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


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


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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