Tom Derrington on suffering writers block
Continuing his monthly diary for Everything Theatre, Tom Derrington talks about what happens when the dreaded writers block takes hold, along with the highs and lows that go with trying to find that big break as a writer.
At some point in early July, I tripped and fell face first into writers block!
I’m stuck. Barely written anything in months and what little I have managed to get down is entirely shit and will never be read by another human being, ever. I’ve spent the summer blankly staring at the blank page, occasionally making things worse for myself by reading about all the amazing new, innovative plays that have been taking the Edinburgh and Camden festivals by storm.
Of course, I have had dry periods before. All writers have. I can usually justify them by being too busy with the kids or at work. But this time feels different. I have several ideas, all bubbling away, waiting to be told, I just cannot seem to get them to move from my imagination into a word document. I’m motivated. I have the time. Work is pretty quiet and the kids are… I mean, yeah, I can always blame the kids.
The really annoying thing is that I’m fully aware of the cycle I am caught in.
- Write for five minutes…
- Start questioning whether what I am writing is fraudulent/cheesy/been done before/not very interesting.
- Stop writing.
- Start feeling shame at not writing.
- Force myself to write something.
Write for five minutes….
As the weeks of creating nothing go by, my loyalty to playwriting is also being tested. Our relationship has lost its intimacy and I’ve started looking elsewhere for a fling, promiscuously hopping from one medium to another, desperate to find that spark again. I mean, I love writing for theatre. I love the rawness and the freedom and the live-ness of it all. There is something comfortable about starting a new story with:
A village hall….
But wait a sec… I’m about to invest a shit-load of time and energy into this thing and the chances of ever being paid for doing it is very unlikely! There just isn’t much money around in theatre at the moment, is there? Not like in TV anyway. Imagine getting a show sold to the BBC or Netflix? You’re laughing. Yeah, fuck it. I should try that. It can’t be too much different, can it? Ok, then…
EXT. A Village Hall – Morning.
Nah, but wait, seriously, who is going to fork out a million quid to make this? There must be hundreds of thousands of incredible scripts already out there and it’s not like I know any TV executives or producers for a way in. Nah this is a complete waste of time… But – a novel! Now there’s an idea? Write a novel, even if no one takes it up, I could just self-publish it. Doesn’t need anyone behind it. I’ll just muscle my own book onto a shelf in Waterstones and wait for the commission to roll in. A published writer. Job done. Ok then…
- Chapter 1 –
The lonely Village Hall stands proudly amongst the…
Sorry, did you say 100,000 words? That is madness!
A poem? No, STOP. I’m sticking with playwriting. That is my passion. I just need to be patient. Keep writing for five minutes at a time. Ignore the doubts. And even if it does end up being fraudulent/cheesy/done before/not very interesting – I guess that has still got to be better than ending up with nothing, surely?
Anyway, aside from the non-writing. Here is a very brief round-up of the highs and lows in July/August.
Had a rejection email from a theatre starting with, “Thank you for your submission back in February 2020.”
Had an amazing email from The Offies, to announce that my play Bounce has been awarded an OFFCOM (Offies Commendation) as a short-run show. Amazing news and feeling really proud of the whole team. If nothing else, this will be a great thing to display on the old writing CV.
Just found out that Bounce will be performed again in Bournemouth for three nights in September. A really cool venue. The Black Cherry. Anyone in Dorset fancy coming to watch?
A rejection email from the Royal Court writing group. Three years in a row. I would so love to get on this one day.
Started a new play! I’m ten pages in and still enjoying it. Look out September. Me and playwriting could well be back on.
Thanks as always to Tom for sharing his diary with us, and showing us the less than glamorous side of what life as a writer can really be like.
You can catch Tom’s show Bounce at The Black Cherry in Dorset from 21 – 23 September, tickets available here.