What type of membership would you like to apply for?
Account access problem
You do not have permission to access this page with your current sign in details. If you require any further help, please get in touch at questions@spotlight.com.

In this episode of The Spotlight Podcast, we talk to Kerry Ryan, founder of Write Like A Grrrl, on how to start writing. 

Kerry talks to us about overcoming writing obstacles, how to practically get started, developing character and dialogue, when to get feedback, and loads more. We also answer some of your questions – thank you to everyone who sent questions in!

38 minute listen or read the full transcript below.

All episodes of the Spotlight Podcast.

Christina Carè: Hello, and welcome to this episode of The Spotlight podcast. My name is Christina Carè, I work at Spotlight, and today, we’re talking all about writing. On this big topic, we have Kerry Ryan who has a PhD in creative writing, is a writer herself and is the founder of creative writing organisation, Write like a Grrrl. Grrrl that is.

Write like a Grrrl has been taught in Russia, the US, Ireland, and all over the UK. It’s a fabulous course. I’ve done it myself and can vouch for Kerry’s brilliance. As you’ll hear in a moment, she’s really encouraging and has a lot of great advice to help you get started on your writing journey. Thank you to everybody who asked us questions via social media. Please keep an eye out on all of our channels if you want to ask questions about any of our future guests. For now, take a listen.

Kerry, thank you so much for joining us on The Spotlight Podcast.

Kerry Ryan: No problem.

Christina Carè: It’s such a pleasure to talk to you. And we’re talking about a topic that a lot of people ask us about, but it’s often quite difficult to talk about, which is writing. In particular, I think a lot of our performers pick up a pen because they want to give themselves the part that they’re not able to get, or they want to play and they haven’t been able to play yet. But you’re not a performer. You’re a writer. Can you start by telling me why you write?

Kerry Ryan: Okay. So why do I write? it’s about connection. That’s why I write. It used to be about affirmation. I started writing because I wanted my name in a book, and I wanted an audience to clap their hands. I wanted people to clap their hands and that doesn’t sustain you for long. It takes time to learn your craft. So looking for affirmation and writing from ego doesn’t sustain you. It has to be about connection. So it changed and it became about connecting with an audience, connecting with readers and doing to other people, being able to do the same magic that I had experienced reading books and being put in a different world and connecting. And I wanted to do that for other people.

Christina Carè: So it’s still about storytelling, really.

Kerry Ryan: Massively about storytelling. And about there’s such a magic that you can write words on a page that then you can create pictures in other people’s heads. That’s just wow. So to be able to do that is an amazing thing, but it does take some time.

Christina Carè: Yes, it does. Can you tell us a bit about how you developed your craft? How did you learn? What does that look like?

Kerry Ryan: I had lots of tantrums. I was like a big toddler. Rebecca Solnit writes that. She says that writers are, when we start out, we’re like toddlers. We can see what we want to do but we can’t do it so we get frustrated. Well, what happened? I got to a certain age and I thought I’m going to try it and see if I can do it. And I had worked every job round about writing. I worked in PR, worked as a journalist, worked in publishing and it never did it for me. None of them did it for me. And then there came a point when I was just like, I was reading so much. I was writing in my head. I would be in situations and I would be creating scenes in the pub, when people were talking to me, it was weird. So I had to start getting that out of my head and writing it on the page. And then I just began and I wasn’t any good at all.

Christina Carè: I’m sure that’s not entirely true.

Kerry Ryan: They were flashes of how it would be when I progressed. But certainly, at the beginning, it was ropey because I didn’t know what I was doing.

Christina Carè: Yeah.

Kerry Ryan: Yeah. So I had to learn what I was doing, and that took time.

Christina Carè: Yeah, of course.

Kerry Ryan: And a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. And then there became a point, there’s a tipping point where it becomes much easier. And I always see when I started out, I didn’t know how to get two people in a room actually talking. How do you even do that? How do you even get someone to cross a room? How do you do this and make it authentic?

