How to Finish Your Play if You Take a Holiday

Photo by andrew welch on Unsplash

You’re writing a play. You’re half-finished. But you have a crazy job with a boss who calls you up at all times of day. And you’ve set aside a week of leave. Unpaid. Paid. You forgot to check. But you don’t care.

Because there’s your play. You have notes for all of your characters. You have a half-completed manuscript. You’ve lined up all your playwriting ducks. You sense a finish line. Your dreams focus upon horizons and flight.

You just have to finish off a couple of things at your ‘real’ job before you get back to your script.

The Monday that is truly yours to be that playwright that you want to be is coming. You’re going to do it. All by yourself. You’re going to write and finish this f**ker. (Sorry about asterisks – swearing sends this to subscribers’ spam boxes.)

You finish work on the Friday.

You consider starting on the Saturday, you’re that excited.

You binge-watch a documentary series about lemurs. Lemurs are cute. Even so, you yell at yourself in the mirror for wasting your life.

Sunday. You decide that Sunday is yours. You think you’re getting a cold.

Monday.

You make your coffee. You sit down. You start.

Just get past the first fifteen minutes, you think, and you’ll keep going.

And you do.

And you keep going.

And you forget lunch.

And the next thing you know, you’ve been doing straight typing for around ten hours.

You give yourself a high-five.

You drink. Anything and lots of it.

You zap a ready-meal.

You chew on a carrot for dietary balance.

You watch more lemurs.

Tuesday.

Tuesday morning.

You can’t get up.

You get nothing else done for the whole week.

You have binge-written. And now your body is paying you back in fatigue.

Writing, when you can do it, can get in the flow, and can do it for long periods without distraction, can feel utterly amazing.

It’s a buzz.

My own experience – and the related experience from conversations with many playwrights who are friends and who I have taught or mentored – tells me that if you do decide to take that special week to concentrate on your play, please please please look after yourself and try not to do straight scene-writing for more than around three or four hours.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t work on your play for more than three or four hours a day.

What it means is that you need to care not to exhaust yourself, like a novice marathon-runner sprinting over the first mile you will crash too soon.

So what do you do in those other hours?

Write about how the play is turning out. Make notes about what could change or happen in the scene you’ll write tomorrow or the day after. It’s not “straight” scene-writing but it is playwriting, because you’re thinking and reflecting on the piece, and not mistaking the plank for the boat.

And what if you don’t have the time or the ability to take that fabled one-week-off-to-finish-your-play?

When I have had to have full-time employment elsewhere alongside my full-time playwriting, I have often been just as productive if not moreso compared to solely writing.

Personally, the times to pick are a half-hour to an hour in the morning, having left notes on a desk the night before that I’ve spent 15-20 minutes upon.

Yes. You will have to get up a bit earlier.

But you will probably feed yourself a decent breakfast and feel pretty good for the rest of the day.

Also, write in your lunch hour. If you have to type with a sandwich dangling out of the corner of your mouth, so be it.

I used to write in my journal on trams and trains going into Melbourne’s CBD.

Don’t worry about people reading over your shoulder.

They don’t know the context.

Embrace it.

Consider it audience development.

And if it really really really worries or annoys you, just scribble (or type) something about how ugly the person watching you write is. That usually sorts it.

None of this sounds perfect, but the things is, most of our imagined utopias for writing are in fact sentimental and bizarre abstractions of our beautifully imperfect, conflicted world. Our best dramatic writing comes from conflict, from things going wrong, from lives getting harder.

Learning to do the Thing when you thought you could never do it is actually the most rewarding Thing of all.

Photo by andrew welch on Unsplash

If you’re still here, cheers! And I have a little favour to ask. If you know somebody who would find this advice useful, could you share it with them via email? Maybe even encourage them to subscribe? The more people we can help to write plays – a practice of empathy and understanding even when the subject matter is about the darkest human traits – the more interesting the world becomes. I’m quite selfish about wanting to live in an interesting world. Thanks.

From here to paternity… 2018

Photo by Janko Ferlič on Unsplash

Happy 2018!

I’m back, a few days later than I promised, following my latest child’s birth (which was amazing, thanks very much.) I’m planning months’ worth of playwriting and screenwriting blog posts and would love to hear from you if you would like to know about a specific element, or my thoughts upon them. I will consider them during nappy changes. Honestly. (What else is there to consider?)

In the meantime, why not watch a few playwriting YouTube videos? Personally, as academic as it is, I lurve what playwright Paula Vogel has to say. You’ll learn more in the first 20 minutes of this hour-long video than you would binge-watching any series for several days.

It’s only had around 3000 views at time of writing. Let’s try to get more on board, shall we?

Don’t forget to keep in touch: ben@benelliswriter.com

Photo credit:  by Janko Ferlič on Unsplash

Merry Christmas – or was it better than that? (a few thoughts #19) 

I hope that whatever festivity you celebrate at this time of year, you enjoyed it.

If you didn’t, however, don’t worry too much, for you’ve probably gathered material for a play or screenplay. 

One thing that is sometimes unclear when we ask “when” a play happens, is that we’re probably asking about the occasion.

The occasion of a scene can be a great dramatic writing tool, because the characters who participate will have both shared and personal expectations of how the event should proceed. 

If everything, including what doesn’t work well, goes to everybody’s plan, then it’s not really that dramatic. 

But if this is the first year that Darren’s mock turkey doesn’t make Nanna gag, then the reactions will be interesting to witness. 

Ask of any occasion that is the basis of a scene, who will make it go wrong? What or who will upset the expectations? How will it upset them and why? 

