Like most of us, I’ve been considering where I sit (stand? Lay on the floor?) in all this. From the big existential questions to the more specific to this right here ‘what do I do with my blog?’
However many months before I have any theatre to write about, what to do with what was, until now mainly a theatre blog.
The answer early on was nothing at all. My brain barely had the capacity to write an email, never mind a blog post. So aside from a couple of reflections on the state of theatre (or state of the Government inaction on it) there didn’t feel like much to say. I struggled with online theatre, so writing about that seemed a bit pointless.
More to the point, the other side was, I had contemplated giving up theatre reviewing before the world gave me no choice. So where did that leave me as a writer/blogger/whatever you want to call it?
The Jury is still out on whether I’ll return to theatre reviewing. The truth is like many of us I was burnt out in many ways. But my problem was also being pulled to write what other people wanted. Whether that was to convince somewhere to publish me, whether that was a publication that wanted me to churn out as many pieces as possible with no real care for quality, or whether it was the pressure of the companies I was writing about. It was all a lot, and it took the joy out of it.
That said, my last piece before the world went to hell is one of my favourite’s I’ve written in a long time. My ‘essay’ on Daf James’ Tylwyth feels like the most authentic thing I had written in a long time. It came from a place of passion, but also the structure, the ‘deep dive’ (as the kids say) analysis felt like ‘me’ and it felt like stepping off the treadmill of formulaic reviewing to do what I started this for- to really dive into the things I loved, in the hope someone wanted to read them too.
Blogging started as an outlet for all the nerdy thoughts I had nowhere to put (or nobody to bore with) as a spin-off of being a PhD student and wanting somewhere to dump all the additional things I got nerdy about along the way. And while I’ve naturally morphed into a more ‘traditional’ theatre reviewer, there are so many things I love to talk about- in theatre and beyond. And given there’s an abundance of time and a lack of new theatre, why not shift back to talking about things for the sake of them?
It’s felt difficult because there’s this expectation that if it’s not ‘for’ something if it’s not ‘getting you’ anywhere, then what’s the point?
The point might just be writing for writing’s sake. For the joy of it.
On that note, I have a deep dark secret. Yesterday I sat and wrote 4000 words of creative work. Not for a play, not for a project. Not to turn into some great Millennial novel. For fun.
Ok fanfiction, my confession is after a long hiatus, I wrote some fanfiction.
Firstly no I am not confessing what about, or where or what name I publish that under. I’m an open book but some things are best-kept secret. Not because I’m ashamed (there is a whole blog, and indeed whole books by others on why I am never ashamed of fanfiction), but because the joy is in that existing in an anonymous space, just for me. No pressure, no expectations. If I share it, then nobody who reads it knows anything about me except they stumbled across this story they’d like to read. And that in a world where every ‘side hustle’ or ‘hobby’ has to end up some facet of our careers is really freeing.
When I started writing, at 13, on my old PC it wasn’t ‘for’ anything except my one friend who I wrote and traded fanfiction stories with. We literally wrote them for the joy of it, for the joy of writing them, reading them.
But it’s also the place in writing I feel most ‘free’ …it’s perhaps difficult to explain, but perhaps like entering the world of a computer game, where the rules are set out but the outcome is up for grabs, it’s a place to literally play. As Rainbow Rowell puts it in one of my favourite books;
‘For these hours when their world supplanted the real world. When she could just ride their feelings for each other like a wave, like something falling downhill’
For a Sunday afternoon, just for a couple of hours off and on I was able to have fun, ‘explore’ a world. From a story wandering into my head in the morning to finishing it that evening. I dipped in and out of a world that was fun, that filled my heart with joy- literally in that way you can feel it. More importantly, I wanted to play in that world, I enjoyed sitting with those characters while they told me their story. And it’s writing without expectation. Fanfiction allows you to play with both the big and the small- I wrote yesterday 4000 words of something that wouldn’t get 2 minutes in a play or TV show. But that’s the point to do all that tiny character work that is normally treated as just an exercise but to make it something. Or to do the really big crazy stuff that would never be made ‘real’ in a book, or play or show. I guess it’s true writing freedom- whatever makes you happy.
I feel that way about blogging too when I’m not trying to fit anyone else’s idea of what I should write and instead just following what interests me.
But also, both are also excellent writing exercises. My critical writing skills developed in blogging. I started when doing my Ph.D. and thinking around things, without the pressure of ‘formal’ writing made it easier to think through ideas, talk about things tangential to my work, or just ‘practice’ writing because the big secret is, you get better by doing it. My Ph.D. supervisor might have rolled her eyes and said I ‘write like a journalist’ but blogging helped me find my ‘voice’ as a writer.
Fanfiction too is an excellent writing exercise, or sandbox to develop tools in. Depending on how or what you write. But where else in writing do you get to both experiment with the minute and the huge sweeping in the same format? Playing with currently post-episode character exploration is a great way to consider how the character develops, inner workings of characters, and expanding on what you ‘know’ about them. Or on the other extreme creating an entirely different world/scenario to the existing one is a fantastic exercise in writing. Playing within- and breaking the rules of an existing world is when you think about it as a brilliant way to push yourself out of your comfort zone, or just hone skills. To quote one of my favourite books;
‘The whole point of fanfiction is that you get to play inside somebody else\’s universe. Rewrite the rules. Or bend them. The story doesn\’t have to end. You can stay in this world, this world you love, as long as you want, as long as you keep thinking of new stories.’- (Rainbow Rowell, Fangirl.)
As someone with no formal training in writing, I get a lot of compliments on my character and dialogue work and I can say for a fact I honed that as a kid writing fanfiction. But also, fanfiction is about as close that ‘pure’ reason we write as you can get- it’s telling stories for the sake of telling stories, it’s playing with characters just to see what they can do…it’s daydreaming and imagining for the simple joy of it. As Rowell explores in Fangirl, rather than stopping Cath achieving her ‘potential’ as a writer, it’s the reason she can.
This strange year is teaching us all a lot of things. And for me, it’s learning to go back to what I love. It led me this far, maybe it’ll lead me somewhere else too. Or maybe I’ll just remember what it feels like to enjoy what you do.