I thought I’d write a blog post about where I currently find myself in the writing process: writing-limbo. You know the place: you’ve just handed in your first draft and now you have the process of waiting for someone to read it and feed back to you on your work. So what do you do with yourself?
If you have other deadlines to meet, you can start working on a different piece of writing straight away, but if you don’t have any other work to distract you, you’ll find yourself in this weird ‘writing-not-writing’ place. You worry every day, consumed by the idea that someone is quickly reading through the thoughts that took months (maybe even years) of care to put down on the page. The temptation to start working on your second draft before getting any feedback (or giving it space to breathe) is strong. But resist if you can. I’ve learnt throughout this year with Graeae that the time away from writing is almost as important as the time spent writing.
The time after meeting a deadline can feel odd. You should feel elated, but often in my experience, you feel a bit lost. The piece of writing that you’ve been obsessed with is now suddenly out of your control and in the hands of others. But there are positives to this: taking space away from your writing can help you to come back to it with a clear head. Even if you’re not actively working on the piece, your brain continues to tick over plot issues or character motivations, and you’ll find yourself walking to the shops or sitting in the pub only for an idea to come swimming to the front of your mind; as if you had misplaced it rather than not thought of it before. It’s important to note these ideas down and keep them in mind when you pick up your first draft to read again.
The time between writing also allows you the space to be inspired by other people’s work. You can lift your head from the keyboard (or notebook) and see what else is happening in the theatre world around you. I love all types of performance and since handing in my first draft, I’ve been to a comedy show, a musical and two very different plays. From each piece, I learnt something I could apply to my own work: “make it funnier”, “make it darker”, “surprise the audience”, and “up the stakes– take it even further”. If you can’t afford to see plays, read them. I learnt so much about dramatic form after discovering the small drama section at my university library.
It’s easy to feel guilty when you take a break from writing. All around you, your fellow writers are busy working away and you feel like a naughty school kid skiving off. But the time away from writing is still part of the writing process. When you eventually come back to your piece, you’ll notice things that you hadn’t seen beforehand. You’ll be able to figure out which parts work and which parts need a bit more attention. Most importantly, the break away from writing will give you more energy for when you start rewriting. So enjoy the writing-limbo, because once you start redrafting, the real work starts.
Am I a writer?
I thought that for my first blog post, I would explore a question that I’ve struggled with for the past few years: Am I a writer?
It sounds silly. I was fortunate enough to be selected for Graeae’s amazing flagship writing programme, so surely I am? But it’s a term I’m still getting used to using.
My day job is in publishing. I help edit other people’s books and plays and listen to authors complain that publishers don’t understand the artistic process. So when I try to offer the comfort that I myself write plays (and I do understand), I get asked the question: “Are you a writer?” I never know how to answer. If you answer “yes,” the follow-up question is usually something like “Would I have seen anything you’ve written?” The answer to this is “probably not, unless you’ve found yourself in a rehearsal space in the back of a theatre on a Wednesday afternoon, watching a script-in-hand reading.” My fellow Write to Play writers have had similar experiences, most of which involve obscure family members asking (without sarcasm) if we’ve got anything on the West End yet. So I wonder, is being a writer reliant on other people seeing your work?
As the six of us sat chatting over dinner the other night, I asked them all, “When did you first call yourself a writer?” For some of us, it’s something we’ve only started daring to admit since we started working with Graeae. Others started admitting it a while ago, to stop friends and family badgering them about sitting in their rooms for hours on end. But despite how long we’ve all owned the term, it seems it’s still something we’re getting used to.
Most of us grew up in the Midlands. I grew up in a small village that forms part of Telford. “Where,” you ask? The usual exchange is as follows:
“It’s in Shropshire.”
“About 50 minutes from Birmingham.”
Until a few years ago, I spent the majority of my life living “50 minutes from Birmingham” with the closest theatre showing pretty much exclusively pantomimes all year-round. The idea of theatre to family and friends means either panto or London’s West End; awareness of fringe theatre, site-specific theatre and regional theatre is non-existent. Not that I can blame them; they have far more productive things to do with their time than follow which playwrights have been commissioned, which director is causing controversy at which theatre and how a certain playwright managed to win that theatre award. But as any writer will know, writing for theatre is a long game. It’s basically a game of stamina: only those who can stick it out will survive. This means that we’ve committed ourselves to a life of sitting behind a keyboard, typing away with the dream of one day being able to share our work with an audience. So it seems that a writer is someone who writes with the hope that someday, someone will be listening. To paraphrase a writer at one of our masterclasses recently, the term ‘writer’ is a badge of honour, not one of shame. In that case, I guess it’s a term we Write to Play writers should start getting used to.