This year started off with a bang. I remember necking tequilas at midnight, snogging my mates and promising ourselves that 2020 would be THE year. My writing partner and I had bagged five stars for our debut play ‘Belly Up’, we were heading to the Underbelly at Edinburgh Fringe, and things had started taking off on my Hinge profile… (still waiting on that reply Adam, no hard feelings). Fast forward four months and, like many, I’ve used a sock as loo roll, I’m back at my rents and I’ve started having erotic fantasies about Joe Exotic (side note- I am aggressively against the entrapment of big cats).
I struggle to write at the best of times. Firstly, because I’m primarily an actress. And secondly, I’m not one of those kooky legends who can perch in a cafe and spit tremendous bars that shred modern politics and provide future foresight through speculative visual fiction over an oat flat white. I’m the type who’s up at 5am, pacing the flat, squeezing out a short story about a sex-starved nun. It’s ugly, it’s painful and 9/10 it’s a pile of s*** scribbled on the back of a waitressing notepad.
Writing is a luxury. Having the time to sit at home and spend hours upon hours indulging your imagination is a privilege. So it’s incredibly annoying when you finally have nothing but time and nothing is coming out. I can only compare it to one of Joe Exotic’s tigers finally being released into the wild but quickly breaking two legs in quick succession and developing agoraphobia. In fact, time all of a sudden becomes the enemy. It’s an
endless stress of emptiness and fear of Zoom calls.
If writing right now is the last thing on your mind then that is absolutely fair enough. I read a tweet a few weeks ago stating that you’re a psychopath if you’re able to write right now. I repeat this to myself in the mirror daily. However, if you fancy giving it a crack in these hard times, here’s a few things I’ve tried in order to relieve the blockage.
1) Watch Netflix. Watch Unorthodox and bathe in the cinematography. Watch Thunder Road, Joe Swanberg’s Easy and #BlackAF – all three are a masterclass in painfully naturalistic, complex characters. Watch live streams of theatre shows, get a 7 day free trial of mubi.com, in fact get free trials on all streaming platforms, make a new email and register again. Just by watching you’re taking in heaps, observe other artist’s work- learn from it.
2) Watch Tim Minchin’s 9 Life Lessons on Youtube. I want to marry this man and his words. “Be micro-ambitious and see what happens as you pursue short-term goals…” Walk to the fridge and back, be MICRO ambitious.
3) Perhaps now is the time to share some work with friends and family members who have a spare sec to read it. Roll around in their praise, lap it up. Your biggest fans are those who are genetically programmed to lie to you. Thank you DNA you two-faced bastard.
4) Don’t be in a rush to create. I went into lock down swearing I would emerge with an Olivier award winning play under my belt and a six pack. In the words of Tim Minchin (stop thinking about Tim Minchin) “Don’t be in a rush to succeed. It might come at a cost”.
5) Read about the boring stuff. Always feared structure and form like me? Start tucking in hunny. Nick Hern’s website has a 30% discount code right now, if you have the cash buy Stephen Jeffrey’s ‘Playwriting’ and ‘Being a Playwright’ By Chris Foxon and George Turvey.
6) Exercise. Won’t dwell on that one
7) Start a book club! We’ve miraculously failed as a bar team to keep this one up, but it was fun while it lasted. All read a play once a week and discuss on Zoom. Or read a play together over Zoom, a few of us actors got together and read Holes – it’s a good play. There’s loads of resources on Instagram as well, check out Daisy May Cooper’s live writing sessions, Rupi Kaur does them as well. They’re half an hour.
8) Be thankful for the reasons you find creativity easy when you’re not confined to a room. A lot of my characters are based on people I’ve served at work, people on public transport or colleagues I’ve met doing weird freelance jobs. I hate the underground but I’m craving the endless stream of character ideas. I’m grateful for my mates and their support, I can’t wait to squeeze them and poison them with my sweet potato curry. Things I took for granted like walking down Brixton Hill and having an hours stand up
comedy sesh with my writing partner Lydia, I want to frame these moments and make a shrine for of all the legends who inspire me- do something weird with candles.
9) Let your thoughts flow. Sit down with a pen and paper and do a ‘stream of consciousness’ for fifteen minutes. Don’t edit yourself. And when you get stuck repeat the previous sentence until you can move on. You never know what little gems lie in it.
10) Be kind to yourself. Ignore the fact Shakespeare apparently wrote King Lear in lock down. Did he even write half his plays? I’m allowed to say that, I’m from his birth town. If you can write a shopping list, that’s an achievement.
These are things I am trying to do myself, so they’re by all means not the ‘correct’ way to alleviate stress surrounding lack of creativity. Right now, the main priority is keeping sane and healthy. I’m just someone who, like many creatives, had a project just about to go somewhere and suddenly found it’s all ground to a halt. It’s gutting. BUT I want to look back on this period and go, actually I’m glad I had that pause in life… because I might not have got a six pack and an Olivier award winning play under my belt, but I had a good crack at it.
By Julia Grogan