When writing’s going well, it’s a total joy. You feel unstoppable, on top of the world, ready to slay the hydra that is writer’s block and churn out the script to end all scripts, etc.
Unfortunately, though, that’s not the case all of the time. For many, the process of writing is an elusive, ever-changing thing that's highly dependent on circumstances allowing creativity to flow. And when you consider that those circumstances can often be tricky, with continual funding cuts impacting the sustainability of the career, with the writers’ strikes proving that even those in seemly stable positions suffer, it can sometimes be hard to keep one foot in front of the other.
So how do we keep the faith? We asked a few writers if they’d share their own approach to maintaining self-belief and momentum in those stickier moments.
Billie Collins is a writer and dramaturg from the Wirral, based in Manchester. Billie writes for stage, screen and audio, and has recently worked with Box of Tricks Theatre, ThickSkin Theatre and the BBC.
I’m usually an optimist. But working in theatre at the moment - especially in new writing and outside of London - is testing my glass-half-full credentials. I don’t want to offer platitudes about doing it because you love it, so thought I’d tell you about something which has been good for my brain and therefore good for my creativity.
Last year, I started doing roller derby. If you don’t know what that is, picture rugby on roller skates - only don’t picture that because there isn’t a ball and it’s a lot more violent. Amidst the uncertainty of writing, derby gave me a regular time and place to not think about theatre and learn something new. I’m not saying the answer is full-contact sport (though it is good for pent up aggression), what I am saying is: find a safe space to be a beginner. One unrelated to the arts, where it doesn’t matter if you’re shite. Writers are often expected to produce something perfect on their own (a prizewinning play, a ground-breaking spec) before they can access support. Putting on skates and repeatedly falling on my arse was a pretty stark reminder that learning takes time, your self-worth isn’t wholly tied to banging out a masterpiece, it’s okay to ask for help if you don’t get the rules, and your team should have your back whether you win or not.
Joe Strickland is a theatre maker, digital producer, and creative technologist from Nottingham. They are Artistic Director of Chronic Insanity, who can be found producing at least 12 shows every 12 months in traditional, found, and digital spaces.
My theatre company, Chronic Insanity, is not regularly funded and I'm a creative with a lot of different hats, but I like making as much work as possible. Because of these things I end up spending a lot of my time producing, networking, directing, designing, and performing when required, and never nearly enough time writing. I know I'm not the only person who struggles to find time to write in a dedicated way with everything else in life going on around you.
I realised that writing a full length play took a lot of time to write because it was one 60-120 minute story and to stay in that space and craft that narrative would require a lot of long durations of dedicated time. Neither my circumstances, as described above, and probably not my neurodivergence if I'm being honest, allow me to achieve that easily.
This is why I write differently. I've started writing collages and collections of scenes rather than singular narratives. Monologues that intertwine around each other thematically but with separate narrative arcs. 52 short scenes each linked to a different playing card. These snapshots are sections of writing I have time and attention to write to a quality I'm happy with. Are these traditional ways of writing plays? Not particularly, but I've found success in whatever way you want to measure that (commissions, audience reaction, critical acclaim, ticket sales, etc) and I would urge any writers to consider trying it. Don't worry if you can't write the play you want to write right this second. Trust me, you'll have plenty of time to write it later.
Rosa Hesmondhalgh is from West Yorkshire and writes for stage and screen. Her play Madame Ovary opened at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2019, where it was picked up for a UK Tour and won Vault Festival’s Pick of the Pleasance award.
The days I spend the longest at my desk are rarely the most productive ones. I found cutting down my hours but making them as productive as possible does way more for my creativity.
A massive issue for writers is often finding the time to show up when balancing other jobs, a social life, keeping on top of everything. I found that three hours feels realistic - and to make sure I stay on top of things, a different focus on each other. I like to think of it in the terms:
‘One for me, one for you, one for them.’
I found I was always writing for work, and never for play. I decided to dedicate one of these hours to journalling, or workshopping new ideas, or writing a poem: the reason for writing is why we started: the love of it. One for me.
The second hour I use for work. The necessary - maybe sometimes boring - stuff. A draft that needs finishing, or starting, emails that need sending, or a scheme or programme where the deadline looms. One for them.
The third hour is for the third problem I sometimes have as a writer. A feeling of loneliness and solitude. I think it’s easy to forget in the writing community that we’re a community. I have so many amazing friends that write. So the ‘one for you’ hour is for them. I ask my friends to send me their work, I read their scripts and their novel chapters and am in awe of how they approach their writing. I send them my work, and we discuss ideas, and what works and doesn’t. All of it leaves me inspired, excited and ready to start all over again the next day. One for you - but also it helps me hugely. Three hours have sped by, I’ve tackled my to-do list, but have also been creative for myself; and connected with my friends through their work.
For me, one of my favourite things to do as a writer, is to not do it.
I realise this sounds wildly counterproductive. But I’m a strong believer in letting the subconscious mind and the gut do their thing. It’s so easy to be in the trenches with a script that you forget why you’re excited about it in the first place - and what you actually want to write. And as writers, we’re astonishingly bad at consciously choosing not to work. In other jobs, people clock off and call it a day. Writers don’t, and it’s poisonous. I don’t want to be working all the time. I want a life!
So, whenever I’m feeling in a rut with some writing, or in a rut about being a writer in the first place (read: feeling totally hopeless and burnt out), I down tools. I call it a day. A week. I take some long walks, go out for a pint with my friends, do something completely unrelated. I avoid scripts like the plague. I take however long I need to slowly, gently, start to turn back toward my writing. It sounds simple not to work. In practice, it takes a bit of an active choice (and usually longer than you think).
Sometimes, naturally, you can’t do this - you’ll have a deadline, or an itch that you need to scratch, and you have to plough through. But if you can give yourself that space, your subconscious starts to work through the kinks in your project. The gut tells you where you need to go next. And you allow yourself to enjoy being a writer, and all the limitless possibilities that it holds.
Do you have methods of boosting your productivity? Or just ways to boost yourself when it's hard to create? If you have any other tips, we'd love to hear about them! Do get in touch.
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