Write what you don’t know


The Wright brothers flew, in order to learn how to fly


If you feel that you want to write – and it is very much a feeling –  you are bound to run into this question (or doubt): what am I going to write about?

The advice you get given is – write what you know.

You probably take this to mean: draw on your own experience, your own life. In the current literary climate, it often seems that authenticity is more important than storytelling.

Well, fine, if you’ve had the kind of life in which you were tragically orphaned when you lost your parents in an Arctic blizzard, you were raised by wolves, stowed away on a boat to Hawaii, got shipwrecked in the Pacific and spent three years on a coral reef, developed a cure for malaria, was rescued and won the Nobel prize for medicine…

Er. OK. None of us have had that life. For most of us – and the younger you are, the more likely this is to be true – if you could only write about what you had directly experienced, you would quickly run out of things to say.

So my motto is – write what you don’t know.

As human beings we are wonderfully well equipped to write about what we don’t know because we have three things: curiosity, imagination, and the internet.

Writing should be a voyage of discovery. Don’t worry about writing what you know – write in order to know.

You don’t have to know it all when you begin whatever you’re writing. You don’t have to have it all mapped out. You just have to be courageous, start, and the ideas will grow. Little blobs, amoeba ideas, floating around in your subconscious will meet, join, split and multiply. Your story will get bigger, take shape, change shape. You have to be prepared for it not ending up the story you thought it was going to be.

The more you write, the more you gain confidence that the words and ideas will come, and that, with persistence and experience, you will be able to shape them into something that is artistically satisfying.

If you keep a journal or a diary, purely for yourself, you probably already know this. Writing down your feelings helps you know them and know yourself better. A few months on, if you look back at a diary entry it can seem meaningless, self-indulgent or downright embarrassing – but it doesn’t matter. Writing that page on that day was what mattered. It took you through a process and propelled you forward.

I was a journalist for many years and I love digging for facts, doing research and seeing what comes of it. Bad journalism is when you decide what the story is (or your editor tells you what the story is) and you go looking for the facts to fit it. Good journalism is when you do the research first, talk to people and listen to their answers – and then let the story take shape out of that. That’s the way to come up with something genuinely new.

I love this quote by Gloria Steinem, from (I think) her new autobiography My Life On The Road (Oneworld). She says:

“If you want to be a writer, write to express rather than persuade. Writing to persuade is a worthy endeavour, but it doesn’t allow you to admit uncertainty. And it’s actually fun to learn, which is why we often laugh if we have a new thought or idea. It’s that ‘aha’ moment when you suddenly realise two familiar things come together to present a new possibility. As a journalist I felt as if I was being paid to learn. It made me feel free.”




New ‘Introduction to Playwriting’ Course starting in May

I’m running an eight week ‘Introduction to Playwriting’ course in Hertford, starting Monday 11 May.

For details of the dates and what the course will cover, click on the Playwriting Classes page above.

It will be at the lovely Leaf Bookshop and Cafe, Old Cross, Hertford. http://www.leafcafe.co.uk  twitter: @leafcafe_uk

Follow me on Twitter: @pinsnfeathers

Secrets and Spies

8 July Harry and Mabel

Scenes from the performance at Hertford Theatre on 8 July. Rhiannon Drake as Mabel and Ken Boyter as Harry in a scene from Erin Thompson’s play Over By Christmas. October 1914: Harry has just told his fiancee Mabel that he has had to enlist, in order to protect Mabel’s teenage brother who was ordered to enlist by his employer. Mabel is not happy.

8 July Seal & King 2

Ken and Rhiannon as 13 year old Scouts Seal and King in 1914, in Emma Blowers’ play Be Prepared and Be Ware, convinced they have stumbled across German spies who are making explosives to blow up London.

8 July Seal & King 5

Seal and King four years on – Rhiannon as a Hertford Grammar School boy in a very fetching blazer!

Scenes on a Summer Evening


Two plays that have emerged from the Introduction to Playwriting Course in Hertford are getting a script-in-hand performance next week. Both writers have done a lot of work on their plays and a great deal of revising and redrafting is still going on – but it is going to be a really good evening, moving and entertaining.

Tuesday 8 July 2014
8pm – 10pm
At the River Room, Hertford Theatre

Be prepared… and Be Ware
by Emma Blowers
1914. Keen boy scout Seal is ready for the thrilling adventure of wartime, spotting German spies and training to be a hero on the streets and fields of Ware. But the reality of war forces him to learn that doing your duty can mean difficult choices.

Over by Christmas by Erin Thompson
Braughing, 1914. Harry and Mabel are engaged to be married when war breaks out. While Harry enlists to fight in the trenches of France, Mabel is left at home to take over Harry’s job on the railway. Each is changed by their experience and they become caught in a desperate struggle to find a future together in the shadow of the Great War.

Actors: Ken Boyter and Rhiannon Drake

New Playwriting Course

After the success of the first Introduction to Playwriting course, I’m running a new 10 week course for the autumn term, at Hertford Theatre.

The course will start on Monday 23 September and run to Monday 2 December, with no class on Monday 28 October (half term).

The classes are for anyone interested in writing for stage or screen – whether you have already written drama and want to develop your writing further, or whether you are taking the first steps. The sessions are very practical and a lot of fun. See the Playwriting Classes page on this site for more details or contact me on katemiller@globalnet.co.uk

Plays for a Summer Evening

(L-R) Erin, Stuart, Steve, Catherine and Kate Readers and audienceA warm June evening in the River Room at Hertford Theatre, the rush of the River Lea outside providing the background noise to our evening of play readings. It was hard to remember that our spring term playwriting course had started in such extremes of ice and snow in January that we had to postpone the first class as no-one could get out of their house. But the year and the writers had come a long way. Scenes which had started as the germ of an idea, or a quickly improvised writing exercise, had been developed into fully fledged dramas, in some cases part of a full=length play.

After the end of the first 10 week course, the writers took a few weeks to work further on a selected scene, and in June we held a reading of the pieces in front of an invited (and friendly!) audience. We were delighted to have a professional actor take many of the lead roles – the excellent and versatile Catherine Forrester, who was ably assisted by Steve Scales, with Erin Thompson, Stuart Handysides and Kate Miller reading other roles.

Plays read were:

I’ll sing you one-oh    by Emma Blowers

A long time between stations          by Stuart Handysides

Veil of light    by Janine Barlow

Rock-a-bye baby        by Erin Thompson

Candy at the Party    by Tyler Drewe

Sweets                        by Judi Sissons