Sometimes, an idea for a new piece of writing comes easily. It is not always the case.
More often than not, ideas can take years to work their way through the rounds of denial, rejection and simple unfathomable doubt.
I started out writing for the theatre and to me it always seemed straightforward to say I am writing a play. Now I’m not so sure because it could be a book or a film or even a play for the radio. Of course now it could be a podcast, a game or a web series.
I tend to be on the move a lot. It’s critical for me to access really good wi-fi. A cafe, such as Fika in Hastings is perfect for writing, great coffee and a reasonably quiet space to work. But it doesn’t have to be as quiet as an exam room or public library, especially if my writing is re-writing. I do like a bit of hub-hub and sometimes music. I like listening to classical or jazz but occasionally, that’s not right for what I’m working on. So, I will listen to the Clash, the Jam or PJ Harvey or a new band from Brighton called grasshopper. Or perhaps I will seek the company of someone like, Emily Barker, whose music has a really cinematic quality, which is obvious when you think why the theme for the BBC version of Wallander is so loved.
The Blank Page
Ah, yes, the blank page.
This is sometimes the easiest and sometimes the hardest place to be starting. If you’ve literally not got anything to work with, should you be looking at this page? You could, as I do, start a process of speed writing, or think of a character you’ve not met before and start there. It becomes easier, as you accumulate some notes and some images. What do I really want to write about? Who do I want to write for?
Even better is to be already looking at an outline or the beginning of a draft. You’re hungry to let the story flow. And then you stop. If you’re like me, that could be for years. If I’m writing to commission, no chance – I will find a way. I had to pitch the idea and sell it to someone else, so there’s no way I’m going to waste that opportunity. But if it’s an idea that I was so excited about, however, when I started (possibly too early) I did not find a way to get to the heart of why I needed to write it in the first place. Like many other writers I will put it away, and wait. I’ve recently revived a few ideas and conquered my original doubts or found that elusive ‘heart’.
The First Draft
The first draft is critical for me. If I can get there, no matter how rushed, then I have something to hold on to. The reason, those ideas I’ve still got safely stowed in my bottom drawer, remain there, is that I cannot get to that point. If I want to avoid that blank page and make my writing flow and not feel constrained. I write with an outline. I prefer to focus on a story that feels fresh. Which, of course, I am – just working within a framework that will get me using the strongest possible narrative shape.
I think I’ve taken longer than most to work this out. Writing is re-writing. This means working on the first draft and producing multiple drafts to achieve my best writing. I know what I need to do to create a satisfying work of fiction or theatre. And in the case of film, a blueprint for a director and production team to follow. My viewpoint is the main focus of the next few drafts. Only then will I open it up to trusted readers – or if I’m under commission, start work on it with the producer. Press on, Write it, then craft it. Craft it again, and again. Writing is re-writing.
Be a collaborator
I love writing for theatre because of the opportunity to collaborate with a team. Film follows the same principle, though commercial film can often feel alienating for a writer. As a screenwriter for hire you’re part of a team. Just not driving the project in the same way a playwright does in the theatre. The ultimate collaboration, though, is the one I can have with readers of my fiction. The act of reading is a creative one. All readers bring their imaginations to help construct the world within a work of fiction. Reading is good for you, I think, because it exercises your imagination. Sometimes, it takes effort to work with a writer, because of your language, characters, themes or style. So if you’re a regular reader of fiction, thank you for reading!
Something must be done to help UK theatres survive this crisis. I want to tell you why it is important to me and why doing something now really matters.
Bringing together actors and audiences is one of the most intrinsically creative acts. A play is not the same every performance. Not exactly the same each successive performance – an experience never to be repeated and one, truly shared. And good theatre remains in your consciousness – an incredible play remains in the conscious of communities and societies. It might take time for the effects of this to take hold. The evidence is a powerful reminder of why theatre matters. Our society feels and acts a little different. Think about a play like Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem or Sarah Kane’s Blasted. They have gone on to reward repeat stagings for audiences around the world.
I believe in the contribution theatre makes to our knowledge, wealth and well-being. Good theatre entertains us, great theatre creates a climate for debate. We improve our society and our lives by going to the theatre. There is nothing quite like it, indoors or out: proscenium arch or in the round; thrust stage or end-on in a black box; West End; regional; national; local; rural; international and immersive.
Yes, Theatre helps me to earn a living as a writer and marketer but it also gives me great pleasure and a deeper connection to people and their communities.
It does not matter if you are seeing live theatre for the first or the hundredth time. It is an often a visceral experience. And the buzz just before a performance begins is highly addictive. The play can have successive productions, home or abroad. New directors, performers and technicians will bring their own skills and imaginations to bear.
Why you should care
In 2018 more than 34 million people chose to see a professional theatre performancein the UK. Resulting in a clear demonstration of just how important the industry is to the UK economy. 34 million people have developed a habit that gives them new perspectives, pure joy or simply an escape. People who enjoy live theatre are more likely to have better mental health.
And now, in 2020, live theatre in our many and varied theatre venues will collapse. More steps must be taken to manage the devastating effects of the virus control, many theatres will be lost forever. Already, some of our best known regional venues have already gone into administration or given notice that without an injection of cash they will have to close.
If you’ve never experienced live theatre, you might find some of this over the top. If you’ve had bad experiences or just find the whole idea pointless, dull or perhaps just not for you, you might want to reflect on what theatre does for the UK.
Help keep theatres open in the UK by writing to your MP. Ask them to put pressure on the government to create stronger measures to protect an industry that through no fault of its own is now in peril. And not just theatres – music venues too.
Act now, by signing a petition here and help change policy. Something must be done to help UK theatres survive this crisis, and soon.
If you don’t want to do it for yourself maybe think about doing it for others, your own family and friends and for future generations.