Attack The Block, by Kevin Haney
I am an actor and comedian who has been doing the ‘Londonthing’ for the last decade. I am also a writer. It’s this aspect of my career that has forced me to ask a few questions recently. Is there any originality left in my head? I don’t know. Was there ever any originality in my head in the first place? Actually, let’s open this up. Is there anything, artistically, original that hasn’t been written, devised or performed? Of course, it’s just NOT in my head.
A well informed writer could be restricted by the information that many would deem liberating. The more you know about the present artistic climate, the more you run the risk of being influenced by it. If an original idea pops into your head, independent of any influence, it’s only a matter of time until someone turns up and throws a spanner in your works by telling you that it’s been done already.
So, what can a writer do if they hit a block? In the past, many would have said that the best way to get through a block would be to see as much, read as much and participate in as much as possible. This could then breed inspiration. That inspiration would then fuel their quest to create something new and artistically pure. It’s been born out of your own experiences. You’re the only one that occupies your own thoughts; you’re the only person that sees the world through your eyes. So, when you’re informed by a fellow artist that they had a similar idea once or that Chris Morris did the same thing back in the mid nineties you can’t be blamed for abandoning all hope of ever breaking this stupid rut you now find yourself in.
I’ll wait it out. After all, the next original idea could be but a few key strokes away. But, by original idea, do I mean my own interpretation of the last play / film / book / song from which I happened to draw any kind of inspiration? Maybe I can use this song at the start of the piece, it sounds deep. People might think that the play is deep. They might think that I’m deep too. Perhaps I’ll be commissioned to write the next thought provoking piece of fringe theatre, from somebody else’s ideas. Maybe this will break the block. It doesn’t matter if it’d a dud. I just need to break the block!
All I need to do is stay focused long enough to get a first draft. Once the first draft is out of the way, its plain sailing. Just need to keep my focus, not let it stray. Don’t watch any television, or read anything. Just stick with it. Maybe, put a bit of instrumental music on to drive me. No lyrics, something without an agenda. It’ll get the creative juices flowing without subconsciously influencing me to write a piece of political theatre. Or, worse, a romance.
I have spent a lot of my recent years writing sketch comedy. The block doesn’t seem to apply here. I find it very easy to write. This must be due to the fact that you only need a goldfish’s attention span to finish it. Twenty pages into a play I started writing about two female protagonists and the pain inflicted upon them when they are accused of having communist ties, soon sidelined for a three page piece of character comedy which loses steam half way through page one soon after the punch line is delivered (two pages earlier than the end of the sketch). Well it’s not really that bad (I’d never write character comedy) but it’s not far off. Truth be told, I seem to be quite successful when it comes to getting a story, character and conclusion across in a very short amount of time. I even tried applying this rule to the block. I’ll write it scene by scene. “Like sketches. A series of sketches” I thought. After all, plays are pretty much just a series of scenes that run, one after the other, like a sketch show, for ninety minutes. All I need to do is take out the punch lines and keep the same characters for the duration. I know exactly how to start. After I plot my scene timeline I’ll write the central scene and construct the play around that. That’ll be the key to my all important first draft, then it’s plain sailing – so I’ve heard.
The feedback I got from my polite fellow artists included: “It seems quite fragmented” (What, as if it were a sketch show?) “The through line seems contrived” (What, as if I’ve loosely threaded a series of sketches together?) “The characters motivations are inconsistent” (What, as if, at one point, the characters had multiple motivations in four minute bursts?) My less polite critics informed me that a moment in the middle was good but the scenes around it gave the impression that I had abandoned the standard rules of writing a play and attempted to apply a formula I had derived from my years writing sketch comedy. (What do they know?)
It was an experiment. The results are conclusive, when applied to me. But that doesn’t mean it will not work for someone else. That’s the beauty of creating text. Writing and devising pieces of theatre or entertainment is unique to each mind. There are no rules to creation. No matter how well trained or novice, a good idea is a good idea and all you need is the power to harness it and the focus to put it on the page. Leave it to the director, producer and cast to interpret in any way they feel, safe in the knowledge that you put it out there for them to mess with.
I’m still in my block – or maybe I’ve just run out of ideas. I’d better get out there to see and experience as much of the good, bad and the mediocre as possible. This could generate the next idea to squander or soar with. That’s the best thing about being a writer, no matter how successful. The potential to create anything at anytime and sometimes you even get paid for it. Just keep writing and attack the block. Good writers have written as much crap as they have quality, it’s how you grow. I’ll end on that. I need to go and cash a small royalty cheque from that T.I.E. panto I wrote in 2005.