WRITING IN LOCKDOWN - KEEP THE MOMENTUM!
As a writer and someone working in the arts, my first response to this global pandemic has been to put everything into perspective. Everyone I know has been affected in one way or another. There are thousands of people who are suffering from the loss of loved ones, whilst at the same time, people continue to struggle with their physical and mental health, along with financial problems which have worsened during this period. Our instinct must be to get through this, look after each other as best we can, and to come back even stronger.
Like so many other people within the arts industry, I was affected directly, having to postpone a production of mine which was due to take place in April. Disappointing though it was, it is the same for everyone, and there were people in much worse positions than me.
The important thing for me has been to deal with the situation that I am in, and focus on the things I can do about it. I have tried to look at this period as an opportunity. For many writers, not much has changed for them during lockdown in terms of the way they usually work.
For me, balancing my writing along with a full time job can be difficult at times. As a key worker in a school, I still have to go in to work, but have had some time off over Easter, and seeing as there is no football and the pubs are shut, I’ve had time to focus on my writing!
Having had increased periods for self-reflection in recent weeks, on a personal level it is fantastic that I have had work consistently staged over the last few years, and I have taken on other roles with directing and producing. As educational and inspiring and as wonderful it has been to cut my teeth into many other roles and learn about all the components of theatre making, on the flip side it has held me back from some of the other crucial aspects which are integral to being a writer.
I’ve realised I am not reading as much as I should, wasn’t seeing as many new plays, not catching up with TV and film, listening to music, having proper time to catch up with people and listen to all their weird and wonderful stories. And my point being, is that those things are where the real inspiration comes from.
One of the keys to writing a script is building momentum. I’ve spoken to and listened to many writers talk about their process over the years, and one very common denominator is we will absolutely put it off if we can! Especially if we do have time on our hands, it can lead to guilt if you feel like you are not doing something productive. For me it is about the momentum, and doing something each day if possible. It takes time. It is not something we can finish overnight.
Writing is a craft. A process. You need time to think, reflect, ponder. But you also need to get it on the page. Everyone works differently, but sometimes you do have to force yourself. Acknowledge you will have good days and bad days of writing, but even in those bad days you will learn something, and it might just be a single idea, something quirky to attribute to one of your characters, or maybe something pivotal to story you are trying to write.
Momentum is also important, because you have consecutive days where you are focused on your script. When writing a draft, ideally you don’t want to have to leave it for a week or two when working on one scene to the next, and then realise you have to spend all that time going through your notes and remember where you were. I try to plan well, have a structure for scenes, but not overdo it so that I can leave plenty of room to improvise my dialogue.
I try to keep in mind that my first draft won’t be my best. It will need loads of work and I might not even be brave enough to show it to anyone. But it will be satisfying to know that I have finished writing something. And importantly, something to build on.
And write because you absolutely have to! I often think it is a strange process for actors, writers, performers of any kind, to put yourself out there and be judged, and such a bizarre and terrifying process. But you have to believe in your work and know that you are working on it because it is an important story to be told, and people need to hear it.
It won’t all be there in an instant. But once you have an idea, you can work on it. You’ll be thinking about it. It will pop into your head during the day, when you watch your box sets, when you go out for your walk. You’ll have lots of lightbulb moments. And you’ll want to write them down as quickly as you can before they vanish into thin air. And you’ll get to the point where you’re bursting with ideas and can’t contain your excitement anymore, and you’ll have no choice but to sit down and start writing your script!
And then, being in the circumstances we are, it is also a good time to share your work with others. I mean, they have no excuse not to read it! What else have they got to do? But even if you’re not completely confident to have a read through, then talk to people about your idea, see what they think. All opinions are useful, and whether you agree or disagree with them, it is always worth trying to figure out why someone feels the way they do about your script. What works? What needs work? Do they understand the story? Are they’re intrigued by the characters and want to go on a journey with them?
During this time, there will undoubtedly be up days and down days. We miss seeing people, hugging people, getting drunk and falling over with people! But until it’s all back to normal, maybe one thing we can do is just make a list of things that are achievable to do each day. I’ll try to keep two things on my list each day, 1) keep perspective, 2) be thankful for all you have. After that, the world is what you make it!
Kevin Lee (@kevinleetheatre) is a playwright from South East London. His previous work includes:
Behind Closed Doors (Drayton Arms Theatre), Different Class (Etcetera Theatre), Time for Heroes (Barons Court Theatre), Cyrano of Brixton (Brockley Jack Theatre), girl-Friend (Hen & Chickens theatre), The Beautiful Game (Drayton Arms Theatre)