e-mail to a new playwright

Hi there

I am SO sorry for the lengthy delay in responding, I have been hugely preoccupied with work and family matters.

Ok, so while it would always be lovely to have everything that we write, produced, it  just doesn’t happen that way.  I’ve two un produced plays, and most writers I know, even the A list ones, have un produced plays, for no other reason than they are not what theatres want right now!  It’s hard to know what theatres do want, and with the current arts funding being drastically cut, I think we are all worrying about what we do and where to find a home for our work.  It’s a difficult business at the best of times, most playwrights, even the established ones, find it hard to make a good living solely from theatre, because unless you are fortunate enough to have a west-end hit play or musical, it just doesn’t pay.  This is why so many playwrights have to write 2-4 plays a year, well, those who are lucky enough to get that many commissions, and I am not one of them.  It’s also why the lucky few move to TV, which does pay.

First things first, you say you want to be a playwright, sounds to me like you already are.  Anyone who has written a play and taken it to Edinburgh, is a playwright.  The more stuffy playwrights might expect you to have more work in your portfolio, I do not!  So YOU ARE a playwright.  Good!

Sounds like you are forging ahead and creating work, which is excellent.  In this profession we need to be a step ahead of others, always on the look out for places to stage work, people to work with.  I totally agree with you that plays need to be performed in order to be fully realised.  I have this problem time and time again with my work, it reads brilliantly off the page and once it’s up, well, it mostly works. Plays are written to be performed NOT read in a room quietly.

I think the thing to do is to keep writing, keep sending work out.  I’m not sure how old you are, but have you contacted places like the Young Vic or the Royal Court, who have (the court does at least) young writers attachments (under 26 I think, do check first).  If you want to write, you will do it whether you are working 7, 5 or 3 days a week in a paid job.  It’s hard.  Get over it and get on with your work.  We’ve all had to at some time – and I’m not being hard, just realistic!

It usually takes 5 years I reckon to make ‘it’ in someway, and I don’t necessarily mean earning pots of money.  The best advice I can give you is to write, write and write.  Send your work out to literary managers, or dramaturgs, or associate director (literary) as they are now called!  When your work is on, invite agents – if you’re young and innovative chances are they will come.  Everyone is on the look out for new talent, the next big thing.  I don’t have any easy answers, formulas or magic.  Other than none of us ever know what works and what doesn’t until it’s out there.

The other advise is to go find a newish director who you can work with, form an alliance and go put plays on.  And NEW doesn’t necessarily mean young!

Radio drama is also a good way in for playwrights – it’s actually where I started and I have a great home there.  They are the best, nicest, most helpful people in the world.  They don’t pay heaps, but it’s def worth considering.  Google the writers room and download their info, or go to the BBC Radio Four website and they should have guidelines for new writers.  The afternoon play slot is where they probably commission about 20-30 new writers a year – so why not you?  And if you don’t listen to radio drama, start now!  Some of our greatest writers started in radio.  It’s fantastically well respected and you will learn a craft that can earn you a nice bit of bread and butter money every year!  And one radio play broadcast can command a bigger audience than most plays will ever get!

Oh, and go join the Writers Guild of Great Britain – def worthwhile.

So, I hope I haven’t depressed you – one never knows what’s going to happen in this business, surprises are always around the corner, and mostly when you least expect them, but I firmly believe if you are putting work out there, sooner or later someone is going to say about your play, this is the one, this is it.  If you sit in a room dreaming about doing it or tell yourself you cannot possibly have a full time paid job AND write, you are kidding yourself.  It’s how most of us started, some still do.  I work most weekends, because I love to, but also because I need to.  So do many writers.  It’s not a glamorous profession, it can be rewarding and there are lovely gifts, but mostly it’s just writing, re-writing, re-writing some more, constantly inventing new ideas and hoping producers will love them as much as you do, loving then hating your work, not being sure how to do it at all, BUT when it works, it works and there is nothing quite like it.

Still want to write?  Go for it.

Hope this has been of use.  Do let me know.  Stay calm, be nice to everyone, say please and thank you, go to the theatre, watch TV and film, be a step ahead AND ENJOY IT.

Warmest wishes & happy writing.  Let me know when I can come see something of yours.