Six top tips for breaking into playwriting

A short six months ago, I started (trying) to write plays. Being a novice in any industry is daunting, particularly when it’s one you really want to get into. And it’s so easy to let that fear stop you from trying at all, especially when you know there’s a million other people trying to get their work on stage, all competing for the same opportunities as you; and these people probably have more experience.

Yet, six months after I first started writing, I’ve got to see my work shown on stage, meet playwrights I admire and join fellow theatre-lovers in forming a theatre company. It’s strange that something that’s now such a staple of my life wasn’t even a part of it not that long ago.

And six months in seems like the perfect time to reflect on all the things I’ve learnt so far…

Use what’s unique about theatre to your advantage

I had the wonderful opportunity to speak to playwright Hannah Khalil, who told me about the importance of valuing what theatre is and making the most of that. Play with the fact that it’s live and that your audience are so intimately involved in the piece.

But you shouldn’t write your play based on what you think your audience want to see. Write the story you want to tell, yet don’t forget to write a piece that could only work in theatre. We work in a magical medium – use it.

Tell someone you love their work

As I said before, I thought the theatre industry would be full of cut-throat playwrights prepared to rip you down in order to get their play on stage. Luckily, it’s not like that all. Theatre is a community that I feel privileged to belong to.

Of course, it’s a difficult industry to get into but, instead of that meaning you should be tearing your ‘competitors’ down, it just means your praise it all the more valuable. Tweet when you see something great, or help a playwright promote their new work and, most importantly, go see fringe theatre and support your fellow playwrights trying to do exactly what you’re doing. It also means they’re much more likely to support you and your work!

Don’t do it alone

It’s easy to view writing as a solitary task, but joining a theatre company is one of the best things I’ve done. Not only does it give you connections and access to more opportunities, but you also get to meet people to share ideas with and it’s much easier to self-produce work in a team than on your own. For me, as I didn’t know anyone in this industry, just meeting people who wanted to do the same thing as me was wonderful.

Start off small

When I first decided to give playwriting a go, I planned to sit down and just write a full-length play. Even though I had never so much as written a scene direction before. Luckily I soon came to my senses and started looking for opportunities here on LPB where I could submit 10-15 minute pieces for scratch nights.

This helped me get experience and actually learn what I wanted to write more than anything. My most recent piece is so far from the first play I wrote, and I’m still learning about the style I want to write in and the stories I want to tell.

Remember you are not your work

Writing personal things can be therapeutic and it’s important to bring a valuable story to stage that isn’t shown enough. But don’t pour so much of yourself into it that if the piece gets rejected or a bad review, you’ll feel like it’s a personal attack.

I’ve learnt that once I’ve sent a piece off, just forget about it. I no longer check my emails constantly for replies and, when I get the polite rejections, I’m not so bothered as I know the piece I submitted is separate to myself as a writer.

Remember why you write

Writing is a hobby for me and, fingers crossed, one day could be a job. But I do it because I love it, because I love telling stories and seeing people interpret something I’ve written in a hundred different ways. I do it because I love to hear an audience laugh at a joke I was scared wasn’t funny at all.

Finishing a scene or nailing a character may feel frustrating sometimes, but writing shouldn’t become something you feel trapped by. For more about looking after your mental health as a playwright, read my piece in aid of World Mental Health Day here.

So what’s next?

I’m still a novice. And I love that. I’m constantly learning about making theatre, whether that’s from being lucky enough to talk to a playwright, watch a performance or even just stalking someone whose work I love on Twitter. If I could sum up all the little bits I’ve picked up over these short months, it would be that there is no one way to write or one way to be a writer.

I don’t have a degree, no one’s taught me how to write ‘properly’, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Whatever you write, just write authentically. Write because you love it.

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