Category Archives: Original Content

Introducing the London Playwrights’ Workshop

Since we set up the London Playwrights’ Blog in early 2013, we’ve been overwhelmed by the fantastic response we’d have from all of our play-writing readers.  In the past two and a half years, we’ve truly loved getting to connect with all of you emerging writers, and have seen firsthand the amazing, vibrant community of playwrights in London (and beyond), who are eager support each other and create new work.

Inspired by you all, we’ve decided to expand the London Playwrights’ Blog to offer even more resources and opportunities, to help us make what we offer sustainable as we press on into the future. This is why we’ve set up the London Playwrights’ Workshop, a not-for-profit company that will manage the blog and enable us to expand into new areas.

From this autumn, we’re kicking things off by launching new projects:

  • Workshops for writers:  We will be running a series of workshops for writers on a range of artistic and practical topics, and are kicking things off with LPB’s own Kimberley Andrews leading ‘Writing Your Play‘, a six week course designed to help new writers on their way to a first draft.
  • Script consulting:  For writers looking for guidance on developing existing scripts, we’ll be running a service that provides both one-on-one consultation and written feedback from experienced tutors, to help take your work to the next level.
  • Pursued By A Bear advice column:  The witty and brilliant Adam Taylor has joined our team to write a regular advice column for writers , to help you with motivation, inspiration (and perhaps a little procrastination!).

We know from personal experience how tricky it can be to make ends meet as an emerging writer, so we’ve worked to keep prices for these new services as low as possible.  But rest assured, the blog is now and will remain a free resource – there will be no subscription fees here!

We have other new plans in development that we think you’ll be really excited about – so keep your eyes peeled or announcements about what else is coming up in the near future.

Thank you again to all of our readers for the support and encouragement you’ve given us so far. If you’re willing to share this site, tell your friends, and help us spread the word about our new projects, we’d really appreciate it – and it will help us keep the site going and develop even more wonderful things to offer you!

With thanks,
Alli, Kimberley, and Sam

How to produce your own work – part 5: casting

In the fifth post in her series on producing your own show, Kimberley Andrews sheds some light on casting: how do you go about finding actors? What should you expect from them? What are the pitfalls of asking people to work for free?

Firstly, lets assume you and your director have agreed you’ll have some input in casting your show (see my previous post for more on what you should agree on with your director before you start). What next then? Where will you go to find lovely actors and how on earth will you get them to work with you?

Image by Clarkk via Flickr Commons
Image by Clarkk via Flickr Commons

In my last post, I mentioned how tough it can be to find actors who are willing, available and happy to work on your play, especially if you graduated a while back or you’re new to the theatre. I was lucky in that I’d already put on a few showcases as part of a writers group, so I had access to some trusted actors who were willing to work with me. (Sorry to mention the dreaded networking thing again but this is where crawling out from behind your laptop and venturing into the outside world really does work wonders.)

Image by Picsnquotes via Flickr Commons
Image by Picsnquotes via Flickr Commons

Schmoozing aside, if you want to cast your show without sending yourself mental, the best thing you can do is be flexible (especially if you’re not paying people). I know, I know – you absolutely need an accurate Harry Styles look-a-like for your One Direction comedy-drama but a relentless pursuit to find someone who fits your exact vision can make your already narrow options narrower than Harry’s skinny jeans (unthinkable, I know). Oh, and you might come across as a total loon and put people off working with you…which is bad.

Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s wise to abandon all casting requirements and lunge at the first actor who shows an interest. If your protagonist is a 60 year old man, then in all fairness, you probably shouldn’t cast a 12 year old girl in the role. But, differentiating between what’s essential for the piece work and what you’d do in an ideal world will save you a lot of stress (and disappointment) in the long run.

Since I was producing a sketch show, it was far more important for me to find a good ensemble of actors who could play multiple roles than say, actors who could do a perfect Black Country accent (which was where my piece was set, in case you thought that was a peculiar thing to make actors do…).

In terms of finding actors, I sat down with the director and we made a list of people to approach.  We started with people we know, who had proven themselves reliable and talented: starting with actors from the showcases we’d done, we also contacted friends, people who’d worked on friends shows and old course-mates who were now working as actors.

But that doesn’t mean you have to have already have contacts to make this happen – there are plenty of alternatives for finding talented actors.  (Although certain demographics,  i.e. that 60 year old man I mentioned, may always be tricky.)

Here are my top ways to find actors if you don’t already have the contacts:

1. Approach drama schools – but don’t be surprised if they tell you to sling your hook if you ask about working with current students who are busy with classes – your best bet is find out who deals with alumni and ask them to forward the casting call to their alumni email list.

2. Put ads out on casting websites – Casting-Call Pro, Spotlight, and Arts Jobs are a good place to start.

3.  Use social media – putting a call out on Facebook/ Twitter can be a great way to find people to work with you. I’ve had some brilliant recommendations from Facebook friends who have put me in touch with their actor mates. You could also start building your network by following theatre-types on Linked In/ Twitter/ Facebook.

I found that sourcing actors was a mish-mash of sending lots of emails, making calls, sending out scripts… and then finding out people weren’t available when you needed them and going back to square one. The key thing is not to be disheartened by these setbacks. After all, it’s worth remembering that you’re asking a huge favour of people so expect to put in a bit of leg-work to make things happen.

Image by thepanamerican via Flickr Commons
Image by thepanamerican via Flickr Commons

I didn’t do anything like formal auditions with the actors I found; since nearly all of them were people I knew or were recommended by friends, an email conversation or a quick coffee was enough to seal the deal. (It’s also kind of rude to ask such a big favour of someone and then demand they perform their best Shakespeare speech for you.)

Of course though, there is a place for auditions and if you’re putting Simon Cowellup an advert for actors rather than working by recommendation, you’re going to want to do some sort of screening – even if it’s just a read of a couple of scenes of your play. But if you’re asking people to work for free, it’s about making it clear that your auditions are a mutual thing to see whether they’re a good fit for your role, rather than you assessing their talent like you think you’re the next Simon Cowell.

What to do when things go wrong…

Lightning Strike by Stephen Gilmer via Flickr Commons
Lightning Strike by Stephen Gilmer via Flickr Commons

I hate to be the bearer of bad news but even when you’ve cast your show, things can go wrong! For me, DISASTER STRUCK  a week before the show, when my lead actor got paid work and  off he went. Then another realised she had too many other commitments and pulled out. Then, the guy I found to replace the lead decided he was far too handsome to play the role. Yeah, seriously.

