Going Solo: An inside view from The Writing Room
Ahead of our upcoming writer showcase event Solo on 4 July 2022, Writing Room member Liz Bell reflects on her own experience taking part in the scheme and offers a sneak preview of what to expect on the night.
“If you’d told me six months ago that I’d be gearing up to watch something I’d written being professionally performed to a paying audience, I’d have assumed you were having me on.
But in a few short weeks, that’s exactly what’s going to happen – along with the other members of the Writing Room scheme, I’ll witness my words being brought to life on stage as part of Solo, a one-off writer showcase event produced by The Courtyard, in partnership with Feral Productions and Open Sky.
This story began last summer, as I absent-mindedly scrolled through the ‘What’s On’ pages of The Courtyard website. Keen to escape the interminable boredom of life via Zoom, I’d wanted to take up a new, face-to-face class – and there was certainly plenty to choose from here, with an eclectic programme including everything from life drawing to adult ballet.
But it was the Writing Room that immediately stood out to me. As a professional copywriter, I had years of experience writing all kinds of non-fiction, but writing drama was a whole new world that I assumed I had neither the skills nor the confidence to even begin to explore. Billed as an open, low-pressure class, this seemed like the ideal place to start.
From the first session, it was clear that this was going to be a bit of a different experience than the one I’d been expecting. I walked into a room filled with writers that seemed far more experienced than me, all of whom appeared to know each other, and most of whom had been coming to the Writing Room for some time. To say I was daunted would be a huge understatement – I was clearly an absolute fraud and I definitely did not belong here.
Just as I was preparing to channel my best impression of ‘someone who has even half a clue about what they’re doing’, Lisle, the course tutor, threw everything off course. Rather than launching straight into the technicalities of monologue, the dramatic form with which we would be working, he posed an unexpected question to the group: Why do we write?
It was a good question. Why, indeed, do we feel the need to make up stories, to create characters, to move people to laughter or tears? We all had different answers, but they all ultimately came back to the same principle.
We tell stories to make something happen.
It is from this basic starting point, explained Lisle, that every piece of good dramatic writing emerges. What do we want to happen as a result of this story? What do we want people who hear it to know, to think, to feel? If you can identify this central idea – strip back all the nonsense and find the one truth that only you can tell – you will write something brilliant.
It was with this idea in mind (along with Lisle’s impassioned advocacy) that I was able to get beyond what I thought I ‘should’ write, and to aim instead for something that was honest.
Now if this were a well-constructed dramatic story I would, having had this revelation, sail through the rest of the course, writing from the heart and pinning ephemeral truth after ephemeral truth onto paper (possibly while working at a vintage typewriter in a French chateau, rom-com montage-style). But unfortunately, real life is messier than that.
To be perfectly honest, it was hard. I’ve always had a difficult relationship with structure – I need it, crave it, yet I hate it with every fibre of my being. And it is structure that is at the heart of what The Writing Room is about, not only in terms of narrative structure but also in the methodical processes of script development – learning and putting into practice the mechanics of researching, drafting, and editing written work for the stage or screen.
In following these processes, I had to overcome my aversion to rules while also avoiding the grip of perfectionism and self-doubt. There were times throughout the term that I declared the whole thing pointless – my work was crap; I was a terrible writer and there was no point in doing anything because I was never going to produce anything remotely worthwhile or interesting (I believe this is commonly known in the industry as an ‘artistic tantrum’).
What kept me going, and eventually got me through, was that I was part of a group. Learning alongside other writers has been a surprisingly useful experience. Not only do they tend to ask questions and raise points that help you to see what you’re learning in new ways, but the peer review process is also incredibly valuable, both in terms of receiving feedback on your own script and, crucially, in providing an insight into others’ creative processes.
We don’t usually see the enormous amount of work, time and occasionally angst that goes into producing creative work, so it’s easy to assume you’re the only one that’s finding it hard. Witnessing how other people’s ideas and scripts evolved over the course of a few weeks was key to helping me accept the frustratingly incremental nature of my own progress.
By the end of the 12-week course, it’s safe to say I was sick to the back teeth of my story. Having stared at the same words for so long, I couldn’t see the wood for the trees and had no idea if even the ‘good bits’ were, in fact, any good. Lisle reassured me that this was perfectly normal, so after making what felt like the billionth tiny edit to my script, I reluctantly saved it as FINAL DRAFT, sent it off to the production team and hoped for the best.
Since then, Lisle and director Claire Coaché have been working with a team of actors to bring my script, along with those written by my fellow Writing Room members, to life. We are all intrigued to see how our scripts translate to the stage – they are totally different in tone and style but at just three minutes each, they all pack a big punch into a small space.
My own piece, titled Catching Wasps, is a dark tale of coercive control told by a woman called Alice, who took a drastic and deadly means of escape from a nightmare situation.
While I have happily never been in Alice’s situation, I have always been interested in how we each justify our actions to maintain the image of ourselves that we choose to project – however terrible those actions may seem to others. Alice obsessively seeks out evidence of her own innocence, to the point that she seems delusional. But with her knack for disrupting expectations, she leaves us with a tricky question to answer: who are we to judge her?
Again, if this were a conveniently packaged story, I would end it with an exciting climax and a satisfying denouement – but of course, as we’ve already established, it doesn’t work like that. I hope that the showcase event will be a success; that people like you will want to come and watch it to support and encourage emerging writers like me. However, even if this story doesn’t quite end the way I’m hoping, I do know that I will feel proud of my part in it. After all, this isn’t really the end at all. I can’t wait to see what happens in the next episode.”
The Writing Room Showcase: Solo
Solo sets the bar for striking new work that leaves no stone unturned as Writing Room members step into the spotlight with these brave and revelatory solo pieces.
The Writing Room
The Writing Room sessions are held every Monday (during term time only) from 6.30pm – 8.30pm.
Delivered for The Courtyard by Feral Productions in association with Open Sky Theatre. Award-winning playwright and screenwriter Lisle Turner teaches how to write plays and screenplays from scratch. For all writers over sixteen irrespective of experience.