So you know that, deep down inside, you’re harbouring a stellar script or groundbreaking novel, right? But every time you sit down to write, the loudest voice is the one telling you you’re rubbish... A new book edited by Emily Perkins and Chris Price brin
ASHLEIGH YOUNG, POET AND ESSAYIST
After any kind of exposure, you eventually need to come back to your writing. After [my first] poetry reading, whenever I tried to go back into my usual writing routine, which at that time meant wrapping myself in a duvet and hunching over my computer like a big larva, my mind kept drifting back to the stage. Back to being seen and heard. I thought about how my voice had sounded, and I never wanted to hear that sound again. By extension, I didn’t want to see my voice on a page.
In terms of getting over this, there are two approaches that have worked for me. The first is an aggressive approach, and it is my favourite. Write as if you were doing a frantic last-minute tidy-up before a flat inspection: fast and forcefully. Don’t try to ignore any discomfort. Instead, write directly at it, the same way you should directly confront a manspreader on the bus. You’re going to have to face your inner critic at some point – there are only so many days you can get up at 5am in order to “catch it out”, a routine some writers swear by – so shoot words at it as if you were in a game of paintball. “Sometimes in a nervous frenzy I just fling words as if I were flinging mud at a wall,” John McPhee says. This is not a delicate process. We are talking about one of the most powerful forces within ourselves – selfdoubt, and let’s be honest, probably some self-loathing in there as well – and to face it as an equal, you must use force. You won’t overwhelm it for good, but you will put up a good fight, and you can subdue it.
GARY HENDERSON, PLAYWRIGHT
I always ask my students a series of questions about their plays, especially when they are embarking on a second draft, although they can be helpful at any stage. The questions are quite mechanical, but I find them useful for cutting to the heart of the students’ stories.
First question: What happens in your play? They must answer this in a paragraph. Most students, on their first attempt, write the blurb for the back of a DVD cover. They don’t tell me what happens in their play. They tell me something to pique my curiosity. Which is exactly the position I’m already in. I’m curious about what happens in their play. I want to know how it starts, how it develops, how it ends. Once they get it, they find they have encapsulated their plot in one paragraph – simple and uncluttered.
Second question: What is your play really about? They must answer this with a single word. It’s hard, and I’m quite strict about it. The first time I pose these questions, it’s an exercise; they’re not going to be
committed to their answers, so it takes the pressure off a bit, but it doesn’t make it any easier. The single-word demand forces them to look for the big subject their play is addressing. Once they settle on a word, that’s what I describe as their play’s theme. Jealousy. Family. Betrayal. Solitude. Obsession. Loyalty.
You can almost feel the satisfaction in the room once they’ve come up with their word. “Phew. Now I know what I’m writing about. Away I go…” In fact, most of us tend to stop there.
But the third question is the really useful one when you’re prying apart your work: What are you saying about that thing? The students must answer this with a concise, provocative statement. The shorter the statement and thehe stronger the language, the better.
TUSIATA AVIA, POET AND DRAMATIST
This is what fear sounds like. When I started to write this I became aware of you. I didn’t know who you were at that point, so I made you up in my head. Soon you became a scary audience, an audience who would sit in judgement of me and just know, somehow, about my deficits…
Welcome to the voices in inmymy head,head the monstrous,monstrous fear-driven voices in my head. These voices have dogged me all my creative life, reminding me that I am not enough: not experienced enough, qualified enough, old enough, young enough, white enough, brown enough, thin enough, academic enough, street enough, theatre enough, literary enough, disciplined enough, relaxed enough, prolific enough, enough enough.
The voices have never gone away, but I have learned over the years how not to let them take me over