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.
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.
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.
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.
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.