1. Know your medium. It’s pretty simple but if you want to write plays, then read and watch a lot of theatre. I read an article a few years ago which suggested that the number of people who enter poetry-writing competitions in any given year far exceeds the number of people who actually buy volumes of poetry. To me, that suggests that a lot of people care more about getting their voice heard – important though that can be – than paying much respect to those poets who have trodden the same path before them. That is fine if you are astonishingly gifted. If that is the case then just keep writing and, genuinely, all the best. However, most of us – and nearly all good or great playwrights – have to work at it. If you want to be a playwright then you should want to find out how other playwrights have told stories before you. Then you can be variously inspired, offended, bored, angered, shocked and educated; use those reactions as a springboard for your own work.
2. Be ready for rejection. Do a quick bit of Googling and you’ll see that even the best playwrights have suffered their share of it. Martin McDonagh had a number of his plays flat-out turned down before his career started in earnest. Michael Frayn writes very eloquently about the number of his plays which have sunk without a trace in theWest Endand Broadway. Every great playwright with a sustained career has had a stinker of a review and on the way up suffered many knock-backs. So ready yourself for people saying, ‘no’, ‘this is bad’ and ‘just get out’. But also remember that not every rejection is necessarily you being wronged. Sometimes you might well have written a bad play. If you really have, try and learn from it. Use your failure as a guide on how to be better. And realise that rejection is very much part of the job.
3. Get something on. The steepest and best learning curve is seeing what does and doesn’t work in front of an audience. Nobody – and I mean nobody – really knows what will or won’t work in a play until you get it on its feet in front of an audience. People will laugh where nobody expected. They will be bored in ways that surprise and dismay you. If you stay alert, you will get constant and immediate feedback on where you’ve messed up, triumphed or just about muddled through. It doesn’t matter where this audience is – the Royal Court, your university, your school, any theatre in the country – once you’ve seen something you’ve written performed it fundamentally changes you as a writer (and a little bit as a person, I think, as well).