Why all art is a collaboration
A journalist friend of mine once said that she never asks for feedback because writing is a matter of personal taste, and so if she likes it that’s all that matters.
Sometimes, as I stare in despair at the fifteenth draft of a chapter, I wish I had that confidence.
Writing is an individual act. It’s just you and the words. It’s your voice. Your name on the front. No one else can or should make the tough decisions for you. Even if you did write yourself into a corner somewhere around draft 11 and really want someone else to write you out of it.
But that doesn’t mean that I agree with my friend. In fact, I couldn’t disagree with her more.
Writing is a solitary pursuit. But it leads, ultimately, to a collaboration between your imagination and the reader’s. So why would I cut the reader entirely out of the process?
The first person to read Dancing with Statues, many years ago now, was Jacqui Lofthouse—I chose my first reader wisely. Jacqui pointed out the many flaws in the draft but in such a generous and encouraging way that I didn’t feel disheartened but inspired, and I went rushing back to my desk to keep writing.
And it was Jacqui’s blog post on how to take yourself seriously as a writer that inspired my latest writing adventure. As part of her ongoing investment in herself as a writer, she mentioned she had taken a playwriting course in London. And I felt a pang of jealousy thinking “I wish I lived in London, so I could do the same.”
So when we moved back to the UK, the first thing I did was look for playwriting courses in London. And for several weekends recently I have been happily holed up with five other budding playwrights on a playwriting course run by Brian Woolland and Rib Davis.
It was quite a powerful journey. From those first tentative moments when we were given ten minutes to write five lines of dialogue to seeing professional actors breathe life into my ten minute scene on the final afternoon in front of an audience. And one of the best parts of the course is the immediate feedback you get from Brian and Rib, as well as the actors and other participants. They were all thoughtful, engaged, and intelligent.
Whilst we writers love spending time with the voices in our heads, it’s sometimes easy to forget that we are only half of the equation. We can ignore the reader because they are not in the room with us. But when you have three actors, a couple of experienced dramatists and an audience of your peers surrounding you, listening to your words, the second half of the equation is a little harder to ignore. And, I’ve discovered, that’s also the joy playwriting.
All art is a collaboration. Even writing.
So a “no” to feedback from me? I don’t think so.
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