Sunday, 6 October 2013

Getting the balance right

I’ve been thinking a lot about being a writer recently, mainly because I haven’t been doing much writing. I’ve been doing all the other things I do alongside my work as a writer producing, digital marketing workshops, running writing groups and of course when the mortgage gets too demanding and other projects aren’t lining up quite right to fill the bank account on designated days then I pretty much do any part-time job to hand which will fit around everything else in my life.

Earlier in the summer I worked in a cafe, at the moment I’m cleaning.
I used to have a full-time, decent wage earning type job and it was nice to not worry about bills about it was very difficult to manage production work and writing alongside it. I was made redundant - I had a choice to make and it seemed an opportunity to take a leap which I did. Mainly it’s been going really well with the things I do to sustain my writing - several creative projects heading in the direction of funding, more bookings for digital marketing workshops. As for my writing I’ve had a short play produced at the Royal Court. I’ll say that again because I like saying it. I’ve had a short play produced at the Royal Court.

My short play One Hour and Forty Five Minutes, written for Dirty Protest as part of their plays-in-a-bag project, was selected to be presented as at Royal Court’s Surprise Theatre.
I said it three times but who’s counting.

It was presented again at Theatr Clwyd’s Picnic Plays. It’s says on the website I’m an up-and-coming writer.
As most up and coming writers and more established writers know it’s difficult to earn a living from writing and I’m one of very many who find themselves needing to supplement their incomes. As I wander round town covered in bleach stained clothes at the moment I do find myself feeling the need to remind other people I’m a writer though I don’t need to remind myself.

The thing I know is that the decent wage earning type job I did for eight years may well have paid the bills easily but in eight years the job itself created exactly four ideas for scripts. Four – in eight years. Not a very good success rate really. All the other scripts I wrote in those years came from elsewhere – the magic box of ideas!
My play One Hour and Forty five Minutes was inspired by three months working in a cafe, and working in the cafe for three months gave me at least three other ideas for scripts and endless research on characters.  My play, produced at the Royal Court (okay four times) would not have been written had I not been working in the cafe. The idea germinated from a day of wandering about with a bag of sharpened knives.

My work as a cleaner has made me resurrect an old short play which featured a cleaner and it was a nice little idea but do you know what has made it burst back into life and become a sharper more focused idea? Working as a cleaner.
As I clean rooms imbued with the lives that have been lived in them and move abandoned belongings my head fills with fleshed out characters because they have houses, rooms to walk around, belongings to leave behind. I do workshops about creating characters and working as a cleaner has given me a new character building exercise – think about your character packing up to leave a house, think about them looking about them in an empty house, what do they think about, what are the memories of the home filling their mind as they switch the lights off, what belongings do they choose to throw into a black bin bag rather than take them with them, why don’t they want to take those belongings, what memories make them what to bin the belongings rather than keep them. Answer those few questions and I bet you have a fully fleshed out character.

I’m not really sure what advice I’m trying to give. A writer writes, that goes without saying. But also a writer feeds off everything around them. Everything is a source of inspiration, everything is a scratched note in a notebook waiting to find it’s way into a story. And if you're doing a job to sustain you while you work you really need to ensure the job is something that feeds not only your stomach but your writing. People talk about life/work balances but we're writers so the most important thing or us to check is our writing/life/work balance.
As new students start their courses at the university I see their eager faces filled with dreams of acting, writing, directing – as I walk passed them on the street covered in the dirt of their houses – and I hope their dreams come true but it’s likely their dream will take a little work, and a little work on the side. Many of them will abandon their dreams or drift from them towards careers they'll get the balance wrong and it can be really difficult to get the balance back once you start to sway. But it’s important to keep dreaming and keep doing whatever you need to do to keep the dream alive and give you enough hours to pursue it. And I think I’m not really advising anyone I’m just writing this for myself to remind myself it’s okay, two years ago I was an emerging writer, now I’m up and coming.

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