By Beth Steel
When stuck, some writers go for a walk, others wash the pots; I lay down and close my eyes. Every play I’ve written has formed itself from dreams. The very first sighting of a play can come to me in a dream. Those are the big bangs: out of nothing, darkness cracks open and a new world is pushed out. But with every play I have dreamt scenes, dialogue, endings. If I can’t solve a problem consciously at my desk, I lay down.
During lockdown I stopped dreaming, it was like someone had poured concrete into my skull and left it to set. Is this what they mean by writer’s block? I wondered more than once. But writing is as much (more) about doggedly turning up at the desk as it is inspiration. So I kept going.
I’ve come to realise that to create is to live with fear, to constantly battle the self doubt that says this is never going to come together – and there really aren’t any guarantees it will. It can feel impossible and lonely. Then there’s the real-life fears: will anyone even want this play I’ve dedicated two years of my life to? I’ve always written without a commission – in the beginning from necessity, later out of choice – but it does mean holding your nerve. Or being completely insane.
There’s a lot of fear in our community right now. I myself have swung from wild optimisim to deep dread, sometimes in the same day. Will we work again? Will more venues close? What will we be coming back to? Will previous gains made now be lost? Each of us have different questions but we are, all of us, in the dark waiting for the future to emerge.
Sometimes I think I see it. Like my writing dreams, I catch glimpses of how it might look this new world. That change can bring gains as well as losses. These visions aren’t my own: for months now I’ve been surrounded by people at Freelancers Make who imagine and demand more than me, who are perhaps more generous than me.
I do know that creating that world will be hard going and seem impossible and feel frustrating and require large reserves of faith, not least because it’s so difficult to see change: like a moving body of water, it runs out your hands as soon as you try and get hold of it. The direction of current is all.
This is my first newsletter for Freelancers Make and it might read like an odd one. I could’ve written about Rishi Sunak or any of the other things that happened this week. Maybe I should have. But honestly, I feel tired of reacting to the body blows – that just keep on coming. I wanted to put some words down that look beyond the painful present. I wanted to dream again.
They came back by the way. In fact, I might just go and close my eyes now.