Playwriting

We write the way we write

Photo by Alisha Vargas

As part of one of my playwriting workshops I talk about finding voice. Figuring out how you write, what you like to write, what type of genre speaks to you. It’s important to know what kind of writer you are. Comedy? Intense Drama? Abstract? It can make your writing life easier – some writers hit writers block over and over again simply because they try to write in a style that doesn’t speak to them.

Further to that, writers also struggle because they want to copy another writers style. Maybe they want to write like Neil Simon because Neil Simon makes a lot of money with his writing and if they write like Neil Simon, even though they hate Neil Simon, they’ll make money. It’s hard to judge that train of thought. We all want to make money at something we love doing. But it’s an exercise on the gerbil wheel. I know, I’ve done it. I’ve been on that wheel, experienced that circle of thinking: if I write like that, my work will get done, I’ll be able to make a living.

We write the way we write. Each writer has their own take. It’s what makes writing such an amazing thing- a 100 writers can take the same topic, the same first line of dialogue and there will be a 100 different plays because there are a 100 different brains writing in their own way. It tickles me to death in a workshop to throw out a topic and then hear what comes back.

So, I like to bring this up in workshops with student writers. We write the way we write. Because in school there’s not a lot of room for individuality, for 100 different brains. There is often only one way of doing things because at the end of the line there has to be a grade. And in order to for a teacher to give a grade, more often than not they have to apply one methodology. That’s the way it goes.

A student writer can easily get caught up in that way of thinking. It’s another gerbil wheel, I suppose. If I don’t write this way, then my writing is wrong. Or, if I don’t apply the rules of writing essays to my play then my writing is wrong. Or, if my dialogue is grammatically incorrect, then my writing is wrong.

It’s important to me to say out loud as often as I can, “You write the way you write. You may write differently than everyone else in your class. And that’s not wrong.”

More than one student came up to me afterwards at a workshop recently to express that they wrote ‘differently.’ And they felt relief to hear someone say, out loud, that it was all right to write ‘differently.’ It’s something that needs to be said. Because if you think you write wrong, you might be easily swayed to change the way you write.

I’ve heard more than one horror story about what it’s like to take university/college writing classes. That students are pressured to write in the way the professor determines. Is there value in learning a specific style? Of course. The more you write, the better you become. But I’m just not a fan of forcing someone to change their writing ways. Why not push the student to become the best they can be in their particular genre?

Ah, but my biases are showing and perhaps I don’t have a leg to stand on. I never went to university/college to learn how to write. It was something that was born out of necessity (an out of work actor wanting to work) and grew into a passion I’m strongly devoted to. Some days I think I need to go back to school, maybe I’m doing it all wrong, maybe I would write a thousand times better with structured instruction. And then other days I’m glad I never took one class.

Bottom line? When you know what your voice is, don’t let others tell you it’s wrong. I feel if you have strong characters, a defined conflict, and a vision for the audience, the genre can be anything and go anywhere.

Write the way you write.

About the author

Lindsay Price

2 Comments

  • Another great blog, Lindsay. As a teacher and a writer, I feel the same as you do, and I admire the way you wrote about the way ‘we write the way we write.’ :)

    I am putting the finishing touches on a new play and just had a discussion with myself along these lines. I finished a scene which I really liked, then started thinking how I might alter it to make it more appealing to publishers.

    After much internal debate, I convinced myself – even before seeing you post – that it is going to be a better play if I leave it as it is. I know my strengths and writing in another playwright’s style is not one of them.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and confirming that the conclusions I drew from that conversation with myself were good ones.

    I hope you enjoy your three-day weekend,

    Ken

  • Thanks!

    Writing for others is such a slippery slope – what can I do to make this more appealing to others? If I change this or this will you produce me? Publish me? It’s easy to start thinking like that and frankly, the hardest thing to do to stick to your guns. To believe in your own work. Stick to it Ken! You know your own writing better than anyone.