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Studying Writing
Studying Writing
Life after Graduation
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Developing as a Writer
Lomas, Beth
Beth Lomas writes about studying on the Postgraduate Diploma in Writing for Performance at the Arden School of Theatre, City College Manchester, with tutor Alison Jeffers.
"There is nothing, Sir, too little for so little a creature as man. It is by studying little things that we attain the great art of having as little misery and as much happiness as possible."
- Samuel Johnson[1]

My world has changed. I noticed this recently when I washed, deseeded and sliced a red pepper. I was aware of the vibrancy, smoothness and freshness of the fruit, the way I was holding the knife, the sound and smell of rain in my backyard, traffic vibrations and voices on the radio. I was acutely aware of everything at once... how easily satisfied I had become with so little. My awareness and retention of minute details has gradually developed since studying on the Postgraduate Diploma in Writing for Performance at the Arden School of Theatre, Manchester. This development of perception is surely the subplot of the course.

"There are many kinds of understanding. I understand my own play ('Ashes to Ashes')... It comes from an area of perception of one's own life."
- Harold Pinter[2]

How am I developing as a writer?

I now experience the endless joy of looking at a blank page. I divulge myself in the act of daydreaming knowing that it is perfectly acceptable. I watch my hand as I hold my fountain pen. I feel the weight of it, I smell the ink to the point of taste, I delight in the aesthetic appeal of the nib and relish in the thought of the power of the pen. When I eventually kick-start myself into action, I am occasionally stunned by the unlimited ream of incessant drivel I unleash. I then ponder over whether I have the audacity, let alone the right, to call myself a 'writer'. I would like to know at what point in your development you are recognized as a writer. Is it when you join a writers group, start on a writing course, complete your first short play, write a case study or - wait for it - keep a journal? Then again, is it a more physical thing: is it in your actions; the way you speak, the way you move; the fact you always have pen and paper to hand? "AARGHHH!" (Takes a sip of tea and resumes typing) Excuse me for wallowing in self-pity; it is fleeting - honest! Maybe exercising an acute perception, albeit sometimes wrapped up in a brown paper parcel, is part of the ever-developing gift of writing.

So, how am I developing? (Takes a deep breath) In my calm moments I am grateful, respectful, happy, and in awe at even being able to rise to such a state of being. I feel utterly content in using all my senses to experience momentary flashes of life - my life; my reality. In a rather more frantic state I am panicked. I am stressed. I suffer from 'not enough hours in the day'. I exhibit signs of an overactive thyroid (headaches, tears, throwing things about), smoke copious amounts of cigarettes and buzz around on caffeine. I tell myself I am a fraud, a fake, a charlatan. Who on Earth wants to listen to what I have to say? (This is where alien connections come in handy). I am a loner who has started to talk 'politely' to the vacuum! Why? Why am I doing this? Why would anybody want to push themself into a lifestyle that has no security, offers little assurance, drives you insane and turns you into a hermit? (Looks in mirror to check for a beard.)

Why do I continue to want to develop as a writer? I am on a never-ending journey of increased understanding and knowledge. The effects on my internal world allow me to experience joy in the smallest of acts. The effects on my external world allow me to try to make sense of other people - even if I do not understand them I can at least attempt to. I am aware that this course is giving me the tools to increase, as well as control, my imagination.

This course provides a learning environment in which the student writer participates and observes, first-hand, all aspects of theatre production. The aim is to develop a critical understanding and awareness of how directors, actors and scene designers interpret a script. Fuelled with this knowledge and tooled with the advanced skills of the writer's craft, the students embark on initiating their own creative projects. This course 'embraces' the notion of collaboration and it is this concept that provides the plot for the whole course, i.e. that the writer is at the heart of the collaborative process:

"The playwright is responsible for everything on the stage... Anything that happens on that stage is playwrighting."
- John Guare[3]

At the heart of the process; that means if anything goes wrong it's my fault. The thought of all that pressure and I am not even established. Maybe I should have a spot of therapy or maybe I need to join the WA (Writers Anonymous). Don_t panic! There is help at hand. Every Monday morning I walk into my tutorial and sit with my peers, laughing nervously, our writing hands shaking - withdrawal symptoms from holding a pen! We are all going through the same anxieties - Mrs. X has to eat lots of chocolate and drink loads of caffeine when she's working. (Aside) I feel human again. I am no longer an outcast, a loner, a hermit - YIPPEE! No beard!

The group tutorials provide a sanctuary for the student writer. It is here where I feel secure. I am in the care of professionals who empathize with my plight. This security and confidence-building has increased my self-belief. This, in turn, allows my imagination to run freely. It is becoming more open to detail; it is not scared to venture into the realms of the absurd and come back a little wiser (there's that hermit again). And so, my world is changing. To most people I think I appear the same but there have been a few exceptions. I have been told that I am speaking with 'real' passion and excitement about my writing and that I appear calmer, more confident and happier. I also have pads of paper and pens strategically placed around my house just in case I have a sudden 'thought' and feel the need to scribble it down! Mmm... maybe I am a 'real' writer.

The plot of this course may be about collaboration but the real magic, for me, lies in its subplot - perception. It is the experience of an ever-developing awareness of oneself and others; it is being satisfied with the simplest of actions; it is living and acknowledging a multi-sensory existence. I am writing with the whole of my body; with a sense of rhythm and pulse. The writer may be at the centre of the collaborative process but the heart, the pulse, lies within the script. The script is the writer's understanding; a measure of perception within their development. My development as a writer is due to my development as a human being. My development as a human being is due to an ever-increasing awareness; to a greater perception of life. Whether your ponderings are packaged in brown paper or wrapped in an embossed foil with silver lizard print, it's worth unwrapping time and time again just to see what has developed.

1. Schott, B., Schott's Original Miscellany, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc., London, 2003
2. Quigley, D., "The Art of Drama: Dean Quigley Interviews Playwright Harold Pinter", Columbia University Record December 6th 1996, Vol.22, No.11
3. Plimpton, G.ed. The Paris Review Interviews: Playwrights at Work, Harvill, Press, London, 2000

Beth Lomas � November 2003

Biographical Note

Beth Lomas is in the final year of the Postgraduate Diploma in Writing for performance at the Arden School of Theatre. Over the past twelve months she has been fortunate enough to have had her work short-listed and performed. She has an MA in Music and has taught in various music/theatre schools. She now teaches singing, piano and woodwind from home, allowing more time to concentrate on writing.
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