Yet another interesting post over at 99seats – this time about the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ of writing rather than the ‘how’. For, as I know from my own experience, writing groups tend to focus only on the ‘how’:
“There is a problem, though, and it’s exactly this: the focus is on craft, style, but rarely, if ever on substance. The focus is on the How and never on the What. Or even more importantly on the Why.”
Of course people need to know how to structure and use form and image and metaphor and etc etc (sadly my experience of reading unsolicited scripts points to the fact that these aspects of the ‘craft’ of playwriting do get ignored) but some times you do need someone to stop you and ask: why?
If there is one question which haunted everyone during my MA it was the one which our course convener would utter at some point during every class: why now? And, I would argue, the case can always be made for good art (case in point: Alan Bennett’s The History Boys would have withered at that question and that play is, however you look at it, bloody brilliant). Whilst equally I do not want to sit through a hundred different plays about – say the financial crisis – because it is a ‘now’ topic. But what was so brilliant about asking us that question is that it forces you to examine what you’re writing and why you’re writing it. And – maybe most importantly if you’re looking to have a play put on and suchlike – why anyone else should care.
Over the course of the year we spent many, many more hours talking about the whats and the whys than we did about the hows. That meant that some times you would have to say ‘ I don’t know’ or question someone on the ideology of their play which some times made you want to go somewhere quiet and rock in a corner. And whilst I can’t speak for anyone else, just having that question floating around made me a better writer. My answer to ‘why now?’ may be as simple as ‘because I have to’. But I’m not scared of either asking it or having to answer it – and the more writers who can say that the better.