Of course, I don’t think about that anymore. I just do that. But there are other things I have to consider and you’re always learning. That’s the thing, to have beginner’s mind because there’s always things you can develop and always skills you can develop. You’re always, always learning. And you should always be actively learning, finding out how to do things and studying really is lifelong learning, which is amazing for a dork like me.

Christina Carè: I think there’s so much overlap there in terms of skills that you would use for writing and skills that you might use for acting. Obviously, you held a session with us recently as part of our Open House. And I’ve had the great pleasure of doing your course, or the Write like a Grrrl, in which you talk a lot about character and just using the skills that you have, and also reading. We had quite a few questions. So we did ask for questions from people on our social media before you came in. And there were so many people who asked us, “How do I start?”

Kerry Ryan: Yeah.

Christina Carè: What do you reckon? That’s a big question to start with. How does one start?

Kerry Ryan: How do you start? I think you have to allow yourself to write badly. That’s how you start. That’s the most important thing because what often happens is that you write and then you check whether it is any good. And the thing is, it won’t be very good for a long time. Not too long, but you’ve got to allow yourself to write badly. And you write a certain amount of words and then you start getting better. You’ve got to give yourself the space to get to that point, by getting those words on the page. So just play. Plays are called plays.

Christina Carè: Very good reason.

Kerry Ryan: Yes, exactly. So allow yourself to play and just write. And often people are ready to vote whether they’ve got the right idea or they’re doing the right thing. Just allow your subconscious to take you whatever it’s taking you and write whatever you want and just play. And keep going.

Christina Carè: Yeah, for sure. I think self-doubt is the big number one obstacle. As you said, like either I want it to be perfect, or I can’t do it, or some other obstacle coming up. And you do a really nice job in your sessions of unpacking some of those obstacles. And I think a lot of them come down to that advice of you need to play, or you’re going to be crap anyway. Is there any other kind of stuff? I mean, in terms of those obstacles, what are the common ones that people bring up?

Kerry Ryan: Time. Time. But you don’t need a lot of time. You only need 15 minutes, half an hour a day. If you do that five days a week, then in a couple of months you’ll have so much writing. So usually, worries about time is it’s really fear at its core. We’re terrified and we do have a lot … We’re pushed and pulled in all different directions. So there are valid reasons to think that you don’t have time. But we do have time and really it’s about being scared because you come face-to-face with your own inadequacies on the page because you can’t do yet what you want to do.

But if you don’t start, and you don’t start writing and you don’t start learning then you never get there. And another thing is no word is wasted. No sentence, no line of dialogue is wasted. You learn from everything you write. And to get to the goods you have to write through the bad. So time is a barrier, but it’s not. You can make time. It’s also concerns about what other people think. That’s a massive thing.

Christina Carè: Yeah, for sure.

Kerry Ryan: And that stops people, freezes people. But what you have to do is not write for the audience or what’s hot, or what you think will be snapped up. But write only this story that you can write, and that’s what you feel passionate about. Not issues or anything that you think is a hot thing. But what you feel passionate about, what you would love.

So writing is not self-indulgent. It’s not about writing for yourself in a self-indulgent way, but writing for the me and the audience. That’s what you want to do. What do you want to see on stage? Then that’s what you need to write. And you need to be authentic. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing about blue people on Mars. It has to be an authentic emotion that will connect with the audience or the reader.

So yeah, worrying about what other people think. And you really just have to write despite those worries. And they do quieten down when you write regularly and you keep going. But it’s important to have other people around you to support you. So make sure you’ve got a support system or create one, or join a group, or do that kind of thing really helps.

Christina Carè: Yeah, for sure. I think that’s definitely a number one thing that gets mentioned in terms of theatre-making because you just can’t make theatre alone. But just to go back to something you said the brief daily session is a concept that I’ve heard you talk about a few times. And for me personally, has really changed how I do my writing. And I have mentioned on this podcast before that I’m also not a performer. I like to write. But the brief daily session is such a huge game-changer, I think. And it’s just as you said, you just need 15 minutes. Where did that idea come from? Why do you use that idea now?

