Pursued By A Bear is our new advice column with playwright Adam Taylor. He’ll tackle your playwriting questions – from practical issues to existential dilemmas – relying on nothing but his bare wits, brute strength, and questionable personal experiences.
“Writing is a lonely business. How can I make time for my writing whilst being a good boyfriend and keeping up an active social life?”
Yes, the life of the writer is a lonely and sad affair. Hours and days spent hunched over a typewriter in a damp basement with nothing but a flickering candle for company. Who would choose such a depressing pursuit?
And, more to the point, who the hell would want to hang out with someone who chooses to do that voluntarily?
Writers are lonely because we’re by nature anti-social, grouchy loners who have dedicated our lives to studying the human condition, ironically from a distance because we really dislike most people. They don’t understand us, they can’t conceive of our struggle, they will never appreciate the challenges we face every day in our endless quest for recognition from the very people we despise and seek to distance ourselves from.
To think of the sacrifices we’ve made, and continue to make every second, as we plumb the depths of artistic despair, destined to forever be alone with nothing but our thoughts and endless cups of tea to console us.
At least that’s what I tell people.
It’s really not all that bad. I actually went out yesterday. Saw some daylight. It was nice.
The truth is that the stereotype of the lonely writer is just that, a stereotype. And, much like a good play, real life isn’t full of stereotypes.
As a writer, I can’t deny that interacting with other members of the human race is not my favourite activity. I do spend a lot of time hunched over my keyboard like a deranged lunatic thrashing out his manifesto for the misguided advancement of mankind.
But this guy at my day job keeps telling me about this new-fangled concept called the “work-life balance.” Apparently we’re all engaged in this perpetual balancing act.
You can’t let the scales slip too far in the direction of work, or you’ll have no life.
And if they slide too far the other way, you’ll have… too much life… yeah, I haven’t quite grasped that part either. For me it’s more like a work-life battle, much like the immortal battle between good and evil.
Anyway, he’s probably less of a moron than me in this regard so let’s take his word for it. The trouble then becomes that, as artists, we often make the mistake of thinking that our work is our life.
So, if writing is our life, then all those insignificant nuisances that other (normal) people think of as life become obstacles to be avoided. Most of these activities are things which involve some form of discourse with other humans.
Why would I spend my time and words speaking on the phone to a friend when I could be using that time and those words to further my artistic ambitions while sitting alone at my computer?
Why would I go out to eat with other people when there’s a convenient space for a pot noodle next to my mouse mat?
Why would I waste time travelling to visit my elderly relatives before they pass from this mortal coil when I could just wait for them to bite it and use my guilt-ridden grief as inspiration for a mournful and soul-destroying play about lost loved ones?
At first glance all of these may seem like valid and perfectly reasonable questions. But let’s look a bit deeper.
If you were paying attention a few paragraphs back when I said that a good play isn’t full of stereotypes, you’ll remember that I cleverly drew a parallel with real life. In reality, people are not stereotypes. We’re all unique and delicate little snowflakes.
Stereotypes are mostly found where there is a lack of sufficient knowledge and/or intelligence to draw a meaningful or thorough portrait of a person. Thus the gaps are filled in with assumptions and generalisations which might occasionally be mildly amusing but are rarely accurate or fulfilling.
They can mainly be found inside the puny minds of unenlightened people and the pages of badly written plays.
Bringing all of the above to a point, why would a play be full of stereotypical characters?
Because the writer doesn’t know anything about people. Or at least about the people he or she wants to write about.
Good writers know and understand the people they are writing about. And what’s the best way to get to know and understand people?
You could try interacting with them every now and then for a start.
Spending time with other people won’t stop you being a good writer. I’d argue that it’s actually essential, which is why I try to do it often despite my deeply ingrained disdain for the human race.
Whether it’s discussing the pitfalls of the work-life balance with a guy at work, sharing a meal with old friends in the outside world or having a domestic with my wife over my inability to get the laundry inside the basket from the other side of the room, it all feeds into what I write.
Don’t look at social time as a waste of valuable writing time, instead treat it as research. Discuss the issues in your play with friends, test your punchlines on someone at work and start frequent rows with your girlfriend just to see how she reacts. All of these things will make your writing (and probably yourself) more interesting to spend time with.
Of course, you’ll then have to find the time to channel all this real-life inspiration into your writing. This will precipitate more arguments with your girlfriend, giving you ever more material to draw from. Eventually she’ll get sick of the neglect and go out to meet her girlfriends and (rightfully) bitch about how inattentive you are, at which point you’re free to sit down and write to your heart’s content.
But the next day, when she’s slept off her hangover and she staggers downstairs bleary-eyed, you better make sure you at least did the washing up. Because relationships, just like writing, are all about the balance.
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