Eleven Rules for Writing from Eight Contemporary Playwrights 

Chances are most of us won’t be immediately familiar with the eight mostly British playwrights reflecting on their process in the National Theatre’s video, above.

That’s a good thing.

It's easier to choose which pieces of inspiring, occasionally conflicting writing advice to follow when the scale's not weighted down by the thumb of celebrity.

(Though rest assured that there’s no shortage of people who do know their work, if the National Theater is placing them in the hot seat.)




It’s impossible to follow all of their suggestions on any given project, so go with your gut.

Or try your hand at one that doesn’t come naturally, especially if you’ve been feeling stuck.

These approaches are equally valid for those writing fiction, and possibly even certain types of poetry and song.

The National wins points for assembling a diverse group—there are four women and four men, three of whom are people of color.

Within this crew, it’s the women who overwhelmingly bring up the notions of permission and perfection, as in it’s okay to let your first draft be absolutely dreadful.

Most of the males are prone to plotting things out in advance.

And no one seems entirely at home marooned against a seamless white background on a plain wooden stool.

Jewish identity, school shootings, immigration, race, climate change, and homophobia are just some of the topics they have considered in their plays.

Some have worked in film and TV, adapted the classics, or written for young audiences.

They have won prestigious awards, seen their plays staged ‘round the globe, and had success with other artistic pursuits, including poetry, performance, and dance.

Clearly, you'll find some great advice below, though it's not a one-size-fits-all proposition. Let us know in the comments which rules you personally consider worth following.

Eleven Rules for Writing from Eight Contemporary Playwrights

1. Start

or

2. Don’t start. Let your idea marinate for a minimum of six months, then start.

3.. Have some sort of outline or plan before you start

4. Do some research

5. Don’t be judgmental of your writing while you’re writing

6. Embrace the terrible first draft 

7. Don’t show anyone your first draft, unless you want to.

8. Know how it’s going to end

or

9. Don’t know how it’s going end

10. Work with others

11. Print it, and read it like someone experiencing it for the first time. No editing aloud. Get that pen out of your hand.

And now, it’s time to discover the work of the participating playwrights. Go see a show, or at least read about one in the links:

In-Sook Chappell

Ryan Craig

Suhayla El-Bushra

Inua Ellams

Lucy Kirkwood

Evan Placey

Tanya Ronder

Simon Stephens

The National Theatre has several fascinating playlists devoted to playwriting. Find them here.

Related Content:

An Animated Introduction to Samuel Beckett, Absurdist Playwright, Novelist & Poet

Listen to Playwright August Wilson’s American Century Cycle in Its Entirety: 10 Free Plays

How the Russian Theatre Director Constantin Stanislavski Revolutionized the Craft of Acting: A New Video Essay

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Wednesday, May 16 for another monthly installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.


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