Kerry Ryan: Okay. So this is from a guy called Robert Boyce. He’s a professor in America who studied creative writers in order to see what made them successful so that he could apply those lessons to PhD students so that they would be successful in what they produced and how much they produced and blah, blah, blah. So he studied creative writers for 25 years and wrote a book about them. So it’s a very academic textbook.

I found this when I was struggling with my PhD, which was a creative writing PhD. And it massively, his book massively changed my approach to writing because I was a terrible procrastinator and binger. I would leave everything to the last minute. And he said, “You don’t need to write. You don’t need big chunks of time. You can write for these brief daily sessions and you produce so much more and you’ll be healthier and happier because you don’t isolate yourself.”

We’re writing about life and people, so we need to be amongst them. And it changed me from a massive procrastinator and binger to someone who managed to finish their thesis and is writing regularly. And I’m so much happier. So with brief daily sessions, it’s about starting, yes. But stopping is as important as starting because when you stop, when your time’s up, it means you’re eager to get back to it the next day. But it also means if it’s not going so well, if it’s been not such a good day for you, then it’s done, and you can just do it the next day. And you’d write whatever your mood is. It doesn’t matter if you’re sad, happy, pissed off, whatever. You just do it. And it’s amazing. And as I’m sure you’ve found it is amazing what you can produce in that time.

Christina Carè: Yeah, totally. You can produce so much more because it’s independent of mood, as you say. It’s no longer about like, I need to have my special chair with my special, whatever, the planets need to be aligned in this exact way.

Kerry Ryan: Exactly. You don’t wait for the muse to descend because we don’t believe in muses. They’re a myth. So what it is it’s about writing regularly. And then something amazing happens with the subconscious. During the day when you’re not writing, it’s marinating. The ideas are happening. And then when you sit down to write, you’ve actually done some of the work because you’re doing what we call pre-writing. You’re thinking about what you’re going to write when you’re in meetings, when you’re in a cafe. You take notes. You go see plays. You read books. And that fits into your subconscious, which then it comes out on the page. So that’s why you can write for a short amount of time.

And what also happens is when you write despite your mood, it means that you gain confidence in your ability to write whatever. So that means self-doubt turns down. And you realise, and then you learn that even when you’re in a bad mood and really dawn on yourself and think you’re the worst writer in the world., when you read your work later, it actually isn’t any different to how you were when you were happy and thinking it was going amazing. So your mood doesn’t matter. Just get the words on the page. That’s the most important thing.

Christina Carè: And what about things like, I know that sometimes one of the … Perhaps another barrier to starting is the idea that I have no ideas.

Kerry Ryan: Yeah.

Christina Carè: Where do the ideas come from then if you just never started this? Should you just start by stream of consciousnessing something out? Where can you begin?

Kerry Ryan: Yeah. Use prompts. You’ll get loads of prompts, dialogue prompts online. You can get a dialogue generator and just write freely from whatever comes up. Overhear people. Take down conversations. Start with character, don’t start with idea. Because if you start with people and you flesh out your people and write your people, then what will happen is that what the theme that you’re interested in will subconsciously pop-up instead of you forcing it and thinking, “I’m going to write about Brexit.” And then your people are just sock puppets for your idea.

So start with your people. That’s what it is. Even in political drama or anything like that, the best ones that resonate with people it’s because it resonates with an audience. It’s because the characters are authentic. They’ve got inner conflict. They’ve got stuff going on and not just mouthpieces for author’s playwright’s idea.

So in terms of idea, it’s about felling in your well with, as I said, redone, going to plays, and not going to watch a play as an actor. But going to watch a play as a playwright and seeing how it’s done, reading plays, going for walks, speaking to other people, be nosy as hell, and listen to the conversations wherever you can, and taking notes. All that stuff is not self-indulgent, that’s as important as writing. So you need to do that stuff. You need to fit, you need to fill your well and then your ideas will come and just allow yourself to play. That’s it. That’s the most important thing.

