The learning curve

What I’ve learnt about myself in the past 12 months. And what I’ve learnt about writing.

Whenever I sit down to write, I’m aware that I’m wearing two hats…that of playwright and the one I put on when I’m teaching. Even as I type this, I’m thinking, ‘Is my grammar correct? Will people be judging me on my sentence structure, use of vocabulary, my punctuation?’ The truth is, I’m quite a lazy writer by nature. Scratch that, lazy is wrong – I’m pretty damn industrious but in terms of approach, you could say I’m laid back. Yep, that’s better. And add scatty. But it’s never hindered me. Let me explain.

Some people know that I’ve got OCD. Not in the ‘Oh man, I’m really OCD about cleaning,  can’t stand to go to bed without washing up’ kind of way. I mean the real one, that makes you worry about routines and rituals and what will happen if you break them. It’s not fun, but after 30 years, I know how to manage my life in way that avoids meltdowns. Most of the time. I like to think of myself as a high-functioning basket case, an image I love. Baskets are woven from stiff material and are great at carrying all manner of things. That’s me.

But I never realised how much my struggles with health would inform not just the content of my writing, but also my approach. People sometimes talk about how cathartic writing can be, which I definitely agree with. I started writing aged 8 at the start of my journey with anxiety. I used to express my feelings in rambling poems and stories, finding comfort in the solid structure of rhyme. I enjoyed reading fantasy novels (I loved the Hobbit and first read the Lord of the Rings when I was 9) and would spend hours alone with a pad and pen creating my own fantastical characters and worlds. At other times, I would just write lists – my favourite songs, places I wanted to visit, words that made me feel happy. This is a habit I continue today and have notebook upon notebook of lists and ideas. I’ll have to share some of them one day.

Some of the lines from Red Snapper came from these notebooks. The Patois Manifesto came from a poem I’d started writing about human rights, back in early 2013. One of Myrtle’s rants is almost word for word one of my own rants, scribbled in pencil during a difficult time in late 2014, when I was particularly unwell and walking on crutches for several weeks. And some of the silly food references were brain-dumps I did when I was having crazy thoughts just before I started Critical Mass. Now they’re lines in the mouths of some brilliant characters and I chuckle whenever I hear them read. 

So what have a learnt in the past 12 months, that I perhaps didn’t know or believe before?

  • I can finish things
  • My words can make a difference
  • Beauty can emerge from chaos
  • Every draft has a purpose
  • Notes are as important as the finished piece
  • Criticism can be an awesome tool for growth
  • A play is still a play even if it’s not performed
  • Editing can be fun
  • Editing with cake is more funner
  • It’s okay to make words up