Time and personal development. I’ve been writing for about 8 years and there are patterns and themes emerging in my work now that weren’t there a few years ago. Individual evolution is an ongoing process. Your opinions and tastes change; old patterns of thinking fall away and are replaced by new ones; perspectives shift and transform - your writing evolves alongside all of this. So constantly striving to be a better, more enlightened version of yourself is part of your writing process. Staying curious and being open to learning and re-learning impacts on the characters and stories you create. It takes time for that to happen. It takes time for your practice to deepen and grow. Everything is always in flux.
Collaboration. I love to get feedback from the people I’m working with. As long as it makes for a better, more compelling story then that’s all that matters. Trust your own judgement too though. If a note doesn’t feel right or confuses you, then don’t be afraid to gently interrogate it. My experience of collaboration work has been very positive overall. But there have been occasions when I should have questioned a note here and there and didn’t, and then regretted it afterwards. Check in with yourself throughout the development process and every now and then ask yourself: is this still the story I want to tell? As long as the answer is yes, then it’s all good.
Reviewers. Pay little or no attention to critical opinion, regardless of how good or bad the review is. Critics have a place, but the gulf between artists and critics is unbridgeable. They do what they do, you do what you do, and never the twain shall meet. Once you understand that, you’ll feel a lot less vulnerable on press night. I love that bit at the end of Ratatouille (!) when Anton Ego bears his soul:
“In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and theirselves to our judgement.”
Critics risk very little.
Artists, on the other hand, risk everything.
Remember that the next time you read a review about anything, anywhere.
That gut feeling. Listen to your instincts. About 3 or 4 weeks out from the 2014 Papatango Prize deadline I was midway though a draft of something. I was trying to use the competition as motivation to finish a full-length play but something kept telling me to stop and change tack. It just wasn’t the right story. So I scrapped everything and started writing a completely new play which turned out to be Coolatully. I finished a first draft just in time and a few months later, George was on the other end of the phone telling me it had won. Tune in to your instincts as a writer. There’s an inner compass in there helping you out from time to time.
Creative Freedom. Be careful of the old cliché ‘write what you know.’ At the Oscars this year when Bong Joon Ho was accepting his award for best director, he looked down at Martin Scorsese who was sitting in the audience and thanked him because he’d once heard him say, ‘the most personal is the most creative.’ Those words have shaped much of his work since, and unlike ‘write what you know’, this advice feels way less restrictive and much more open to possibilities. So write whatever you feel inspired to write. If it stirs something in you, then follow that trail. Sometimes you’ll have to do tons of research before you even start thinking about story and character, but as long as you do the heavy lifting and don’t cut corners, as long as you approach it with the right intentions and with integrity, then you have nothing to apologise for. Writers must be allowed complete creative freedom; ‘write what you know’ feels like the opposite of that. Being socially aware and conscious of your place in the world is, of course, extremely important. But there’s a fine line between writing with social awareness and self-censorship. If you start doing the latter you won’t ever be satisfied creatively and you won’t ever really know what you’re capable of.
Don’t do it unless you can’t do anything else. You need to have a burning desire. Writing is tough. It’s demanding, competitive, takes discipline and sacrifice. You’ve got to be okay with living on the edge and you need to learn how to embrace rejection. But if it’s for you, then you’ll know because you’ll feel it in your bones. It’s almost like coming home to yourself and that’s too powerful a thing to ignore. If you feel that way about it, then you don’t have much of a choice anymore. And you’ll find your own way from there.
Some more stuff I’ve learned along the way:
• Feeling like an imposter at the beginning is normal, especially if you didn’t grow up around a theatre scene (like me). But you’re not an imposter and you’re entitled to take up some space, just like everyone else.
• If something’s stuck on the page, try moving. Run, hike, do downward dog in your living room; or in the words of Suzan-Lori Parks:
‘Once before you die try dancing as you write. It’s the old world way of getting to the deep shit.’
• When you wake in the night with an idea, write it down. You always think you’ll remember in the morning but never do and it’s frustrating as hell.
• A director once told me that having a successful writing career is 10% talent, 90% perseverance.
• Really cherish those moments of rehearsal and production. The little theatre families you’re lucky enough to be a part of for a while are precious and fleeting things.
• Each writer’s journey is unique and personal to them. So my advice on advice would be to tune in to the bits that resonate with you, and tune out from all the rest.