Christina Carè: I wonder then in terms of … Well, one of the things that I’ve come up against is using … I feel like sometimes I can use that stuff to procrastinate. Or if I’m like, “Oh, I don’t know. I’m going to write this thing. That’s set in this particular time and place. I’m just going to research the hell out of it.” And then research becomes my procrastination. What would you say to that? Is research a potential barrier?

Kerry Ryan: Yeah, for sure. Oh, yeah. I mean, that’s why I snapped the idea of doing a thesis because it was like four years of dorking out in research.

Christina Carè: Yeah, research.

Kerry Ryan: So you have to limit yourself. If you find that you’re procrastinating, you have to limit yourself. But I would say the thing to do is to be writing at the same time as you’re researching. Don’t stop. If you’re stuck on something you’re writing and you have to find out more, then just write something else the next day but while you’re researching this other thing. And often what I say is just don’t use the internet when you’re writing and what all happen as you’ll be like, “Yeah, I really need to find out when rhododendrons were imported from China or wherever they came from.” And then it’s midnight. And you’ve been there for six hours.

So, yes. Make sure when you’re writing you’re not researching. Just take a note of what you need to research and then make sure the two are working in tandem with each other. You don’t take a chunk of time because really that is just procrastination. We don’t need to know everything. You can always find out later. Just write. Get it down.

And that’s the best advice I can give is start and get a beginning, middle and an end. It will be rough, rough, rough. But just get something done. And don’t stop until you finish. Don’t polish. Don’t go back and polish and polish and polish. You’re looking like-

Christina Carè: That’s like my major. That’s like my major crime, I think is polishing.

Kerry Ryan: Yeah. I was the same. And it comes from a deeper insecurity, certainly in my personal experience of feeling like I have to get it right before anyone sees us. But the thing is, what I learned is you can be writing a piece of work and polishing it for 10 years, and then you show it to people and they’ll be like, “Huh? This bit’s missing. I don’t see this or you’ve over-explained this.” You just can’t see it. You need other people. So don’t waste your time polishing to polish and polish and polish. Just get it all down and then edit it once you’ve got a rough draft.

Christina Carè: Once it’s done.

Kerry Ryan: Yeah, your three-act play or whatever, get your acts down. And even if there’s bits when you’re like, “Something has to happen here. I’m not quite sure.”

Christina Carè: That’s fine.

Kerry Ryan: Just keep going. Just get it down.

Christina Carè: I don’t know how much you like to use these terms, but are you a plotter or a pantser? And do you like those terms?

Kerry Ryan: Yeah. I think they’re useful. I think for me, I need a wee bit of plotting and then-

Christina Carè: Would you please explain that? If you’re a pantser, you’re the kind of person who just sits down at a blank page and goes without anything in mind.

Kerry Ryan: Yeah, that’s right.

Christina Carè: If you’re a plotter, you’ve made a whole plot and then you write to it.

Kerry Ryan: I think when it comes to plays, some people feel that they want to get it down and then do the character work because it’s too much of a straitjacket having done your character work and finding out how people are in plotting. So you just want to knock it out. But then other people need to know a bit more. The answer is there’s no right way of doing it. You just have to find out what works for you.

If you find that you’re getting lost and you need to know more, then you need a bit more planning. You need a bit more plotting. If it feels like too much hard to work, it’s boring, you know every single step and it’s boring, then you need to let loose a little bit. But for me personally, I need a bit of a structure. And then that structure falls away and what I’m writing becomes something else. And then I do another structure. And then that falls away.

So it’s a bit like scaffolding. You have it and you lean on it and then you don’t need it. You take it away. And you’ve got to … For me, you have to hold it loosely then you can’t… I don’t write a three-act structure and then hold fast to it. I’ve got to allow space for the subconscious to bring stuff up. And that’s when it really starts to sing. You’ve got to allow that to happen. But you know, this is a real sticking point for so many people. We don’t like not knowing where we’re going.

Christina Carè: Yeah, it’s scary.

