Last night I was at the Writers Arcade at the Stockton Arts Centre. It's a group started to encourage emerging playwrights. I only got involved recently but I love going there and I come away feeling inspired almost every time. It's a group of writers coming together who want to help each other, listen to each other's work and have their plays read out loud. If you are a writer/filmmaker I think becoming part of a writing group or joining some kind of writer workshops is essential. Here's why:
1. Hearing other people's work pushes you to become a better writer. I think every writer, well, every artist in fact, has a bit of an ego. We like to say they are shy, unassuming folk who are passed by. Try critiquing a writer's work and see how shy they are about it. I like the fact that when I go to my group, I listen to other's plays and feel like everything I've ever written is terrible. I like it because it makes me realise I need to work harder at my own writing. It also gives me some sense of the direction I should be heading in.
2. It gets you out of the house. Filmmaking is not a lonely job whilst you are filming. You have your cast and crew around you and it is a buzzing scene. The pre-production and the post can be very isolated. If you are writing your own film, the writing process can be one of the loneliest times of your life. Ask any writer. Writers get lonely. It's a kind of strange paradox. Writers seek solitude but they feel alone too. Getting to a writers group every so often means that you are seeing other people and talking about your work which allows you to feel human again. We were created to be social. So get out there!
3. Writing exercises may spark an idea. At the beginning of our group, usually a more experienced writer will take the first 10-15 minutes and walk us through some kind of writing exercise. This is always good. I have a lot of writing prompt books at home but having a person talk you through an exercise and then having the added of pressure of everyone around you writing as well, means you usually get something down on paper - and that's what counts. Too often in the comfort of your own home, you can just say to yourself, "Oh, I'll write this tomorrow," and never start. Being in a group writing exercise means you usually come home with something. It might not be any good but you never know what could spring out of it.
4. You will discover new material. Every single time I've gone to this group, I have learnt about another new play or book I would like to read. Our reading intake is very much controlled by what type of person we are and what we surround ourselves with. Hearing new voices gives us new reading roads to try.
5. It could provide an amazing opportunity. The group above us worked so hard that they were able to secure funding for individual professional mentors to guide them through the process of writing an entire play. The mentors were, as far as I know, established writers who met up with the new writers now and again to talk them through their work. At the end of that period each writer was able to have their play performed as a rehearsed reading, sometimes having their mentor there to watch. What a fantastic opportunity as a writer. To have such input and even see your play performed, be it on a tiny budget. You never know who you will meet or what might grow out of a group who have a determined mindset and an arts centre to back them up.
6. You can gain a new perspective on your work. I am the kind of person who will usually guess when there is a problem with my writing but I always need to talk it out to make it work. Going to this group and being able to throw my idea out there for everyone else to feedback on is invaluable! It means that niggling problem I had in deciding which route to go down in my story is decided.
7. You get to hear your words spoken out loud. Writing looks beautiful on the page. It is completely different when it's read. Hearing dialogue I've written in the quiet solitude of my own home always makes me cringe when I hear it performed. That is because usually I realise how fake it sounds or how what I meant to say hasn't actually come across. A rehearsed reading or just a reading is a wonderful gift for any writer.
8. You learn to give and take criticism. Just a word of advice. Take everything with a pinch of salt, but LISTEN to people when they criticize your work. It doesn't mean you've failed or they are pulling you down, but it does mean that you can maybe make your writing even better than it already is. Isn't that great? It should be. It's hard to find people who will give you caring constructive criticism. Be grateful when it comes your way and use it to your advantage.