Pursued By A Bear is our weekly 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.
“I googled you. What makes you feel you have any right to give advice to playwrights. You just say sarky things. You should just quit and go away. F*ck off, [Name redacted]”
First of all I’d like to thank you for your question.
I know a lot of people out there are struggling with similar issues; there’s nothing worse than stumbling across a mediocre blog penned by some self-righteous, unqualified tool. It eats away at your soul just knowing such an undeserving, morally bankrupt individual has been gifted a platform from which to spew forth their endlessly offensive and incorrect advice.
I too have spent many nights lying awake in the dark wondering how this can have happened. Surely at some point I must be due an email explaining that my spot on the London Playwrights Blog was allocated in error and must now be withdrawn so it can be bestowed upon its rightful owner; your favourite playwright.
After all, there are countless thousands of writers out there who have had more success than me. They’ve had more plays produced, they’ve had novels published, they’ve written for TV.
So why am I doing this?
For starters, I was asked to. And for me, the endorsement of the good people here at LondonPlaywrightsBlog.com means a lot.
Then there’s the fact that the most successful writers are generally very busy people and writing these columns takes time. Looking at other similar blogs, they aren’t generally written by Dan Brown or Stephen King. These people are too busy autographing novels and blowing millions on gaudy boutique furniture. Or whatever they do.
Believe it or not, there isn’t a huge amount of money involved in this either; so before you pop a blood vessel, rest assured I’m not retiring off the back of my crappy advice and sarky comments.
I can spare the time to write these answers because I don’t have people banging on my door demanding I produce the next novel as outlined in my multi-million pound publishing deal. I don’t travel the world to attend book signings. I don’t have months of rewrites to do for a West End musical.
I don’t even currently have a deadline.
But does that mean I don’t have the right to give advice to playwrights?
My immediate reaction would be: I don’t really know.
Who’s in charge of these things anyway?
Because so far, nobody has approached me (apart from your kind self) to tell me I should stop what I’m doing. The theatre gods haven’t yet descended from Theatre Olympus and smote me with lightning bolts as punishment for my sacrilegious musings.
At no point has my keyboard spontaneously combusted, or my mouse wrapped its cable around my neck to choke me out and put a stop to my presumptuous rambling.
I have received no cease and desist letter from Kevin Spacey.
I don’t know, maybe they haven’t noticed me yet. Maybe I need to give it a few more months.
Maybe no one has approached me to deny my right to give advice, because no one owns that right in the first place.
You obviously feel that I’m poorly qualified to be doing this. And, granted, you haven’t seen my name in lights above the door of a major West End theatre.
You’ve probably never heard of me or seen any of my plays.
Does that mean I’m not good enough to give you advice? Possibly.
But that’s for you to judge, isn’t it?
Because my name is at the top of every column, and my bio is easily accessible on the site, so if you thought to yourself “Who is this nobody? I’ve never even heard of him,” before promptly sitting down to read all of my posts… you’ve really only got yourself to blame.
I don’t remember sellotaping your eyelids open and forcing you to read anything. I also don’t remember locking you in a cell and blasting my words at you in audio book format. And I have absolutely no recollection of emotionally blackmailing you into reading my column by withholding sex for months on end.
I’ve been perfectly transparent about my writing and my career so far. You made a judgment based on my qualifications, and then proceeded to waste your own time. Then you wasted even more of your own time writing in to ask me why you wasted your time.
My initial reaction to your criticism was to get all defensive and list everything I’ve done. But when I thought about it a bit more I realised I really don’t need to do that.
I can’t deny there are much better qualified people out there, and they could probably give much more useful advice. And I’m not going to tell you how good I am at what I do, because that’s for other people to decide.
I am going to tell you that no one else on earth can give you advice exactly the way I can. I use my own voice and I strive to write honestly. I do my best to share my world view with you in the most engaging and enjoyable way I can. And I really love writing these columns.
You may not like what I write but if I change based on your criticism, my writing won’t be true to who I am or what I want to achieve. It will no longer be my honest and open interpretation of the world around me. I’ll be writing it to please you rather than to share my own experience.
I’d essentially be telling you what you want to hear, and what value would that have?
I genuinely believe that a lot of people need someone to yell at them relentlessly; “Quit your whining and get on with it!” I believe this because, from time to time, I am one of these people, and being yelled at can be a great motivator.
So I approach every question with honesty and, behind all the sarcasm and bad jokes, I really do try to offer some genuine help.
In my view, that gives me every right to continue doing what I’m doing.
And you, of course, have every right not to read it.
You also have the right to “f*ck off” (your words) and write your own column elsewhere.
You have the right to criticise me and my writing all you like, on your column. You actually have the right to dedicate the entire thing solely to the singular purpose of slagging me off.
You even have the right to put your pants on your head and dance naked around a burning effigy of me in your back garden.
But, you don’t have the right to self-righteously write to me saying I don’t have the right to write.
So, despite your heartfelt objection, I’ll continue to give all the advice I like to playwrights. Some of them will find it useful, some of them will find it rubbish and some of them will never find it at all.
I’ll finish by saying that criticism can be a very dangerous thing. I find that artists of all kinds tend to fall into three distinct camps.
The first have what I think of as a hip hop mentality; anyone who says anything even remotely critical, regardless of whether it’s constructive and meant to be helpful, is a ‘Hater’ and should be ignored completely. This is not productive and can actually be harmful to the artist because in this defensive state of mind they are completely incapable of being objective and seeing the flaws in their own work.
The second group are the ones who take every piece of criticism to heart as if it’s the final word on the matter. This is even more dangerous than the first attitude, and invariably leads to these artists becoming unable to produce anything because they’re constantly second guessing themselves. They essentially lose confidence in their work and try to bend it to fit everyone else’s point of view, whether constructive or not.
The third group are those rare artists who are able to impartially examine criticism and decide whether it’s valuable to their work. These artists can be honest with themselves about weaknesses in what they’re doing, they can spot the strengths and weaknesses in others’ comments and they can take outside points on board without losing their own point of view.
I try to be in the third camp. I carefully considered and evaluated your criticism and decided that aside from giving me fodder for this post, it really isn’t helpful to me in any way whatsoever.
Let that be the lesson from this week’s column.
P.S. I’m flattered you took the time to google me.
Have a question or problem you’d like to send in? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and keep your eyes peeled to see if the answer turns up on our site!
(DISCLAIMER: If you send us a question, you’re giving us permission to publish it! Be sure to indicate what name you’d like us to use as a sign-off when we publish your column, and a just a heads up that we reserve the right to edit submissions for length if needed.)