(esp for theatre types)
Ever since I was working on my first book, 20 years ago (next year is the 20th anniversary of Serpent’s Tail’s publication of Calendar Girl), theatre-making friends have said :
“I’d like to write a book.”
“I have a book I want to write.”
“I really want to write a book.”
“I could do that.” (Oh yes, they have.)
And, usually, they haven’t.
Yesterday I was emailing with a highly-respected director and improviser/improv-teacher. We were emailing about a project of his and he expressed concern that he’d not written a book before so he didn’t know how to do it.
Concern is fine. It’s normal, and right and proper when embarking on a big brand new thing. It’s far more useful than arrogance and certainty that it’s all going to be easy and you know exactly what you’re doing because you’re so brilliant and always have been.
But, as I said to him, he DOES know how to do it.
He’s been doing it for years.
So, for those of you who also make theatre, also improvise, also direct, also act, here’s Stella Duffy’s tried and tested (on 14 novels) technique for writing books like you’re making/devising/writing/creating theatre :
This is how you write a novel.
You sit down and you improvise it – on the page.
There are scenes of dialogue and you improvise them.
And there are scenes of saying nothing and just seeing what there is to see and you improvise that.
And there are scenes of internal monologues and you improvise them.
And when you’ve done enough for the time being, you put it away and when you’re ready you come back to it and you do the next scene. And the next one. And the one after that.
And then, when you have enough of those scenes on the page/screen to tell the story, you sit back and you read it.
And you see where it needs work and you see where there are too many scenes and you see where you missed something out and you see where you need to tell yourself to shut up. So then you do that.
And again, and maybe again, and maybe even again again, and then it’s done. (You might want some more Interim bits in between those Again bits.)
Part 1 is being an improviser.
Part 2 is being a director.
The interim bit is being an audience/a reader.
And yes, this works, the other way round for novelists wanting to write/direct/make/devise theatre.
And no, I didn’t know this before I started my first book, I didn’t know anything before I started my first book. You now know way more than I did then. Lucky you. ALL my work has fed ALL my work. That’s what work does, we learn from it, we use it, we incorporate the successes and the learning from the mistakes into the next thing. And we get on and do it
Good. Sorted. Now you can all stop telling me you’re going to write a book one day and get on and do it. Because that, my loves, is where the ACTUAL book writing happens. In the doing it.
* I don’t know if this is #3, but am pretty sure I’ve said variations on this plenty of times before on this blog. if you’re very interested, look under the ‘sort of about writing’ category.