How can the world be such a cruel place, you ask?! Well, it’s an unwritten rule that if any actor gets paid work, they’re well within their rights to ditch you. If they’re nice, not busy and love what they do, the chances are they’ll jump at the chance to do your show. But they’d have to be a bit bonkers or very rich (and still bonkers) to turn down paid work to do your free stuff. When asking people to work for free, it’s a risk you take that they might get a role in Eastenders and saunter off in the direction of Walford and there’s nothing you can do about it. In fact, if you’re a reasonable person, you should probably even be a little bit pleased for them…

Scream by Melissa O'Donohue via Flickr Commons
Scream by Melissa O’Donohue via Flickr Commons

So, with only a week before the show, and two actors down, I was panicking. The first thing I did was let out a blood curdling scream, obviously, followed by calling anyone who I thought might be able to help. In the meantime, another writer who was contributing a sketch whipped up a monologue that she could perform herself if need be.  Having back up material is easy if you’re doing a sketch show but obviously not an option if you’re producing a play; I guess the way round it in this case is to consider your options: can you double up on a character? Can you just perform extracts? It’s not ideal, but the show must go on as they say.

The director eventually managed to save me from the depths of despair by calling in favours from a couple of friends and believe it or not things did work out well in the end. I ended up with talented actors who weren’t worried about being too good looking for the roles and were even willing to have a bash at the Black Country accent. When you find actors like this, you need to hold on to them with both hands – not literally of course, but be nice to them, don’t expect them to rehearse ridiculous hours, don’t keep editing the scripts in mad fits of creative despair and do remember to say thanks.

Here are my 10 tips for avoiding a casting disaster…

  1. Build a network of actors before you start (if you can) by attending writers groups or doing a course. Or, co-produce with someone who does have an extensive network.
  2. Think twice about producing a piece with a large cast: the fewer actors you need to find, the better. Remember, you’ll need to rehearse at times that suit everyone – which is harder with more people.
  3. Make sure your work is at its best (and is ideally finished) when you send it out to actors; they aren’t going to be crazy about performing a piece that isn’t very good, nor will they thank you if you keeping chopping and changing at the last minute.
  4. Be realistic about the size of the project: you want actors learn a 500 hundred page script in the space of two weeks? Think again. If your piece is long, think about presenting it as a reading instead.
  5. Don’t get too hung up on perfect casting. So you wanted someone who looks exactly like Leonardo DiCaprio to play your lead role? It’s probably not going to happen – if you can get someone the right gender, and in right age range who wants to do your show, then think yourself lucky. The important thing is that they are good and are committed to the project.
  6. Be flexible with rehearsal times and expectations. Obviously, you want the end result to be polished but if you ask too much, you run the risk of people dropping out.
  7. Be nice! If you’re working all day and everyone dashes out to Pret in a ravenous frenzy, try and stretch to buying them a sandwich. Or take in some biscuits. Or buy them a pint at the end of a long day. At the very least, smile at them.
  8. Thank actors repeatedly. Not so much that you seem creepy and insincere but enough to show you really are grateful.
  9. Do have a back-up plan for if someone drops out at the last minute: keep a note of any actors who were interested in the role, have back-up material if possible and keep any actor friends you have close by!  (See suggestion #1.)
  10. Don’t be a drama queen/king: the course of making theatre never runs smoothly but try and take it in your stride and remember that things usually do work out in the end.
Kiss Me Kate by Monomoy Theatre via Flickr Commons
Kiss Me Kate by Monomoy Theatre via Flickr Commons

 

Previous Posts: Part 1: Getting Started, Part 2: Finding a venue, Part 3: Budget & Profit Part 4: Building your Team

In the next post, I’ll be talking about how you can organise your cast of glorious actors in rehearsal – how much time to spend on it, and how to go about finding rehearsal space.

Meeting the deadline from hell: How I wrote a play in three weeks while on holiday with a toddler

In this guest post – an example of how committed writers can make the most of challenging circumstances – Tamara von Werthern explains how she managed to complete a play on a tight deadline on a family holiday.

I put the phone down with a mixture of elation and dread. The good news was that the Arcola liked my idea for a play about ghost bikes, roadside memorials for cyclists who have been killed on the street. The theatre wanted to accept me into their writers’ group and stage The White Bike at their writing festival. The bad news? The script needed to be in just three weeks’ time and I was about to go on a much-anticipated holiday during which we planned to drive through Germany and France with a tent and our eighteen-month-old daughter, Marlene. Aaaargh!

Despite having done a lot of thinking about what I wanted to write, I had not even put pen to paper yet. To make it worse, this was a subject that made me feel anxious and worried as I cycled to work every day and was terrified of not coming home myself one day. So it would not be easy to switch between working on the play and having a carefree time camping. How on earth could I do both, get a good script in and enjoy my holiday without ruining it for everyone by stressing about my deadline?

Tamara
The author with her daughter Marlene. (Photo courtesy of the author.)

We set out early by Eurostar and DB trains and arrived at my dad’s place near Frankfurt in the afternoon. The journey was quite productive. James read books to Marlene while I took half hour writing sessions, interspersed with talking with James, playing with Marlene, picnicking and changing nappies. To avoid abandoning my family completely, I stuck to these short time-slots and made the most of the time we were spending together during my breaks.  Initially, I just wrote as much as possible: not the actual play, but around it, collecting ideas, writing down what I was worried about, what should happen, who should be in it.

The next morning I got up at 5.30, sat in my dad’s empty kitchen with a strong coffee and put in another two and a half hours. By the end of this, I had decided on a structure and the main characters. Just in time for the holiday to begin!  We loaded up my dad’s old bus, with a mattress and a camping table in the back and set off, towards the French border. James drove. Marlene sat between us in her child seat and I had my notebook on my lap and started writing scenes as we drove.

The characters became clearer to me as I started to write scenes putting them in action.  Even so, I hated most of the early scenes. I knew they were not yet as good as I wanted them to be, but it was still good to write, to have to produce material, and quickly, as I didn’t have the luxury of just putting it to the side and forgetting about it. Marlene slept a lot while we were driving and James and I spoke about what I was writing in the intervals, which helped me enormously as it freed me from being trapped too much in my own head with the play.

Our first stop was at a camp site just over the French border – where, incidentally, we left my daughter’s beaker, a slightly traumatic event, which only came into full force 200 km further away at bedtime. But aside from missing beakers, we managed to have a lovely time. We ate croissants, swam in rivers, had a lovely meal at a French restaurant for my birthday, assuming Marlene would sleep all the way through in her buggy, but she woke up as the starters arrived and participated heartily to the amazement of the couple on the next table: ‘Elle mange! Elle mange tout ca!’

At the campsite, my notebook got fuller, and I started to see more clearly what needed to be in the play and what was superfluous. I did a lot of highlighting and scribbling notes into the scenes I already had on paper and I began to work on shaping the piece as a whole, thinking of it as a puzzle that needed to be solved. What would come first? How could this scene flow into the next? The idea of a journey through my own neighbourhood emerged. I wanted to convey how, when cycling, everything you see sparks a memory of something else, an association – and that is quite similar to seeing your life flash before you.

Marlene on the dunes. (Photo courtesy of the author.)
Marlene on the dunes. (Photo courtesy of the author.)

Meanwhile, I was determined not to skip my holiday, or let this amazing opportunity turn into a source of stress.  Even though the project was always in the back of my mind I made it a point to unplug and enjoy the moment. We went for walks, had wine outside our tent in the evenings, and travelled through the Dordogne valley to the amazing sand dunes behind Bordeaux, where we also managed to fit in dinner with university friends and met their children.