Lots of plays centre upon social occasions or rituals. Weddings. Funerals. Birthdays. This is why. They are full of people’s hopes and dreads.

But it’s not enough to ask what the occasion is. 

Go a step farther and ask, what’s the problem? What’s new? What’s different this time? 

So, I hope you had a great Christmas. 

But if you didn’t, I hope you have been taking lots of notes. 

Have a wonderful 2018, and I hope you achieve your writing goals. If you need my assistance, don’t hesitate to contact me at ben@benelliswriter.com 

But not exactly right now – I’m trying to set a blazing fire to the Boxing Day pudding to help lift me over a writing block, while providing misery to expectant children. 

xox 


When Worlds Collide and the Art of Subtraction (a few thoughts #18)

What if the thing that is going to destroy your normal world has actually been a part of it all along?

My favourite thing in the world, apart from writing scripts, is the reading of them. Part of my relatively recent move into screenwriting means that I have been gobbling up television and film scripts of late.

Many writers I love and respect claim that they don’t need to read the work of other playwrights and screenwriters. That they only need to experience the work to learn from it.

I find this claim odd. If you were a chemist, would you only need to watch acid eat through something in order to make a similar compound? Wouldn’t you want to look a little closer? Continue reading “When Worlds Collide and the Art of Subtraction (a few thoughts #18)”

Writing your play with my help – your words and my guidance

You may have been reading my blog for sometime, or you’ve found me through a relatively random search.

However you got here, hi. You probably enjoy writing plays – or you enjoy the thought that you could write a play.

I’ve been teaching playwriting – as well as working professionally as a playwright – for a number of years now and recently started teaching** playwright clients via Skype in the US and UK after my recent move to Melbourne, also working with playwrights face-to-face here.

I can confidently say that if you enjoy reading my blog posts then, working together, I can give you personal, practical and targeted advice that will help you write your play.

My preferred process is to work with clients over 8 weekly sessions of around an hour to an hour and a half. Some writers prefer a maximum of 45 minutes. And after the 8 weeks is up, we can decide together whether we think there is more work to do or if the play is ready to fly. Or be posted. Or e-mailed. You know what I mean. Continue reading “Writing your play with my help – your words and my guidance”

What’s That Question Doing There? (a few thoughts #17)

I have a bit of an involuntary tick when it comes to seeing questions in drafts of plays – whether those plays are mine or anyone else’s. Why? What have I got against questions?

In everyday life, we ask questions all the time. How are you? What’s that over there? How about that, huh?

When we do it, we’re often not interested in the details of the answer. We’re doing it to get along.

It’s a mode of talking that linguists call “phatic”, confirmation that we’re alive and that we’re showing/feigning being interested in being in the company of the person we’re talking with.

But if you’re trying to write a dramatic scene, I’m not sure it’s a great idea to put questions in the way of either character.

I’m going to work with an example here. A first draft of a scene I made especially for this exercise – but if you’ve ever read or written the first draft of a scene yourself, you may recognise some of the sorts of questions that come up. Continue reading “What’s That Question Doing There? (a few thoughts #17)”

5 Star, 1 Star, and Beyond

I have a fantasy. A website related fantasy.

Recently I discovered that some producing theatre companies’ literary managers – the people who find the playwrights and plays for bigger-sized theatre companies – now find themselves having to justify their work on the basis of, say, how many four-star reviews the productions earn. That’s a KPI.

And I’m not kidding.

I have a love-hate relationship with theatre reviews. I love the ones that praise my work, and I hate the ones that don’t. Continue reading “5 Star, 1 Star, and Beyond”

Just because you feel it doesn’t mean it’s crap (a few thoughts #16)

Bumped into a playwright friend recently and asked how she was doing.

She said she was three-quarters of the way through her play’s draft, and she was lost and didn’t know if it was crap or not.

I’m the sort of friend and fellow playwright who nodded enthusiastically and said, “That’s great!”

Now, why would I do something like that? Am I some sort of bullying psychopath? Continue reading “Just because you feel it doesn’t mean it’s crap (a few thoughts #16)”

Who Do You Think You Aren’t? (a few thoughts #15)

One camel staring at another camel, who is in existential distress

What do your friends say about you behind your back? Or in front of it? Hang on. That’s a tricky physical manoeuvre.

What’s that got to do with writing drama? Don’t worry. We’ll get to that soon.

Maybe you’re reading this because you’re a regular. Maybe you’re reading this because you’re searching for writer’s block busters. Or maybe you are still trying to find yourself as a writer.

Great. I want you to put aside half an hour and try the following six steps. Continue reading “Who Do You Think You Aren’t? (a few thoughts #15)”

A 13-week recipe for writing a play (a few thoughts #14)

In the world of novel writing, NaNoWriMo is buzzing along, with thousands of people aiming to write a 50000 word draft of a novel in the month of November. It’s a yearly event and I look forward every year to hearing of people attempting to start AND finish their work.

Theatre abounds with stories of the play written in a weekend, or in a fit of anger or inspiration over a caffeine-laden night.

While I’ve written some plays very quickly in the past, there’s only one play that I’ve written in two days – Who are you, Mr James? which turned into Post Felicity and won me my breakthrough awards and productions. As I’ve explained elsewhere, that two days and nights of writing was a culmination of around five years of thinking and failed starts.

When you’re writing a play alone, independently of a deadline and/or commission, what’s a feasible timeline? Continue reading “A 13-week recipe for writing a play (a few thoughts #14)”