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Sunday, December 18, 2011

Writing for Success: A view from the Wings/Theatre

by Timothy Daly

Timothy Daly is one of Australia's most internationally-produced playwrights, with productions in many countries. The author of plays including The Man in the AtticKafka Dances and Derrida In Love, Timothy Daly has worked with actors of the calibre of Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush, Jacki Weaver, Lynette Curran and Bruce Spence.  

Timothy Daly 
With the Saturday Playwright's Course at the NSW Writers' Centre now entering its sixth year I've learned a few things about the teaching of writing. But more importantly, I've learned even more about the 'culture of success' that surrounds writing, whether for theatre or other media.

As a playwright whose plays have now been produced in many countries around the world, I've come to believe the following: You have a right-even a duty-to succeed. But 'success' needs to be clarified. I'm convinced that many of the writers who belong to the N.S.W. Writers' Centre lack self-belief. I'm not sure that Australia is the best place in the world to learn artistic and creative self-belief. 'Belief' is not a matter of 'feeling good about yourself, so you'll feel confident in writing'.  Belief in your own creative powers is actually a knowledge-based attribute: the more you know about the techniques of writing, the more you'll believe that you can write, and that you can succeed-on any level.

What I try and do in the Saturday Playwright's Course is to take writers (whether originally from theatre writing or not) up the 'ladder of success', as quickly as possible.  The fact that many of my former students have now had produced plays indicates that the method works. Space prevents a longer discussion of the issue, but to show you what I mean, I'll describe the first few steps of this 'ladder of success' that I believe anyone can climb if they want to.

The First Level of Successconsists in actually carrying out the intention of writing. If I had a dollar for every person, from the plumber to my neighbour the poet, who told me they'd "love to write a play", I could take Donald Trump out to dinner and come home with spare change. In other words, those who actually start writing have already achieved more than many who simply dream about doing it. As the shoe add says, "Just do it". You're never 'ready' to start. Only starting will help to make you ready.

The Second Level of Successconsists in finishing what you started. Now, sometimes there is a good reason for abandoning a work midway through. But eventually, something has to be finished, however roughly and tentatively.

The Third Level of Successconsists in revising what you thought you'd finished. It was George F Kaufman who said "Plays are not written, they're re-written."  The thought that a play is often re-written numerous times might be depressing to consider, until you realise several things: a) you are doing what you love; b) the work is getting better; and c) on Opening Night, none of it will matter.

The Fourth Level of Successconsists in sending your work 'out there'. If Earle Stanley Gardner, the creator of the Perry Mason series, could collect over 300 rejection letters, then, out of sheer self-respect, we should be trying to gather at least half that number.

There are six more levels to this 'ladder of success' of mine. If you're interested in climbing it, don't hesitate to contact the Centre for more information on the Saturday Playwright's Course.

The Saturday Playwrights' Course will commence on Saturday 11 February. 

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