In Bordeaux, I got a message that I needed to send the blurb to the Arcola immediately, so we wandered up and down dusty market streets until we found an internet café where I spent half an hour trying to condense a half-written play into three lines, then press send.

By limiting the writing to driving times, I managed to get a lot done in the hours that would otherwise have been dead time, and I was helpfully forced to stay in my seat. It was sometimes challenging, but I managed to enjoy the holiday, and felt that writing the play actually enriched my time away.  It also led to interesting and quite deep conversations with my very supportive partner James, who willingly served as a sounding board, which we might not otherwise have had.

I submitted the play on time, and it was staged at the Arcola six weeks later. I also feel the nature of writing it as part of a journey has made its way into The White Bike, which has had its own journey since then – we are just about to present the full-length version at the Edinburgh Festival of Cycling, and hopefully we’ll manage a full production of it later on.

The experience I had working to this difficult deadline has definitely carried forward into my everyday writing habits. It’s shown me that if I can finish a play under these circumstances, I can definitely fit writing into my busy life as a working mum, even if it means squeezing in a scene before the school run or during my lunch break at work.  As writers, we rarely get the perfect circumstances to work but by seizing moments to write whenever we can spare them, it is possible to finish a play with a very full schedule – or even while keeping a toddler entertained in a van in France.

Tamara von Werthern is a writer and director/producer. Her work has been performed at the Royal Court and the Arcola Theatre. She is currently working on a production of her play THE WHITE BIKE, which will be shown at The Pleasance Theatre, Edinburgh this June. Her crowdfunding campaign is live until 8 May at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1933130638/the-white-bike

Your Guide to Playwriting Competitions in 2015

Competitions can be a great way to break into the industry as an emerging writer.  Making a shortlist or winning a competition can be a huge step up in a writer’s career.  And, most importantly, a competition deadline can be great motivation to write, regardless of the outcome.

2015 is a big year for playwriting competitions, with several bi-annual playwriting competitions – including the Bruntwood and the Verity Bargate – open to submissions this year.  Need to know what’s what?  Check out our summary below!

The Big Fish

Meeresaquarium 28 by Ella Schmidt via Flickr Commons
Meeresaquarium 28 by Ella Schmidt via Flickr Commons

Bruntwood Prize
The Bruntwood Prize, run bi-annually by the Manchester Royal Exchange, is the biggest playwriting competition in the UK – both in terms of number of submissions and prize money.  2013 saw nearly 1800 submissions, and no wonder – previous winners have been awarded £16,000, with three runners up receiving £8,000 .  (Although it’s worth noting the monetary prizes are up to the judges each year, and are subject to change based on how the panel decides to divide the money.)  A production isn’t guaranteed, but Royal Exchange engages with the winning writers to develop their work, and it’s common for winners and finalists to see their plays produced.  Writers such as Vivienne Franzmann, Duncan Macmillan, Luke Norris, Anna Jordan, Alistair McDowell, Janice Okoh have gotten their start through the Bruntwood.  Top submission tip: make sure not to put your name on your script – entries are judged anonymously.  If you manage to make the longlist of 100 plays, you may receive a feedback report on your script.  If you’re new to playwriting, the competition offers online seminars and playwriting tips through their website writeaplay.co.uk – well worth checking out.
Website: www.writeaplay.co.uk
Deadline:  5 June 2015 at 6pm

Verity Bargate Competition
The bi-annual Verity Bargate Competition was set up in memory of the founder of the Soho Theatre, and has run since 1983.  The winner will receive £6000 in respect of an exclusive option to produce the winning play at Soho Theatre, directed by Artistic Director, Steve Marmion.  The competition is open to writers with no more than three professional credits to their name, so this is a great way to get your start, and has helped launch the careers of winners including Vicky Jones for The One, Thomas Eccleshare for Pastoral, In-Sook Chappell, for This Isn’t Romance, Diane Samuels, for Kindertransport and Matt Charman for A Night at the Dogs.

Website; http://www.sohotheatre.com/whats-on/verity-bargate-award
Deadline:  31 July 2015 at 6pm (note submissions do not open until 1 July 2015)

George Devine Award for Most Promising Playwright

The list of previous winners of the annual George Devine Award for most promising playwright reads like a who’s who: Mike Leigh, Edward Bond, Conor McPherson, Lucy Prebble, Hanif Kureishi, Martin McDonagh, Alice Birch, Penelope Skinner, Nick Payne, Vivienne Franzmann, Enda Walsh, Richard Bean, Elinor Cook, Hassan Abdulrazzak – you get the picture, it’s enough to make a person dizzy.  This prestigious award was established in 1966 in honour of the first Director of the Royal Court, and is now administered by his daughter Harriet, and submissions are only accepted by post.  Scripts do not need to have been produced to be eligible, however the award typically goes to high-profile debut productions that have already won awards or received critical accolades, so it’s worth being realistic about your chances.  (Note: already closed for 2015)
Website: none
Deadline: 1 March 2015 (already closed)

Emerging players

Chess by Frank Black Noir via Flickr Commons
Chess by Frank Black Noir via Flickr Commons

Papatango New Writing Prize
The Papatango New Writing Prize was only established in 2009, but it has already made its mark, launching the careers of writers including Dawn King, Dominic Mitchell, and Tom Morton-Smith.  Previously run in association with the Finborough Theatre, 2015 marks the transition to a partnership with Southwark Playhouse, where the winner will receive a four week run and publication by Nick Hern Books.  This prize may not have the award money attached to some of the bigger competitions, but the combination of a guaranteed production and successful alumni has this award hitting well above its weight.
Website: http://papatango.co.uk/literary-guidelines/
Deadline: 31 March 2015

The King’s Cross Award

The King’s Cross Award, run but the Courtyard Theatre, was set up in 2003.  The winner receives a £5,000 prize and a staged reading of their play.  This competition usually receives fewer entries than some of the bigger prizes (with 300 submissions in 2013), likely due to the £10 application fee, but has spotted a number of excellent writers.  The competition’s biggest success story is Evan Placey, whose winning play Mother of Him was broadcast on BBC Radio 3.  This biannual award is scheduled to run again in 2015, though dates and details have not yet been announced.
Website: http://www.thecourtyard.org.uk/content/25/writers-group
Deadline: 30 June 2015 – TBC

The new kids on the block

1st Grade 1973 by Andrew Kitzmiller via Flickr Commons
1st Grade 1973 by Andrew Kitzmiller via Flickr Commons

Adrian Pagan Award
The Adrian Pagan Award was established by the King’s Head Theatre in 2014 in memory of stage manager turned playwright Adrian Pagan.  In its first year, it was open to theatre practitioners who were new to write, but in 2015 it has widened the net to include anyone who has not had more than one professional production.  It’s too early to say what the footprint of this competition will be, but a guaranteed run at the King’s Head Theatre is a brilliant start for an emerging writer.
Website: http://www.kingsheadtheatre.com/#!new-writing/c7ux
Deadline: 2 February 2015 (already closed)