Kerry Ryan: Yeah, it’s terrifying. I get a lot of questions about, “But what should I put in the scene?” And this is where trust comes in. You’ve got to trust your subconscious will come. And sometimes you’ll get stuck. If you think about writing as meeting a series of walls and you have to find different ways to get around those walls. But what happens is often with beginner writers, they hit a wall and they say, “It’s me. I can’t do this.” Rather than, “I’ll take the dogs for a walk, go for the shower, and it would come to me.” They’re just like, “It’s me. I’m rubbish. I can’t do it.” You just have to go away and read, watch plays, get more inspiration. And then the answer will come to you. So plotting, planning.

Christina Carè: It’s all good, basically. It’s just up to what you prefer.

Kerry Ryan: Yeah. It’s really what works for you. You know you get varying degrees. For me, I have over-plotted and found it really boring. Because you know, the magic happens when you allow yourself to create. And that’s an act of faith and this is terrifying often. But when you trust your subconscious to come up with the answers, then it’s massively empowering. Because what you’re saying is, “I’ll get there. I’ll find it out. It’ll come up.” And then it does. And it’s amazing. That’s the real magic.

Christina Carè: Yeah, that’s the Eureka kind of moment.

Kerry Ryan: Yeah, it’s lovely.

Christina Carè: I want to ask you a bit more about character work. When you say you should do your character work, what does that mean?

Kerry Ryan: Yeah. Well, you need to know who your people are. The famous saying, Hemingway said … I don’t know if you’ve read Old Man in the Sea.

Christina Carè: I have, yes.

Kerry Ryan: So it’s about an old man who goes fishing and that’s it. So there’s the old man and there’s the fish. But he knew every single character in that village. So that’s a bit extreme. You don’t need to go to that extreme. Even though these villagers didn’t appear, he knew them all.

Christina Carè: That sounds very Hemingway.

Kerry Ryan: Yes, very much. But extreme example. But you definitely should know your guys. You need to know them so that you could … If someone asked you what’s their favourite biscuit, you could make an educated guess. You don’t need to know absolutely everything about them. But you want to work on their background where they come from, their inner conflicts, their outer conflicts.

That’s what brings people to life, their flaws, what they want, their big desire because desire is what drives action. Desire, super-objective, is what makes the story because desires come into conflict and conflict is story. So you have to have every character wanting something. And then that creates conflict. And that creates story. So you just need to get to know your characters. You need to walk in their shoes and know where they’re from and what they want. Even the ones you hate.

Christina Carè: Right.

Kerry Ryan: Yeah.

Christina Carè: Yeah. As an actor, maybe that’s an opportunity to use some of your acting training using the ways that you would get into a character anyway.

Kerry Ryan: Oh yeah, massively. And blocking scenes, doing all that stuff, really work through it. You know, talk in their voice, get them to write you letters. That’s a good one.

Christina Carè: Oh, that’s a nice idea.

Kerry Ryan: And your voice. Yeah, yeah, yeah. And you can act out how they would act and really feel. Do all the stuff you do when you’ve got a part for when you’re getting that character on the page. It just means the dialogue will be so much stronger.

Christina Carè: Well, on dialogue I have to say that is usually one of the more terrifying parts for me to write. I feel like every time you write a piece of dialogue down on a piece of paper, it’s just … No human would ever say that or whatever. It’s really hard to just replicate how people talk. And I think that’s even harder with something like a play because it does actually have to get spoken.

Do you have any advice for dialogue? How does one do good dialogue?

Kerry Ryan: Well, it’s all about desire. It’s all about knowing what your character is angling for, and what you want to … It’s all about subtext as well. So you know what your character is angling for, but they don’t come out and say it. They don’t say, “I want unconditional love.” Or, “I want everyone to adore me.” Or, “I want power.” But they angle for it in every conversation they have. So if you think about it as being in every scene there is a want and then there’s conflict and then there’s the end, the event.

So what we want to get is an idea of the want in every scene. So the want is the desire. And what you have to do with dialogue is allow yourself to write really bad B movie style dialogue. Yeah, because it’ll be awful. It always is. And then you refine it and refine it. And understanding your characters wants and needs helps you refine it. And yeah.

