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Writing can be a solitary pursuit, but it doesn’t have to be… maybe it’s time to leave the house and get out of your own head. By Jay Harley
The actual work of writing, putting pen to paper or furiously tapping away at your keyboard, is very often a solo slog. However, there is so much more to writing. For any medium, from novels to theatre and the screen, so much of writing is collaborative. The following is an exploration of the excuses and opportunities you can use to get out of your front door.
Commune with nature
Okay, I realise I might lose you here. I’m lucky enough to live in a green and pleasant land, of rolling hills studded by sheep and dancing flocks of calling birds. And midges, loads of midges. You may not have ready access to this, but can you get to a beach, a lake, a mountain, a forest, or even a local park for a short time? Somewhere away from screens and people and the obstacles you put between yourself and your work?
If you can, you might just find that blowing out the cobwebs and allowing yourself time and space to think can be the best inspiration. I once stayed in a very cut-off chalet in Sweden and by the end of twenty-four hours there had written a short film and an outline to expand it into a feature, all based on the creepy-beautiful surroundings.
Alternately, if you’re surrounded by cows on the regular, maybe take a trip into the city and soak up the atmosphere of bustling crowds. A change of scene, the action of “getting away from it all” and allowing yourself to experience a new place in the moment, can be a thoroughly expansive experience. That’s enough hippy talk from me, but you get the gist.
The art of ear-wigging and ‘borrowing’
Inspiration can come from within, but real people are a fantastic source; whether that’s your circle of friends or the local eccentrics you overhear at your nearest coffee shop. Frequently my Script Angel writing clients confess to me that their best and most-beloved characters are based on real people; their dotty cousin, a friend they made at school, an overbearing monster at their parent teacher association. All of these people are there for the taking; or the borrowing if that sounds more palatable.
If you’re stuck, try nipping into a coffee shop, café or bar with your expensive notebook and signature fountain pen. Listen out for interesting tid-bits, then listen in. If this seems like your worst nightmare, then please, don’t do it. However if you hear someone remonstrating loudly, ranting in over-the-top, performative ways, they are putting it out there for the taking and you should have no qualms about jotting down quick notes; a turn of phrase or just an observation of the kinds of ridiculous things that cause people to complain.
Yes, you are an original and wildly imaginative creature, but you might be amazed how the tiniest comment can be used as a springboard for your own creativity. You also might be able to ground something you’re struggling with in authenticity, even if it’s outside your own experience.
See some stuff
Netflix is great, but theatre, live music performance, local story nights are essential to keep you in the loop. We don’t all live in walking distance of a buzzing, creative metropolis, but unless you go looking, you might be missing out on exciting inspiration within reach. In my nearest small town, I recently watched an Edinburgh preview for a show that was about trans identity. It was fine, but honestly, the reason I went was to check out the audience and see if there was a trans community local to me. You might be pleasantly surprised and find like-minded souls as well as seeing a fantastic show that blows you away.
At the research phase, there is a world of information at your fingertips whenever you pick up your phone or open up your laptop. Instead, why not visit a library or museum, make an appointment to meet with an expert in a relevant field. Remember, any writer on any subject can pull a quote from Wikipedia, but anecdotal, personal and unique insight can come from more interesting sources out in the real world.
Networking is not a dirty word
Making connections among writers at a similar stage to you is not about getting to know the competition, it’s more about making allies. Other writers in the same boat will be your best cheerleaders, sharing opportunities and perhaps reading your scripts or collaborating on future projects. I have writer buddies from when I started out who are still among my best friends and I’m never less than delighted when they have some kind of success.
Also, I’m guessing, in your house, you’re not going to run into producers, agents or anyone who can help with your career. It can be costly to make it to big, industry events in London. However, when you have something ready to pitch, you are going to have to leave your house to make the contacts who will want to hear it.
I’ve written about the mythology of the writer before, but you don’t have to lock yourself away from the world and suffer in silence to create good work. If you lack focus, it can be helpful to shut out the distractions for a time, but keeping connected will keep your writing alive. When you write you’re communicating something to the world. Look upon the above interactions as part of an ongoing conversation, that will keep you, and therefore your scripts, informed.