 Liverpool Hope Playwriting Prize

The Liverpool Hope Playwriting Prize was set up in 2014, immediately sparking controversy and debate in the new writing community over the £20 application fee.  The competition, run by Liverpool Hope University, the Royal Court Liverpool and the Liverpool Echo offered a grand prize of £10,000 with smaller awards for runners up.  It’s not clear whether the competition is running this year because they haven’t made an announcement yet (of this year’s details or last year’s winner) and the deadline is usually in May.
Website: http://www.hope.ac.uk/pwprize/
Deadline: TBC

Theatre503 Playwriting Award
The Theatre503 Playwriting Award had its inaugural year in 2014, with the winner receiving £6,000 and a guaranteed production of their scripts at Theatre503.  (Although in 2014 the panel chose to make two awards due to the strength of the scripts.)  The competition  also incorporated the selection process for the 503Five, the theatre’s 18-month writer development programme. The next round of submissions for this bi-annual award will be in Spring 2016, and given the calibre of the judges involved in 2014 and the 1600 scripts submitted, it looks like this award is on track to become an important fixture on the London new writing scene.
Website: https://theatre503.com/theatre503-playwriting-award/
Deadline: Spring 2016 – TBC

The Specialists

Tonight's Progress by Russ via Flickr Commons
Tonight’s Progress by Russ via Flickr Commons

Alfred Fagon Award
The Alfred Fagon award, which is supported by the Peggy Ramsay Foundation, is awarded annually to the best new play by a writer of Caribbean or African descent.  The impressive list of winners includes Roy Williams, Rachel De-lahay, Paula B. Stanic, Diana Nneka Atuona, and Charlene James. The next submission deadline is anticipated to be in August 2015.
Website: http://www.alfredfagonaward.co.uk
Deadline: 1 August 2015 – TBC

Theatre Centre Awards: Brian Way Award and Adrienne Benham Award

These awards, given to support writing for young audiences, are currently on hold as the Theatre Centre reassesses its programmes following funding cuts.  They’re still actively working with playwrights through their commissioning programs, though unfortunately they can’t say at this time what the plans will be for these awards in the future.
Website: http://www.theatre-centre.co.uk/events/awards/
Deadline:  Currently on hold

Nick Darke Award
This award, given in honour of Cornish writer and polymath Nick Darke, is a £6,000 prize that supports a writer for film, screen, or radio in developing a new piece of work with environmental themes.  Unusually, the award is given to a pitch to facilitate development of the work, rather than recognising a completed script. The award is administered by Falmouth University, and shortlisted writers are invited to a special ceremony in Cornwall where the winner is announced.
Website: http://www.falmouth.ac.uk/nickdarkeawar
Deadline: TBC – normally in April

Perfect Pitch Award
Perfect Pitch, an organisation that develops new musicals, runs this biannual award where musical creators are put into teams, with finalists being asked to write a 15 minute pitch of a new musical.  The winners receive £12,000 and guidance from Perfect Pitch to assist them in developing the musical.  The next round of entries will open in September 2015, with the award to be granted in 2016.
Website: http://www.perfectpitchmusicals.com/awardinfo.html
Deadline: September 2015 – TBC

BBC Writer’s Prize for Radio
The BBC Writer’s Prize was launched in 2013 as a way to promote and recognise excellent writing for radio. The winning script is commissioned by BBC Radio and broadcast on air (in the first year, two winners were selected). The most recent award was made in December 2014, and the next submission deadline is likely to be in September 2015.
Website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/writersroom/successes/writers-prize
Deadline: September 2015 – TBC

International Awards

World Map - Abstract Acrylic by Nicholas Raymond via Flickr Commons
World Map – Abstract Acrylic by Nicholas Raymond via Flickr Commons
Yale Drama Series

If you have ambitions of breaking in across the pond, the Yale Drama Series may be a good place to start.  The winner of this annual prize receives an award of $10,000 USD and has a rehearsed reading at Lincoln Centre in New York. The award has been judged by acclaimed playwrights including David Hare, John Guare, Marsha Norman, Edward Albee, and Nicholas Wright. 2009 winner Francis Ya-Chu Cowhig had her second play premiered at the National Theatre 2013.
Website: http://yalepress.yale.edu/yupbooks/drama.asp
Deadline: 15 August 2015 – TBC

Leslie Scalapino Award
The Leslie Scalapino Award is given to women excelling with innovative and experimental writing and performance.  The winner receives $2,500 USD, publication of the winning text, and a rehearsed reading of their piece, followed by a full production in the subsequent year.  The next round of submissions will be in 2016.
Website: http://www.therelationship.org/LSaward.html
Deadline: 2016 – TBC

William Saroyan Prize for Human Rights/Social Justice
The William Saroyan Playwright Prize is granted by the Armenian Dramatic Arts Alliance in recognition of a piece that engages with themes of human rights and social justice.  The winner receives a prize of $10,000 USD and a staged reading.  The next submission period will be in January-April 2016.
Website: http://armeniandrama.weebly.com/saroyan-prize.html
Deadline: April 2016 – TBC

Your Calendar at a glance

Events Calendar by Yandle via Flickr Commons
Events Calendar by Yandle via Flickr Commons

The deadlines for these competitions are included in our weekly roundup, but you can see a quick reference for the year at a glance below.

DISCLAIMER: These dates are provided as guidelines only – always  check the individual opportunity posting from the weekly roundup on LPB or the competition website to confirm the submission date and avoid disappointment.

January-February
Adrian Pagan Award – 2 February 2015 (already closed)

March
George Devine Award – 1 March 2015 (already closed)
Papatango New Writing Prize – 31 March 2015

April
Nick Darke Award – TBC

May
Liverpool Hope Playwriting Competition (TBC, though seems unlikely to run in 2015)

June
Bruntwood Prize
Verity Bargate Award – TBC
King’s Cross Award – TBC

July-August
Alfred Fagon Award
Yale Drama Series

September
BBC Writer’s Prize for Radio

October
Perfect Pitch Award

2016
Theatre503 Playwriting Award – Spring 2016 TBC
Leslie Scalapino Award – TBC
William Saroyan Prize for Human Rights/Social Justice – April 2016 TBC

Know about an important competition you think we’ve left out?  Let us know in the comments below!  
And please be sure to sign up to our newsletter if you want to receive our weekly round-up of all these opportunities direct to your inbox as the information becomes available. 
 (Note on images:  All images used in accordance with Creative Commons License)

How to produce your own work – part 4: Building your team

 

Image by Uitleg & Tekst via Flickr Commons
Image by Uitleg & Tekst via Flickr Commons

 Kimberley Andrews continues her series on producing her own show.  In her fourth post, she talks about how to build your team, what to expect from a director and the benefits of bringing other people on board…

So, by this point, I had material, a venue and I had figured out that putting my show on wasn’t likely to leave me hungry and destitute. All I needed now was a team of people to make the show happen: a director, actors and a technical team – and I’d have this producing malarkey in the bag.  As a theatre graduate and writers’ group regular I assumed (or perhaps naively hoped) that finding a group of super talented and wonderful people would just be a matter of making a few calls. I mean, I was only looking for people to give up their evenings and weekends to work on a show by an unknown writer for free…not much to ask, right?

