We thought we’d each offer a perspective on our Fresh Ink Mentorship. We hope there are a few gems in here, reassurances, encouragement, and honest reflections. You’ll see a few themes emerging; the value of community and the importance of finding space for your work, how crushing existential angst dissipates quite quickly once you get a few writers in a room. We’ve all learned that once you get out there and find your tribe the writing process gets moving, usually in unexpected ways. That’s something to look out for: the unexpected, the unknown, the space in-between where the lights go down and something new emerges.
Grace, Lochy, Lucy, Peter and Sophia
I love to read but I haven’t read nearly enough plays (not even nearly nearly enough). And to be shamefacedly honest, I’ve rarely felt inclined to, aside from being told I ought to, and knowing that to be a good playwright/writer in general, I need to. Guilt will get me over the line eventually, but I suspect—if this program so far is something to go by—guilt will probably be (if not already has been) overtaken by a genuine want to read more and more plays pronto. Anyway, the point in me ‘confessing’ this is that reading plays is not what attracted me to playwriting. I know that’s no bombshell necessarily, and that this may well be the truth for many people. But what made me consider a pursuit of playwriting was/is the feeling of sitting in a theatre as the lights go down. Even if I don’t end up engaged by the play, I always get that anticipatory relief from sitting in my seat and letting ‘real-world-stuff’ dim with the lights, just before I’m told a story. So I like the physical space of the theatre, and this for a long time has been divorced from the words on a page of a play.
In the past months, it is the physical space stuff of this program that I’ve reacted to most strongly or excitedly. Let me put a caveat on that and say that I know the Really Valuable Stuff is so much more than the spaces we’ve worked in. If I can list a few: the friends I’ve met through this program, our conversations and camaraderie, the exposure I get to this area of writing I’m not overly familiar with, the guidance and support we get from our mentor—and from everyone in our little band of writers—learning stuff just all the time, I could go on but etcetera. Going back to the physical, though, I’ve been lucky enough to see some spaces that have always seemed out of bounds for me. Spending a day shut in rehearsal rooms of theatres feels really… cool. I dunno, I’ve always liked the artificial-ness of the stage, and somehow the rehearsal rooms are an extension of that. There’s something about these rooms without windows that pocket us away from the real world and natural light that excites that feeling of sitting down to a play. I can exit from the aforementioned ‘real-world-stuff’ and be absorbed completely in play-stuff until the end of the day when I go outside and blink under the afternoon sun.
I didn’t start analysing why I like this so much until I had to write something for the blog, so it’s fortuitous that I can make this come somewhat full circle in a hopefully not too hokey way. I guess our meetings have been an extended (but episodic) sit-down-lights-down moment. It’s all about extension, really, for me. And this is where the Really Valuable Stuff comes back in because all the things I listed are the things that have extended me and my love of writing and the theatre. I’m learning to reconcile the divorce between the page and the play, I’m seeing how other people (established playwrights and the people in my group) manage to do this, and this program has given me the chance to produce some pages of my own. And that’s a skim version of what I’ve learned so far.
I’m fortunate enough to have housemates that are indefatigable soundboards for my muddled ravings. For those with less tolerant friends the opportunity to bounce ideas off others is a rare and invaluable resource. It can be challenging to pin down any group of artists in order to collaborate. Even if you can get to that stage the flood of ideas may turn into highly exciting and creative mush for lack of a guiding hand. But if you can do it right, some exciting things start to take shape. We’ve honed our skills and developed our own voice. We have new tools to excavate every idea we hit upon. Sometimes we strike bedrock. Sometimes gold. Sometimes it’s something that we’re not quite sure about so we put it away for later. Maybe when we come back to it we’ll have more in our toolkit. Who knows what it’ll be by then? More than all this, though; we’ve fostered an artistic community. People we know have the zeal, the talent and the skills to build something spectacular. I’m excited and I’m invested. That can be a rarity in an artistic pursuit. I’m lucky to have it.
Writing is a solitary pursuit. At a cafe, at your writing desk, curled in bed with a notebook and a crick in your neck, writers spend a lot of time working alone. And when creative types spend too much time alone, we tend to get into our own heads. Scowl down at the pages. No talent. No discipline. My past successes were all flukes and soon I will disappoint everyone I have ever known before dying alone in a gutter (and not a star in sight.)
And then you meet up with your playwriting group. They liked your piece, they say, unbelievably. It reminded them – they thought of – they wonder if you’ve read this article, that novel, heard this song…? You fill a page of your notebook with reading recommendations, another page with ideas for new places to take a piece you were so convinced was worse than worthless. Your mentor asks a couple of effortless questions that go off like grenades in your brain until you’re running out of room to scribble notes in the margins. And when you mention your bad habits (procrastination! over-editing! endless self-recrimination!), instead of your own internal echo chamber of guilt, you hear recognition, laughter, ways to overcome it all. Reassurance. Community. These clever, thoughtful, luminous people whose work you so admire, they’ve got insecurities too. Maybe you’re not so bad. Maybe the gutter isn’t calling just yet.
I’ve learned all kinds of valuable things about the craft itself – technique, characterization, dramaturgy, space and sound and language. I’ve written more over the course of this mentorship than I have in years. Our brilliant mentor Nicki Bloom has given us such a wealth of new techniques and innovative approaches to try that we’ll probably never reach the bottom of them. But the paradigm shift I wasn’t expecting was the absolute joy of finding a place in a community of writers. Writing is a solitary art form, but we don’t have to be lonely ghosts brooding in the corners of cafes or the backs of buses. We can help each other. I just hope I’ve given back even a little of what I’ve gained.
You can’t predict what happens when six people start telling stories. Along the way we pitch plays, discover Einar Schleef, there’s writing and workshops and re-writing. We share our favourite films and books and plays. We begin understanding the processes of discovery, following impulses so that blank pages become opportunities. We hear the Nation Play Festival is coming to Adelaide (exciting) our host, Urban Myth Theatre Company, dissolves (disheartening).
We meet in coffee shops and theatres and foster a community. Theatre is collaborative, it is produced by communities, and the gestation of new work, new writing, needs this kind of energy behind it. As young and emerging playwrights, the opportunity to establish the space and time to write, with an audience to meet our early drafts is exciting, and will sustain our practice. When you put six people in a room and they start telling stories, some excellent things can happen.
I’ve recently been reading a lot about the daily routines of other artists in order to improve my own work habits. Usually I either try to do everything at once, promptly becoming overwhelmed, or I don’t do anything at all and become overwhelmed later on. Most of the writers I have researched talk about a few common things: setting a repeatable routine, making time for other things in life (friends etc.), becoming more comfortable with writing badly and lastly, they just get on with it.
I have found this mentorship to contain a little bit of all of these things, routine, friends, bad writing (my own, and done joyously), and lots of getting on with it – or rather, we work. It’s really quite fantastic. I’ve written things I might never look at again and I’ve written things I’m quite proud of, but most importantly, I’ve done a lot of writing.
Meeting in a room with such different and uniquely talented people on a regular basis, led by the always encouraging and motivating Nicki Bloom, has been the best thing to happen to my writing practice. I have developed so many ideas and been encouraged to think about my work and playwriting in different and exciting ways. I hope to continue to work with my new found writing crew after the mentorship is over and I am certainly going to miss the routine of coming together and having a reason to keep working, hopefully we can continue to push each other after it’s over and continue to foster the little community we have created.
The Fresh Ink Mentoring program is running in Adelaide, Sydney and Perth in 2014. These five writers have been working with Nicki Bloom for the year to develop their playwriting craft. Their final showings are on the 10th of December. For more information about Fresh Ink Mentoring click here.