. It’s one of my favourite pieces I’ve worked on, and somehow, it’s still not finished.
I’m hoping to write some more of these entries very occasionally, fortnightly or monthly maybe, mainly autobiographical but perhaps some on craft or writing motivation. I’d be curious to know if any of this is of interest to anyone? Or maybe I’m just screaming into the void? (And that’s okay too.)
If anyone made it this far, keep your eyes out for my new play, Filming a Slasher, which will be released soon-ish. It’s a black farce staged by the Open Theatre society and directed by Ellie Mullin.
Perhaps some of my writer friends would like to make posts on here too, to keep things fresh? Alternatively, any actors, directors, creatives, etc. linked to the production of artistic media.