Well, it’s true that depending on how well connected you are – say, if you’re fresh out of drama school and have loads of mates who are just itching to make some theatre – finding people to work on your show might be no problem at all; but I’d graduated a few years back and most of my old course mates were busy trying to build their own careers, many of them busy working in full time jobs to pay the bills.  Finding the right people who were free and up for working on the project actually turned out to be quite a challenge.

Things to do before you try and get people on board…

To-do list book by Justin See via Flickr Commons
To-do list book by Justin See via Flickr Commons
  1. 1. Make your play as bloody brilliant as it can and should be. If you’re unsure of it, potential directors and actors will be too. Have someone read your work and then polish it to perfection before trying to get people on board.

2. Be organised! While you don’t need to have planned your rehearsal schedule minute for minute (in fact, it’s great to be a bit flexible so that you can work around people’s availability), it’s worth having some idea of how many rehearsals you have in mind and where you might rehearse (I’ll be covering pulling this sort of stuff together later in the series).

3. Adopt a flexible approach. I know, it’s hard to resist the temptation of visualising your performance down to every last detail; but when you get a director on board, they’ll have ideas of their own. If you’re disagreeable about everything, they won’t want to work with you and you’ll come across as a bit of a loon, which is bad. Try to bear in mind that if a theatre ever produces your work, you’ll be handing over your script to a team of people for their interpretation so it’s worth getting used to it before you hit the big time.

Image by Driek via Flickr Commons
Image by Driek via Flickr Commons

What next? Well, I should say here that since my piece was a one-off show on a pitiful budget, my technical team didn’t need to be anything more than a couple of friends willing to earn a pint by turning on the CD player and the lights. So for me, that bit was simple. As a producer of a small scale show like this, you’ll most likely take on the job of sorting out costume, marketing and some of the stage manager duties (although the venue itself will have a manager who will be involved up to a point). Of course, if you’re planning something more elaborate, then you’ll need to hire the relevant people. If you don’t have anyone in mind, I’d suggest asking the venue for recommendations or waiting until you’ve got a director and actors on board so you can ask them for any contacts they might have.

Really, my first big job was to find a director. I would always do this before trying to cast your piece because a) lots of directors prefer to do the casting themselves and b) at the very least, they’ll probably know a fair few actors and save you a lot of stress. It’s definitely worth chatting to the director to agree some creative boundaries before you start. Do you want to be involved with rehearsals? Do you have some actors in mind? How do you feel about the director making cuts to your script? Getting these kind of things out in the open before you start can save you a lot of hassle later – there is nothing more awkward than a battle of wills between the director and the writer in the rehearsal room and a bad atmosphere is never going to make your show better.

Image by Jakub Hlavaty
Image by Jakub Hlavaty

If you really hate the idea of someone else putting their mark on your show and you’re sure you haven’t become corrupted by the overwhelming power of becoming a producer, think about directing it yourself – if you think you’ve got what it takes. Personally, I haven’t got a directorial bone in my body and the thought of running rehearsals scares the living daylights out of me, so this just wasn’t an option. Plus, dare I say it – I think having another person’s input can make your show better. For instance, I pictured my protagonist as a slightly chubby biker, bursting out of his leather jacket; but when the director brought on a tall, skinny guy, it brought a new awkwardness to the character that I hadn’t anticipated – and it made things a whole lot funnier. As it happened, my director was a friend, and we agreed to cast the piece together – but it was more about sharing the workload than me wanting to have creative control.

Image by Michele via Flickr Commons
Image by Michele via Flickr Commons

So, what if you don’t have any director friends? Well, ask around: are any of your friends making theatre? Did you study with any budding directors? Are you a director? If you genuinely don’t know anyone who might know someone who might just be able to put you in touch with someone else who knows a director then perhaps it’s worth taking a step back before you decide to produce your own show. Do a course, join a writers’ group, apply for opportunities (like the ones you find on this site!), go to friends’ shows, mingle, and widen your network before you start. And if this thought genuinely horrifies you, consider finding a social butterfly to co-produce with you.

While it’s possible to find a director through advertising on sites such as Arts Jobs, in my experience, emerging directors are usually very busy folk; they tend to gain their experience by working as assistant directors so they are pretty much worked to the bone. Sure, they might be happy at the opportunity to take the directorial reins for themselves, but it takes a huge leap of faith for them to offer their time to a complete stranger, unless you have some sort of connection (or you’re famous).

Do’s and Don’ts…

  • DO set boundaries before you start.
  • DON’T fib – if someone interpreting your work in a different way is going send you in to a fit of despair, don’t pretend to be as cool as a cucumber just to get a director on board.
  • DON’T be a control freak, and try to be open to new ideas.

In the next post, I’ll be shedding some light on casting and sharing my tips on how to find actors.

Previous Posts: Part 1: Getting Started, Part 2: Finding a venue, Part 3: Budget & Profit

Happy New Year from London Playwrights Blog!

Fireworks in Harlesden, London. Image by Billy Hicks (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons.
Fireworks in Harlesden, London. Image by Billy Hicks (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons.

If you’re anything like us, you’ve probably made new year’s resolutions that involve playwriting; whether it’s to make more time to write, to apply for more writing opportunities or to get that script finished! So, we thought it would be a good time to share with you the exciting stuff we have coming up in 2015:

New original content:  As well as continuing to bring you the latest writing opportunities, this year we’ll be stepping up our original content. We’ve brought on board some talented new contributors who are experienced in the joys and perils of being an emerging playwright. We’ve currently got a couple of them beavering away writing new content, so do watch out for some exciting new posts.

The Dark Horse Script Festival:  This spring, we’ll be branching out from the world of blogging and producing a real-life festival of new writing! We’ve got some of London’s top new writing theatres on board to share with us the best new plays they’ve received from emerging writers. Taking place at a Central London venue this April, it’ll be epic, even if we do say so ourselves. Watch this space for details coming soon.

Mailing List:  Quite a few readers have asked us about a mailing list to be able to hear from us directly to your inbox – we’re currently working on getting this up and running, and you’ll soon be able to sign up for it.

Before you get back to writing that draft, we’d like to say a HUGE thanks for visiting the site over the last year. Our readership has steadily grown beyond our expectations and it’s all down to your support. You’ve spurred us on to develop London Playwrights Blog further so please keep coming back and please share with your friends.

Best wishes,
Alli, Kimberley & Sam

 

How to produce your own work – Part 3: Budgets & Profit

In the third post of the series about bringing her own writing to the stage, Kimberley Andrews talks money: can you produce a show without breaking the bank and should you dare to dream of making a profit?

Image by Jonathan Rolande via Flickr Commons
Image by Jonathan Rolande (www.housebuyfast.co.uk) via Flickr Commons

Producing my own show was many things: it was a small glimpse in to what it might be like to be a producer (two words: hard work). It was fun and at times, chaotic. Most of all it was empowering; not in a ‘holy crap, I think I’ve just become Andrew Lloyd Webber and I’m going to dominate the West End for at least a generation’ kind of way, of course. But it was empowering to know that my work would never again be left to languish in the back of a drawer; all I had to do was pull my socks up and produce it myself.

