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

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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.


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.


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

Ash­leigh Young

Emily Perkins

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