The good thing about being an actor is you can really play these parts and you can hear it. You’ll have a good ear for dialogue so you can hear. Record it on your phone and play it back and see how it sounds. And look or bum notes. Never just have your character state basic information. Right. There should always be something else going on. You should always be finding out more about your character. You should always be ratcheting up the tension or we find out about background without it being exposition. But that never happens. Very rarely happens in the first or second draft. That’s all about redrafting. Yeah. So you’ll be cringing when you write dialogue. You’re not alone because we all do it. It’s like, “Oh my God, no human alive would see that.”

Christina Carè: Yeah, I know. Yeah, reading it back sometimes it’s just like, “Oh my God.”

Kerry Ryan: But that’s normal and then you just refine it. And of course, it’s about… your homework is to listen and really listen to how people speak and how people say what they mean without saying what they want. This is how we get on in this country. Yeah, people-

Christina Carè: Subtexts are strong.

Kerry Ryan: Yes. Yes. I always say the only country where people say “That’s clever” and mean the opposite.

Christina Carè: That’s true.

Kerry Ryan: “That’s nice.” And it very much does not mean nice. So we want this and we want subtext. And remember, people argue about taking the bins out and argue about … I always tell the story about my mother-in-law, me and my mother-in-law having an argument about class when we were talking about condiments. And she was seeing French organic mayonnaise was the best. And I was seeing salad cream was the best.

Christina Carè: Having a class chat.

Kerry Ryan: Yes. Yeah. So it was a battle of the classes although on the surface it was condiments. So you’ve got to think about what lies beneath the surface and then what lies beneath. And that’s when your dialogue will sing and it all comes back to character and desire.

Christina Carè: Yeah. You mentioned as well about the importance of showing your work. I feel like that’s a really tricky balance to achieve because on the one hand, if you’re partway through a draft of something and you show it early and someone says something like, “This is rubbish,” it might crush your confidence to finish it. But then on the other hand, as you say, if you’re polishing, polishing, polishing for 10 years and you never show it to anybody, 10 years later, you could show it to someone and they’re just like, “What the hell is going on here?” Is there a good time or a good way to do feedback or get critique?

Kerry Ryan: Yeah. I would say the third draft. Second or third draft. Depends really … Share it when you’re not quite ready. But it’s okay. But when you’re taking some words out and putting them back and you’re tinkering in and polishing then that’s time to give it away. But be careful who you share it with, obviously, because it can make or break you. And you really want to find people who like the kind of stuff that you like.

Christina Carè: Right. So that’s what the community kind of thing could come along.

Kerry Ryan: Yeah. Critique groups are great, but be careful because egos come into play in these things. And often people say that it’s no one’s fault. But they feel pressure to feedback and they’ve not really thought about the feedback. I’ve been in those situations when I was younger and I’m like, “Oh, I better say something quick because it’s expected of me.” But it’s not really well thought out.

So you have to make sure it’s a supportive environment. But you need humans. You need other people. You’re not writing this for yourself. You’re writing this for the public. And I know that sounds obvious and patronising. And I know it’s very hard because you don’t want anyone to say that your baby’s ugly. But it’s really important that you share it because you wouldn’t be able to see it. And then this magic happens, I’m sure you have found when you share your work it’s like suddenly you can see it with new eyes.

Christina Carè: Yeah, for sure. I’m finding that more now. I think when you’re really, really just starting, all those obstacles are so big just by themselves. So the very thought of sharing anything is horrifying. But once you get a little bit past those initial, like the self-doubt, or I don’t have time or any of those kinds of obstacles, then I feel like it’s safer to share your way. It’s still horrifying in a way but it takes time.

Kerry Ryan: I don’t think it ever stops being … You’re never not anxious about it. But what happens is that you get greedy for it because you know it helps.

Christina Carè: Yeah, for sure.