What producing didn’t do was make me a large sum of money. This wasn’t because nobody bought tickets, in fact we sold out. And it wasn’t because we spent ridiculous amounts of money on elaborate costumes and revolving sets and a live orchestra. It’s just that with numerous outgoings and a limit on what you can charge for tickets, producing a small-scale show is never going to be a great money-spinner. It’s not all bad though – if you stick to a tight budget, you can break even, meaning you have enough money to produce another show in the future…

Image by Jill via Flickr Commons
Image by Jill via Flickr Commons

The first thing I did was to set the ticket price based on what others were charging for similar shows – which in our case, was £6. Now, I could have tallied up my outgoings first and based the ticket prices on covering the total. In fact, I could have charged £200 per ticket and then sipped Piña Colada’s in St Tropez for a couple of weeks on the profits. But I had to be honest with myself, who in the right mind would part with this sort of cash to see a show by an unknown writer? And could I justify increasing the ticket price to cover outgoings when my potential audience could just as well go and book a cheaper show? I wouldn’t have charged less than the ‘going-rate’  either – if you can make a few quid to stick in the pot for future shows and maybe buy yourself a Mars Bar, then go for it.

Setting the ticket price first gave me a clear idea of what kind of money I could spend on my show, which in turn, helped me to budget production costs effectively. The bottom line was that I only stood to make a couple of hundred pound even in the event of the show selling out. In the worse case scenario, if no one bought any tickets, I stood to make absolutely nothing, which as well as being a bit miffed, meant covering production costs out of my own pocket.

Image by Bob Semk via Flickr Commons
Image by Bob Semk via Flickr Commons

Now, like most writers, I don’t have money to burn – old first drafts of scripts maybe, but not money. So, as I was producing a sketch show, with other writers also contributing, I asked them if they’d split the costs with me. Split between 6 people, the £150 hire fee was only £25 each, a small amount to lose if no one turned up.

I was also really frugal about production costs, which meant working everything out beforehand in excruciating detail. Writing a list of everything you need to pay for and then adding it all up isn’t rock n’ roll, but it will stop you from getting a credit card bill that gives you palpitations later on…

Here’s what my outgoings looked like… (Please note that these prices are a couple of years old so will have no doubt increased)

Venue Hire [£150] – while you can get away with minimal set and props and pass it off as a stylistic choice, the cost of the venue is what it is and will most likely take up most of your budget. (See my previous post on finding a venue for tips.)

Actors/ Technical Staff/ Director [£40] – ok, so I didn’t pay mine but I did get them all a card and a bottle of wine to say thank you at the end.

Marketing [£27] – some might argue that you don’t need flyers for a one-off show what with the power of social media these days, but most venues ask for them and they’re useful for sticking on noticeboards etc. I roped in a creative friend who took a photo of a lettuce wearing sunglasses for mine; you don’t have to include stylish salad items but do make them eye-catching. I used a cheap online printing company for mine, a Google search will bring up a plethora of good deals. Getting them in postcard size saves money and you don’t really need more than 100 for a small show.

Props [£10] – I had a character who drank Lambrini and another who ate lots of Wotsits (yeah, it was a classy show), so I did have to purchase some props but do beg, steal and borrow where you can. It’s worth checking out whether the venue has a props store/ random junk cupboard that you can raid or seeing if you can call in favours from friends who work in theatres or drama schools. If not, hit the charity shops or raid your own wardrobe.

Printing [£0] – you’ll be expected to print out scripts for actors and programmes for the night, I managed to do mine for free because I work in an office but if you do have to pay, you can keep the cost down by getting rid of page breaks after scenes and keeping the programmes in black and white and on one page only. And if you don’t have a printer, avoid getting stung by expensive internet cafe’s by doing your printing at the library. If you’re doing a script-in-hand performance and you make lots of edits during rehearsal, you may need to print off edited copies for the performance, so do try to budget for that too.

Bits and bobs [£10] – bear in mind that there’ll always be a few extras involved, perhaps you’ll need a chat with the director and you’ll want to get them a coffee or maybe someone will misplace a prop on the day and you’ll have to run out and replace it.

Total outgoing: £237

Just for the record – at the time, the Hen & Chickens deducted £1.50 from each ticket for a membership scheme. So, although we sold tickets at £6, in reality, we got £4.50. We sold 54 tickets meaning we made a grand total of £243 and a profit of a whole £6! Mars Bars all round then…

My three top tips:

  1. Split the costs! If you haven’t got other writers contributing, ask the director or see if you can bring a co-producer on board. Not only will you reduce your own financial risk but you’ll getting extra commitment from contributors who won’t want to lose their money by dropping out at the last minute.
  2. Share the profits! Of course, if you’re splitting costs, it goes without saying that you have to split your profits, unless you want to lose friends. That also goes for actors or technical staff that you aren’t paying
  3.  Say thanks! If people have worked for free, get them a thank you card and a bottle of wine or a drink at the bar after the show. But don’t go nuts and spend a fortune on gifts, if you can afford to do this I think most struggling artists would just prefer the cash.

    Image by AForestFrolic via Flickr Commons
    Image by AForestFrolic via Flickr Commons

Next time Kimberley discusses casting: where to find actors, whether you should feed them and what to expect when you’re asking people to work for free. Previous posts: Part 1: Getting Started & Part 2: Finding a venue

Don’t Kill Your Darlings: Writing in a Relationship

Image by Calvin YC via Flickr Commons
Image by Calvin YC via Flickr Commons

When I was single, writing was easy. I kept my own schedule and I wrote when I wanted. My room was my own: I had a desk in the corner, though I preferred writing in bed, and I would have writing binges deep into the small hours or across big swaths of time at the weekend.

But then I met someone. Tall guy, lovely eyes, big beaming smile. I wanted to spend all my time with him. I went out with him, I stayed in with him, and suddenly all of that alone time I’d been used to before became a much more precious commodity. When I did have it, I was usually exhausted, and wanted to spend it conked out in bed watching Gilmore Girls. (Great dialogue; don’t judge). Getting time at the keyboard became harder and harder, and I noticed my writing starting to suffer.

I tried to handle this by saying no to things – no, I don’t want to go for a walk in the park. No, I don’t want to hear that band play at the warehouse party. No, I don’t want to come for a curry on Brick Lane. But I wasn’t very good at it. When I said no to things, it just made us both disappointed. And unhappy. And that’s no way to live life in your early twenties, so I went back to saying yes again. I was happier, but no more productive. I kept telling myself I’d do something about it, but I never did.

And then I moved in with him. And all of a sudden, everything was different. He was there all the time. My room was not my own any more: I couldn’t stay up until 4 in the morning writing a script, and there was always someone in the house with me: someone I always wanted to spend time with. Love does terrible things to your self-control. Writing became the ultimate antisocial activity, and I lost all my momentum: I stalled completely. I had a full-time job and a full-time grown-up relationship, and my writing was slipping away from me.

