Mark Thomas, Simon Longman, Vinay Patel, Luke Barnes and Georgia Christou share their top tips for writing your own work
When opportunities don’t come your way, you need to go out and create your own. For actors, this can mean writing your own show to perform in. As screenwriter and playwright, Vinay Patel (Murdered by My Father, The Good Karma Hospital), says, “Actors are the best writers because they’re trained [to understand] looping emotional arcs.”
With your natural instinct and the helpful tips shared below; you’ll be able to write your own show in no time.
What should you write about?
With so many topics and ideas to choose from, you may find yourself unable to start writing – simply because you can’t make a choice. Or you may be struggling for inspiration and need some help coming up with an idea. Either way, these are the best places to start:
- Write what you enjoy
Simply put: write something that you would want to watch as an audience member. This is what playwright and screenwriter, Georgia Christou (On the Edge, Patient 17), reminds herself to do when she writes, “Would I enjoy watching this? Because if I’m not going to, then I can’t expect other people to sit through it.”
If you would enjoy watching it, it’s likely that other people would, too.
- Write what you know
A common piece of advice is to write what you know. This is true in some way, but playwright, Simon Longman (Patient Light, Island Town), suggests, “You should always challenge yourself and push yourself to write something that potentially is not your experience.”
The most important thing is to tell a story that matters to you, and one you want to tell. If you spend your time worrying about whether it’s your experience or not, you won’t get any writing done – or it won’t be any good.
- Give a voice to others
For actor and writer, Luke Barnes (Game of Thrones, Minted in Manchester), writing is about giving a voice to other people. He works with communities to tell their story through his theatre-structuring abilities. Luke advises, “We talk a lot about voice, and I think that young writers have to find their voice, but that doesn’t necessarily mean what their experience is.”
Your voice is what you care about; what your tastes are. Let that fuel your writing.
- Write about what you want to know
Every show needs to engage its audience. To do this, Vinay Patel recommends that you write about what you want to know as, “It means you’ll come into the work with a question.”
The audience gets to see you figuring out the answer to that question through your show, which makes for an exhilarating watch. The process of not knowing what something is, pushing into it, and then making yourself know it, will also be rewarding to you as a writer.
Tips for writing your own show
Coming up with the idea is easy compared to actually putting the words on paper. It can take weeks, months, or even years to finish writing your show, but here are some tips to keep you motivated while you write and ensure you get it finished:
- Share your work with other people
Simon Longman’s writing advice is to, “Share [your writing] with someone you really trust and also respect.”
Getting feedback on your work will motivate you and could give you new ideas if you have writer’s block. However, you don’t want to share your work with people who will be critical for the sake of it. Share it with people who understand you and what you’re trying to do – people who can offer a view on something you might have missed.
- Don’t worry about first drafts
You may hold back from writing because you don’t want to write anything terrible. However, first drafts are famously bad – and they should be! Treat it like an experiment. Your good writing will come from reworking and redrafting it into something better.
- Writing is a team effort
Writing a novel can be a solitary experience, but writing a show should be a collaboration. Georgia Christou acknowledges, “You do get a lot of help, and it’s not always talked about.”
Don’t be afraid to get input and inspiration from others.
Relying on the designers and directors that you plan to work with will allow you more creativity. Luke Barnes points out, “[If] you don’t know how to stage, say, a fire… you’re listing provocation for designers to make things and directors to find a way to make things.”
To gain a better understanding of how this collaboration works, have a listen to our podcast on how a director and writer collaborate in theatre.
- Get a deadline from someone you trust
To motivate yourself, ask someone you trust to give you a deadline for your writing. If you know there’s someone who’ll be disappointed if you don’t hit that deadline, you’ll work hard to get it written and make it the best it can be, on time.
- Be kind to yourself
Writing is difficult and can be a draining process. Be kind to yourself and try not to get too attached to anything you write – just in case you need to cut it out later.
If you’re struggling with writing about a difficult subject matter, or need some help with self-care during the process, take a look at our article on looking after yourself when writing.
- Get on with it!
Finally, just get on and do it. The show won’t write itself, and it’s easy to spend weeks thinking about writing without getting any words down on paper. Comedian, Mark Thomas (The Mary Whitehouse Experience, The Mark Thomas Comedy Product), sums it up perfectly: “If you want to perform then get on with it. That’s what it is. You just get out and do it.”
From all of us at Spotlight, thanks to Mark Thomas, Simon Longman, Vinay Patel, Luke Barnes and Georgia Christou for all of their brilliant writing advice!
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