Day 7 on the New Writing Course

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As someone from a completely different trade, and with no experience of working in the theatre, I have been continually amazed by the self-effacing, inspirational and warm people that I have met over the past 7 days on this course. Simon Stephens who came to “Q and A” us today, was no exception. Although he shared a number of practical writing exercises with us, I actually found myself not wanting to take notes. There was something about the way that he spoke about his work, and the way that he saw the world, that was so different and so fresh-that I just wanted to listen. His use of language, to describe things that I did not think I would be interested in, like viaducts or milestones or 1980s TV, held my attention. 

It was actually something that Simon said, almost in passing, that explained a phenomena that I have noticed over the past 7 days. We, as a group, all became very emotional by day 2. I had hoped that heighted emotion would dissipate, in some way, so that I would be able to function a little more rationally. Creatively, yes, but with some kind of professional hold on my emotions. Instead, I have been plagued by memories and stories of those long bereaved. Simon referred to Oliver Sacks’ theory that “nostalgia” and “creativity” set off exactly the same neural responses in the brain, and that we as humans use those responses for the same reason, to heal past trauma or wounds.
It has become clearer to me with every exercise we do-what makes the writing better is to go deeper. So inevitably, even when writing comedy, we are forced to dredge honestly in our past wounds. It feels as if all the techniques we have learnt, be they addressing structure, or character or dialogue are simply better and different ways to go deeper.
I am not sure, as a playwright novice, what I expected of this course. I thought I would learn craft. And I have, in spades, both by listening to the work of the other participants but of course from Philip and Sudha: the use of poetry and symbolism (which I used to hate), economy of language, making the words work harder for you. Yes, all that, but also how to access my own stories. The ones that go deep, deeper.

Najma Khan – writer

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