Kerry Ryan: So you get actually greedy for it. You’re desperate for people to read it. You’re paying people to do it because you know you can’t see. The thing is there’s this massive myth about the writer is a singular genius. Playwright singular genius. The author is a singular genius and that’s not the truth. We need other people. And when you start to realise that you just can’t see and you need other people’s help, then you’re desperate for it. But not to say you’re not like [makes anxious noise]

Christina Carè: Yeah, you still got that little …

Kerry Ryan: Yeah, that never leaves. You still have the crazy hope that there’ll be like, “Oh my God, this is the best thing I’ve ever read,” which never happens. But the feedback is always useful. Plus the stuff that you reject, once you’ve thought about it, give yourself time to chew over it and be like, “No, that’s not what I’m aiming for.” And that’s really empowered. And that’s what you want because you’ve got to trust your own judgement but be careful you’re not defensive.

Christina Carè: Yeah.

Kerry Ryan: No like, “How dare you?”

Christina Carè: Yeah, which is tough.

Kerry Ryan: Yeah, which is normal. That’s normal. But give yourself a few days to get over that. When you get feedback, there’ll be points when you’re like, “How dare you?” This bit’s amazing and three days later you’re like, “Oh, maybe they had a point.”

Christina Carè: Point, yeah.

Kerry Ryan: So you have to give yourself space to come to that. But yeah, it took me a long time. It’s your work. And it meant that I did not develop as swiftly as I would do if I had shared work. So that is definitely something.

If I could go back in time, I would say to my younger self to experiment to play more and to share work as much as possible and to take feedback. But with people who would be supportive. If you give it to your family, they’re either going to say, “This is amazing.” Or, “This is terrible.”

Christina Carè: Depending on your family.

Kerry Ryan: Exactly. So be careful.

Christina Carè: Yeah. Yeah. That’s very true.

Kerry Ryan: But do it. You have to share it with people.

Christina Carè: For sure. For sure. We’ve had some really interesting questions from our social media that I wanted to pass on to you. We’ve had one from Georgie Banks on Instagram who asks, do you implement writing techniques when you’re writing? Or do you just let it happen? Are you conscious of the techniques, I suppose?

Kerry Ryan: No, not in the draft. The draft can just be a massive spew on a page really. You can hold it loosely, but you want to just get it down and not think too much in technical terms. There can be some of that, but the technique comes out in redrafting. What is massively important is you get on the page, get a beginning, middle and an end, and then look and see what the theme is. What am I actually writing about? Rather than starting out with a theme, look back and go, “Oh, this is what it is.” And be open to that. It may surprise you. You may be like, “Oh, I don’t really want to write about this.” But something in you does. So just go with that. And then once you know the theme, you can start reworking every scene with that theme in mind and then thinking more in technical terms. Yeah. So that comes in every draft.

Christina Carè: Yeah. There’s another question here that I think is a very juicy feminist question. Perhaps because you run Write like a Grrrl, I don’t know. But you have someone whose username is re_re1996 on Instagram who has asked, do you feel that there are certain restrictions on what subjects women can write about?

Kerry Ryan: Oh, yeah. Not as much anymore, in the terms of out there in society is you can write about anything you want. But for sure we self-censor, definitely. You know, why has Fleabag been such a smash? Because here’s a women owning her bad sexual choices. And this is amazing. Bridesmaids, the movie. If your friends are anything like mine they’ve been talking like that for years, here it was on the screen and why had no one done it before because women speak like this and joking or discussing-

Christina Carè: So maybe there are not actual restrictions. There’s just perceived restrictions.

Kerry Ryan: Yeah. Well, when you get to movies, of course, there’s that whole thing about they’re not funded if it’s two women characters as the main actors, all that kind of thing. That’s a consideration. I think it’s all about self-censorship for us really. And whether the gatekeepers will allow that to be written about. I think we do avoid, we don’t want our grannies to see something that’s really laid bare.

We don’t want people to think, “Oh, this is how she thinks or she acts.” I think a lot of it is subconscious. We don’t even catch it when we’re avoiding subjects. And that’s something I will say that readers and audience respond to is authenticity. So if you can press that bruise and be as open as possible, people will respond to it.