As Simon Stephens said, if you want to be a writer, you have to actually… you know, write sometimes. I can’t put my finger on what made me get my arse in gear and pull myself out of the slump, but I realised that the shape of my life had changed – and that if I wanted to stay a writer, my writing would have to find a way to change too.

I committed to taking writing seriously again, and I tried to write every day, because I read somewhere that you should. This sounded like a lot of work, but it turned out it was a lot like jumping into a cold pool: terrifying before you do it, but fine once you’re swimming lengths. The trouble, I found, when I looked through my diary, was finding the time to put those hours in at all.

I decided to use the thing that had almost killed my writing to try and revive it: my schedule. Back as a shift-working MA student singleton, my diary moved in fits and starts, and I was free to binge at the keyboard freely and randomly. But that’s no longer true. I have a schedule and so does my boyfriend, and so I had to find a way to create sacrosanct writing time that fitted around both of them.

I decided to target the mornings. My boyfriend is a musician, and works sporadic hours, but he’s often out late on a gig and sleeps later than I do. I started waking up earlier to grab some time in the next room while he’s still sleeping, quietly eating breakfast and whispering my dialogue out loud for an hour or so every morning before I head off to work. I try and block out at least one evening a week, too, and I mark this out in my calendar as far in advance as I can so that he and I both have fair warning.

Scheduling around one another works well, but sometimes you just have to leave your other half alone to spend time with your writing – it’s your life’s other full time relationship. And I know this kind of thing can cause rifts.

As a musician, my other half is a creative type himself, so he understands how this works, even if his process is completely different – louder, for a start, and much more sociable. But the fact that he knows what it’s like to write something, to shut yourself away and try and conjure something from nothing, is a big help in empathising. And that empathy is what I’m most grateful for. If the person you love doesn’t understand or won’t support your writing, then that’s a serious problem no amount of scheduling will overcome.

The reality is that it will probably feel much worse for you abandoning your other half of an evening than it will for them – you’re the one making Sophie’s Choice between them and the page, and they’re the one who gets to watch telly while you work. But you have to be brutal about your writing, otherwise it will never happen. Brutal to yourself, and sometimes to your partner. Your life is going to go through many shifts in shape and size over the years, and you have to help your writing through them – even if it means spending a little less time with a person you love.

How to produce your own work – Part 2: Finding a venue

Kimberley Andrews continues her quest to bring her own writing to the stage, sharing her top tips along the way. In the second post of the series, she looks at venues: how to find them, what to expect from them and when to run away screaming.

In my case, finding a venue required looking no further than out of my bedroom window. At the time, I lived across the road from the Hen & Chickens Theatre Bar in Islington and almost every night I would hear the lively chatter of a satisfied and slightly tipsy audience leaving the pub after a show. Whenever I found myself in there, which was frequently, given that my flat had a rubbish heating system and was nowhere near as well stocked with wine, it was always jam-packed and the atmosphere welcoming.  Like many of the punters, I’d often like the look of whatever show was on that night and on the spur of the moment decide to buy a ticket; usually I’d be disappointed to find that the show was sold out.

70_the_hen_and_chickens_theatre_bar_01

Of course, my research wasn’t as lazy as ‘we can see in to each other’s windows and they do a nice Sauvignon Blanc’. On the contrary, because I knew the theatre so well, my investigation was really quite in depth (I practically lived in the place for goodness sake). I knew what kind of work they produced, what the space was like and that the drinks prices wouldn’t force my audience in to drinking tap water. Importantly, I knew that it was near the tube, which left no excuses for those south-of- the-river folks who are inclined to treat a trip to North London like a trip to John O’ Groats (don’t underestimate good transport links, even your best mate is likely feign the death of their dog at the prospect of getting five buses to see your show).

Image by Kevin O'Mara via Flickr Commons
Image by Kevin O’Mara via Flickr Commons

I’m not suggesting that in order to find the right venue you need to live in such close proximity that there’s a good chance they’ll see you putting your PJ’s on at night, I’m just pointing out that it’s worth doing your research in person to make sure a theatre is right for your show. Be prepared to visit several places before you find ‘the one’ but hey, if you’re looking at theatre bars this basically means you can visit pubs and legitimately call it research (hooray).  I should probably add here that as an inexperienced producer, my search was confined to smaller fringe venues – I had a hunch that the Globe wouldn’t have a slot for me somehow (sigh)…

Once you’ve loitered in a theatre for long enough to know you like it, you just need to make yourself known to the theatre manager. This can seem daunting to us writers who are used to festering in solitary confinements talking only to our laptops but it really is just a matter of enquiring at the bar or, if you want to be modern about it, getting contact details from the website. Even better if you know someone who works at the theatre who can introduce you and vouch for your greatness.

Once I’d got the details, I sent out a nice, friendly (without being creepy) email, including as much as I could to show that I was capable, prepared and willing to pull out the stops to make the show a success. That said, I’d recommend being concise: they don’t want to read your life memoirs or radical plans for refurbishing the theatre ready for your show. I didn’t send any material at this stage but I did make sure scripts were written and polished, just in case they asked. As a guide, here’s what I included in my email:

  • A paragraph about my background and relevant experience.
  • A one sentence summary of my show and the length of the run I was hoping for.
  • An  explanation of why it would be a good fit for their space.
  • Details of how amazing and talented the other people involved in the project were (it’s useful at this stage to have a director attached but you wouldn’t be expected to have a cast yet).
  • A rough idea of when I wanted my show to take place – this should be at least 3 months in advance for a one-off show and more for a longer run.  

Once meetings were in place, I was geeky enough to type up a list of questions to ask them; this comes in useful if, like me, you’re likely to lose your head  at the thought of donning some Victorian attire from the props cupboard as soon as you enter the theatre.

Image from Flickr Commons
Image from Flickr Commons

10 things to ask the theatre manager

    1. How much? How much? How much?! What does the venue charge for hire and do they take anything from your box office takings?
    2. Is any rehearsal space included? I wouldn’t hold your breath for anything more than a couple of hours on performance night, but hey, you can ask…
    3. Do I need to bring any staff with me, such as a tech or someone to manage the door?
    4. What’s available in terms of lighting, sound and set? Will I need to pay a technician fee for this support?
    5. Are there any rules and regulations about the space? (including get-in and get out times
    6. Is any marketing included? EG, will my show be listed on your website?  What marketing will they expect you to do on your own – create Facebook group, provide flyers, etc?
    7. How many seats are there? And are all of them for sale or are some of them reserved for production/ theatre staff? Always check this as theatres have strict fire regulations and might not be happy about your production team cramming in to a cupboard because you haven’t sorted seats out for them.
    8. Do they offer any discounts/ help to new writers? EG, could they give you a slot at a reduced rate for a time when they are unlikely to get another booking? Although, please see  anecdote below about so-called good deals!
    9. Is there a space behind the stage for the actors to wait and to put props?  Will it be possible to visit with the director to see what this space looks like?  This may be particularly important if you’re playing on an off-night of a show that’s already using the space.
    10. Can I have a contract, please? Ok, so the answer to some of the above questions will be in the contract but always worth double checking that the details match up.  Make sure you get any arrangements you’ve agreed in writing.

