Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about why I write. This is a pretty standard question in theatre applications, along with ‘what is the focus of your writing?’ and ‘who do you write for?’. In terms of motivation, it’s a fairly important question to have an answer to. As wonderful as theatre making is, it can also be a pretty brutal and lonely place to be. Between the rejections and the endless opportunities for comparison on social media, you can often be left wondering ‘what is the point?’. And in those moments knowing your why can go a long way to cushioning the, at times, seemingly endless blows.
For me, writing has increasingly become something that is an extension of myself. A chance to explore a thousand what-ifs, to rewrite the world and, perhaps most importantly, to write stories about people like me.
One of the best things about theatre is the diversity of stories and voices that you have access to, in a way that you don’t often get with screen. Someone could literally sit down with you for an bour and tell you the story of their life. The highs and lows. The losses and triumphs. Showing you the minutiae of life that makes us who we are.
But that comes with a downside, namely a fear that your writing is overly specific. Because that’s the thing about writing for live performance, it needs to be performed and, for that to happen, it needs to be something that others want to hear. So then maybe you contort, try to figure out how to make these specific stories something that others care about and want to hear. Maybe you add in more extremes. Take away the anger and frustration. Strip it back until you have a product that’s palatable. The problem with palatability is that it can lead to stories that are caricatures of your lived experience, that tell only half of it. But if it’s performed or longlisted or gets you into a writing programme then maybe it’s worth it?
Someone once told me that writing needs to cost you something, that a piece of you needs to be left behind. For minoritised people like myself, I often wonder how this can be balanced against a feeling that people only want your stories when they are you at peak trauma, and how this then shapes the identity of minoritised writers and the things we choose to write. Do we avoid trying to be boxed in, so opt for stories and plotlines that don’t even acknowledge this aspect of ourselves? Or do we lean into it, afraid that no one will want what else we have to offer?
From this emerges the question ‘what would a middle ground look like?’
I don’t have an answer. It’s something that I’m still wrestling with myself. Ultimately, I’d like to create authentic stories that do more than simply retraumatise. Stories that celebrate, that are complex. Stories that aren’t dismissed simply because of the characters’ skin or gender or sexuality. Stories that are given the benefit of the doubt when it comes to their universality, where people are willing to watch and relate. I’d like to feel that I have the freedom to write anything, without fear that only trauma will sell.