It’s that exciting time – researching, imagining the territory, scratching out the first traces of what may develop into a character’s voice, journey, temperament, discoveries… I’m starting out on a new play, creating the anarchic, formless, sprawling mosaic of half-monologues, author’s questions and asides, indications of dynamic and interaction in snatches of dialogue, hastily written notes about place and action which eventually come together to create an image of the world of the play…
As a playwright, I’m not a planner. I know all the tricks and approaches, the theories and proposed practices. I’ve read the books, been to the seminars, taken and led the workshops. I know how it’s done and am known for my skills with dramaturgy and structure, yet my own process at the start of a new play is deliberately chaotic and to a planner’s eye, undisciplined. I give myself free rein to follow any wild association that pings in my head, to research in unlikely places so long as there is a chord resounding in me, to scrawl pages of notes and questions and one liners and ‘what ifs’ and scratching outs and a) b) c) d) versions of what may happen and whose emerging voice it may be and what this might really be about…
I read widely and eclectically – a medieval Welsh myth in translation, a misery memoir on abduction and a Victorian botanical primer (with delicious, delicate hand-painted illustrative plates) in the past four days alone. I’ve read about stamens and ovules; the flora and fauna of the New Forest; an American Survivalist’s blog on going off-grid and an Austrian’s guide for surviving trauma. I’ve seasoned this with playlists of new-to-me musicians and composers selected by my nephews and images from photographers’ blogs on remote places and abandoned buildings.
I’m immersing myself in whatever snags my interest or resonates for the perceived journey ahead. I’m not being selective or critical. I’m dipping in like a swift tips the surface of a lake, sampling, trying, flying on, keeping moving. I’ve learnt how seductive research can be. I know how it can engross you, consume you, and become either yet another form of procrastination, preventing you from getting down to the job in hand – writing – or it can weigh you and the project down, words research-heavy, too dense to soar.
I carry my diverse and immersive research lightly, although I abandon myself to its pleasures for a short time. This I think is where experience comes in – knowing when to stop both the task at hand and the whole process itself. It is also important to learn how to notate, to skim off what is of interest and potentially of use to your project, keeping always a little distance from what you are engaged in, however addictive. It is also essential to capture the thoughts that flit across your imagination before they dissipate in the air.
Have always a notebook or computer nearby. Don’t con yourself. You will not remember. Jot it down, and now, and see if the thought can be expressed in the character’s voice – the character not yet invented, nevermind realised – this is our paradoxical task but one which can’t be avoided or put off. Send away any inner critic and don’t worry how and what you write so long as you let the impulse flow through you and into the pen/keys; shake yourself out of research pleasure, which ironically often manifests in idleness. Try shaping into scrawled notes that shapeless thought clouding your mind. Get it down and keep moving – you can come look at it again, later. Travel fast, travel with curiosity and an open mind, travel well.
More on my process of starting to write will follow….