I learned some valuable lessons from meeting with several theatres: mainly to be wary of so-called ‘good deals’. One theatre, who shall remain nameless, offered me what first appeared to be the best deal ever. They offered hire of their venue for a whole week for no upfront cost. All they asked is that I repaid them from the box office takings. Apparently, they were keen to help out new writers and they had a free week in their calendar that they were unlikely to get a booking for (since most of their shows ran for three weeks or more). I thought all my Christmasses had come at once! A theatre, for a week, for FREE! I was about to give the theatre manager an awkwardly enthusiastic hug when they casually mentioned that they’d also need a cheque from me for the full cost of hire for the week that they would only cash in if I didn’t sell enough tickets. Suddenly, the deal didn’t seem so good after all but at least my urge for hugging an almost total stranger had passed.

Sure, it was helpful of them not ask for money up front and if you can be certain that you’ll sell enough tickets then it’s a win-win, however, I still think it would be wise to have that cheque covered just in case. Personally, if I’d had the money to cover the cheque without missing my rent and going hungry for a month, I’d have just paid for the venue upfront in the first place. And no discount for hiring the theatre during a week that no one else wants….oh thanks. Needless to say, I politely declined the offer, and left the meeting slightly deflated but safe in the knowledge that I hadn’t gambled with money I didn’t have in order to fund my show.

Apart from this random not-so-good deal, I found that most of the venues I met with had similar terms and rates so I decided to go with the Hen & Chickens, after all, it was already my second home…

In the next post, I’ll be looking at how to finance a show without making yourself destitute or tearing your hair out over sums.

Previous post: Part 1: Getting Started

 

How to train yourself to write every morning

Image: Tamas Debrei
Image: Tamas Debrei

Trying to fit regular writing time into your life can be a really daunting task. Some of us are lucky enough to have the flexibility to write whenever we want, but for most people, long term commitments like work, family and relationships can make regular time at the keyboard difficult to get a handle on. And it’s often the first thing to go when you’re going through a period of stress. Writing is like a muscle: the more you practise, the easier it gets. And without regular practise, your writing’s unlikely to get better.

A little while ago I went through a really dry period where my writing pretty much ground to a halt. I’d taken on a new job, moved in with someone, and lost a lot of the usual rhythms that led me to write. I’d tried kidding myself that it would just happen: that one of these days I’d be less busy, that I would find the time to sit at my desk and start typing merrily away, but I never did.

I realised the only way that I was going to get my writing mojo back was by beating myself into shape with a writing schedule. I needed to hardwire writing time into my life – and after taking a look at my weekly routine, I realised that reclaiming my mornings would be the best way to go about it. I thought if I carved out some time before work, I could get back into writing properly.

But how to do it? I had grown used to late nights and lie-ins, and the thought of rising early to fit in an hour or so before work filled me with a groggy-headed dread. But in practice, it wasn’t so bad at all – as long as I followed a few rules I set for myself.

Everyone has their own of working, but these are my top tips for making early morning writing a sustainable part of your routine:

Don’t wake up too early. We all need to sleep. Margaret Thatcher may have been able to make it through on only 4 hours a night, but needing 8 is much more normal. Don’t skimp: you’ll get exhausted, make yourself ill, and your writing will suffer. Take a careful look at your schedule and set a realistic wake-up time – and know what time you should be going to sleep. It’s better to have 20 minutes of writing time on a full night’s sleep than an hour without.

Don’t write on an empty stomach. The last thing you want is to ruin your writing time with a growling tummy. Roll straight out of bed and into the kitchen to make yourself a simple breakfast while your mind wakes up. Take time to eat it properly, too. Don’t try to eat and write – far too messy. Read the paper, check Facebook or listen to music – but then be ready to go straight to the keyboard as soon as you’re finished.

Do it in your pyjamas. Write first, wash later. Whenever I get ready for work, all the little tasks have a funny way of expanding to fit the time available. Leave yourself enough time to get ready once you’ve finished writing, but prioritise your time at the page. If you’re late, be late because you had an amazing writing session, not because you spent too long in the shower.

Find a place to do it. Don’t improvise; take this seriously. Whether it’s at a desk or curled up on a sofa, find yourself a writing nook and make sure you show up there every time. It’ll help you stick to the habit. Try to avoid the bed, as this can interfere with your sleep hygiene – yes that’s a real thing – which can have negative effects on your sleep, and your writing.

Make sure you’re ready to go the night before. Lay out your books, your pens, your computer, and unclutter your writing nook so you can just walk in and get started. Unf**k Your Habitat have great tips for keeping your work area tidy. Make sure you have what you need for your quick breakfast, too.

Don’t put any pressure on yourself. Don’t set a word count; don’t set a goal. All you’re trying to do is show up at the page and write. You don’t need the stress of deadlines getting in your way. Some days you will do really well, and other days it will be like pulling teeth – so don’t beat yourself up about the inevitable dry spells.

Make sure you’re stocked with inspiration. If you like working from writing prompts, make sure you have some lined up to get you going. If you get stuck and find yourself casting around for an idea, make sure you’ve got some nice books or images to hand. If you’re going to be doing something else, like editing a scene or developing a character, make sure you’ve decided what it is before you show up. You don’t want to waste time trying to work out what you should be doing.

Have a backup plan. Sometimes you will have bad days where you can’t write anything. You might be ill, you might be knackered, your laptop might die. Or there might be no reason at all. It happens. But when it does, try to use that time in another constructive way – maybe read something inspiring, go back over an old draft, brainstorm a character, or even just doodle something to get your mind moving.

Know when not to do it. Don’t be too hardcore about this. Good writing doesn’t come from working yourself into the ground. If you’re unwell, if you’re exhausted, if you’re stressed by something major happening in your life, don’t feel awful about taking a morning off to steal some sleep or do something else you really have to get done. If I’m having a hard week at work, I normally take Thursday morning off and have a lie-in instead. That extra hour of sleep helps me make it through the week – and one good Friday morning is better than two mornings of exhausted rubbish. Just make sure you’re not making excuses to let yourself slack off.

Be prepared to get better. At first, just waking up and typing the date may well be challenging enough for you. But the more you practice writing, the better you’ll get at it – so be prepared to move on. You may start to find automatic writing boring – see this as a good thing, as it means you should be trying something more challenging. Try more demanding exercises, or start working on project that means something to you.

Don’t pretend this is everything. Writing for short, sustained periods in the morning is a great way to revitalise your writing life, but it can’t replace the proper commitment of longer amounts of time spent at the keyboard. Block out a regular evening once a week to do more of the heavy lifting, think about taking the occasional writing holiday for a few days running, or just fit in a few hours once a week wherever you can. Whatever you do, you’ll find your morning routine leaves you feeling better prepared, your mind clearer, and your writing sharper.