And the thing is, when you’ve watched a play that’s really resonated with you because the playwright’s been vulnerable and written about their experience, which you’ve found in there a particular universality, you never judge them. You never think, “Oh my God, how could you lay yourself so bare.” You’ve got so much respect for someone who does that.

Christina Carè: That’s so true.

Kerry Ryan: Yeah. We never shame or judge when someone’s being that open and honest.

Christina Carè: Yeah, the vulnerability is actually the appealing thing.

Kerry Ryan: Yeah. It resonates with us. So keep that in mind that that’s what people and the audience responds to so go for it and be as wild as possible.

Christina Carè: That brings me to my next question, I guess, which is there’s that traditional piece of writing advice that says you should just write what you know. How true do you think that is? Is that a bit of a limited well to draw from?

Kerry Ryan: I think you always write what you know. Yeah. Part of the story is about experiencing other people’s lives. And I think it would be very boring if we all just wrote about our own lives. And so it’s twofold. You’re giving the audience an experience of a different life, and you’re also writing that.

Of course, you have to be careful that you’re not stepping on any cultures and doing some cultural appropriation. And that’s about engaging with the community you’re writing about and making sure that you’ve got it right. And asking yourself questions about why you’re writing certain stories. But I definitely think it’s all open and it should be. The thing is to write with emotional truth whatever you write. It goes back to writing about blue people on Mars. It will be about you. It will be autobiographical. It always is. It always ends up being because you’ll be working through these things subconsciously that have been going on in your life.

What is important is no matter how far removed from your own life is that there’s an authentic, emotional truth there that will resonate with the audience. That’s what’s important. And that will usually come from your own experience just in the same way when you’re acting. You dig down to something that’s happened to you that will connect you with the character and then you can play the role better. It’s the same thing.

Christina Carè: For sure.

Kerry Ryan: Yeah.

Christina Carè: My last question for you is, do you believe in writer’s block?

Kerry Ryan: No. That’s the end. It’s pure fear and I have tonnes of empathy for it because it’s terrifying for that feeling. And I have experienced it before definitely when I was doing my PhD. I really suffered from it. But what you need to do is play. This is when the voices from outside and the fears of the past come and it’s about what you’re doing is you’re not writing from the heart. You’re writing from the head. And it’s about what will other people think? And that freezes you. Of course, it does. And I can’t do this. And I’m not going to do it well and blah, blah, blah. I don’t mean that blah, blah, blah in a negative way. I mean, I’ve been there myself. It really is allowing yourself to play and not putting any pressure on yourself. Start with one lane of dialogue and write whatever comes in your head. Leave what you’re stuck at and go do something else. But just keep writing. Just keep doing it and write regularly and be kind to yourself.

That’s buckets of kindness. You need buckets of kindness. Be stubborn. Don’t stop for anything. Do it for yourself. It really is about you’re looking after yourself. You’re also using your own experience to connect with an audience. It’s really cathartic. It will empower you. It’s magic. You’re creating magic. It’s hard at first but keep going. It’s hard because you don’t know what you’re doing. But you can learn what you’re doing. Talent is only a small part of it. It really is tenacity. That’s the most important thing. Keep bloody going and learn.

Christina Carè: Thank you, Kerry. On that note, where can people find you if they want to find out more about Write like a Grrrl, for instance?

Kerry Ryan: Yeah. So it’s writelikeagrrrl.com and at Write like a Grrrl on Instagram and Twitter.

Christina Carè: Fabulous. Thank you so much, Kerry.

Kerry Ryan: Thanks a lot.

Christina Carè: Thank you for listening to this episode of The Spotlight Podcast. That’s all for now from the home of casting. Do keep an eye out on our social media if you want to ask any questions to our future guests. For now if there are any other questions or we can help you in any other way, please drop us an email at  questions@spotlight.com.

Read more of our best writing advice, or check out all of our advice for getting started in the entertainment industry, as well as all of our news and advice.