Pursued By A Bear is our new advice column with playwright Adam Taylor. He’ll tackle your playwriting questions – from practical issues to existential dilemmas – relying on nothing but his bare wits, brute strength, and questionable personal experiences.
“I write in my bedroom, and the pigeons that live outside are seriously creepy. I feel like I can hear them burrowing through the wall. I can’t listen to music while I write, even earplugs distract me. Any ideas on how to actually get back to writing?” – A.L.
There’s an easy solution to this problem.
All you need to do is abseil from the roof of your house or flat or cell block and install pigeon-proofing spikes on the windowsill outside your room. This will get rid of the pigeons and bring you some glorious peace and quiet in which to hear yourself think.
However, this is a short term solution.
What happens when your flatmate gets a girlfriend? Imagine the two of them, at it all night like howling beasts, tearing up the furniture and knocking holes in the plasterboard. Again, pigeon-proofing offers a quick fix, but even if you do manage to sneak into their room and install spikes all around the bed, they’ll just move to the kitchen table.
What about your neighbour who discovers an enduring love of drum and bass?
What about your twin nephews who come to live with you after their parents are killed in a tragic skiing accident and are always fighting about who’s Batman and who’s Robin?
What about that guy across the street who keeps climbing onto his roof naked and loudly abusing pedestrians while throwing his own excrement at passing cars?
Although I clung onto the notion for many years, sadly pigeon-proofing can’t solve everything.
There will always be distractions. And a lot of them will be things you can do absolutely nothing about.
But don’t give up hope. As you’ll come to learn, I have a deeply suspect and morally dubious answer to everything.
First of all, I know you probably think your earth-shattering ideas and soul-tingling exchanges of dialogue are trumpeted directly into your ears by benevolent angels with a vested interest in producing good theatre… but they’re not.
Everything you write comes from inside your brain. Don’t ask me what all that weird shit is doing in there, those are your issues. The fact is that it’s all in your head, so don’t let a couple of rowdy, inconsiderate pigeons stop you from tapping into it.
Think of all the letters and poems that soldiers wrote in the trenches during the First World War. How many moments of silent reflection do you think they had between falling shells? They sat in muddy puddles, with bullets ripping past their heads, rats gnawing on their toes, writing in the brief gaps between dysentery-induced toilet trips. And they were in France.
Great works of literature have always been written in circumstances of great adversity; during revolutions, wars, famines, plagues, and from hospital beds, prison cells, the bottom of wells, the pits of abject poverty and despair.
I guarantee your all-time favourite writer didn’t let a few pigeons or some uncomfortable earplugs get to them, otherwise that play or novel you love so dearly wouldn’t exist.
For the vast majority of writers, silence is a luxury. I personally cannot remember a single occasion when I’ve written anything in silence. I’d love to move to Japan and tranquilly tap out masterpieces by the side of a glistening, carp-filled pond, surrounded by cherry blossom and statuesque, meditating monks.
But shockingly that hasn’t happened.
As I write this very sentence I’m sitting in a crowded office, simultaneously trying to eat my lunch, explain to my colleague why I don’t watch the Great British Bake Off, block out the noise of rowdy workmen who are demolishing the building around me and watch a particularly bad driver struggle to manoeuvre a tiny car into the biggest parking space I’ve ever seen outside.
How am I still making sense? Maybe I’m not. I’ll leave that up to you to judge.
But the point is I’ve trained myself to ignore absolutely everything going on around me. Because, short of relocating to an Arctic weather station, I know I’ll never have the ideal conditions to write.
Most of the time I’ll put on some music to drown out the background noise. Music is the best thing for this because it’s constant so after a while you can just zone out until you don’t even really hear it.
Try picking music that matches the mood you’re trying to create in whatever you’re writing. For example, if I’m writing a scene where the dialogue is getting a bit heated and there’s a fight brewing I’ll listen to something that matches that feeling. I’m a big hip hop fan so it will typically be Mobb Deep or the Wu Tang Clan. Something that feels hostile and moody.
Obviously if it’s a tender love scene I’ll go for something calmer and more sentimental. Like Busta Rhymes.
Some people say they prefer listening to instrumental music with no lyrics otherwise they find themselves inadvertently paying attention to the words. Personally I don’t often have this problem but if you do there are plenty of options out there. Classical music typically has no vocals and handily comes in a variety of moods to cover every occasion.
And you’ll find that after you’ve worked with background music for a while, you’ll develop the ability to block out other distractions as well. I now find I can write without any trouble in even the most noisy and uncomfortable places; in moving vehicles, nightclubs, the dentist’s, police cells and on horseback, to name a few.
Once you start forcing yourself to work through the distractions, you’ll start to realise that even the most inhospitable environments can provide great inspiration. I’ll follow with some notable modern examples:
Channing Tatum came up with the idea for the Shakespeare-esque masterpiece Magic Mike while working as an erotic dancer in a strip club in Tampa;
Stockbroker and utter bastard Jordan Belfort wrote his seminal autobiography The Wolf of Wall Street while sniffing cocaine off the hairless arse of an angry baboon in the passenger seat of a Lamborghini;
Ex-Disney pawn and probable prostitute Miley Cyrus composed her magnum opus Wrecking Ball while working as an apprentice bricklayer on a building site in Slough.
If all else fails, why not take inspiration from these luminaries and write a film script about a flock of pigeons that subject you to an intense campaign of harassment before pecking your eyes out and taking over a small seaside town?
But seriously, I know that when you’re trying to get your brain into that special creative place even the most minor distraction can be really disruptive. It does sometimes feel like ideas are tiny feathers floating on the breeze, and that even the gentlest sparrow’s fart is enough to send them spiralling out of reach.
You can’t let that stop you or you’ll never get anything done. There are a lot of distractions you can avoid. If your spouse is constantly asking you to take the bins out while you’re trying to write you could try explaining in a reasonable and calm tone of voice that you’re trying to work. If that fails, lock yourself (or your loved one) in the bathroom and continue in peace.
Unfortunately we’ll never be able to rid the world of pigeons. So if you want to be a writer, you will need to develop a bit of resilience. It’s either that or undertake astronaut training and move to the International Space Station.
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