I met the writer, theatremaker and dramaturg Kaite O'Reilly three years and one week ago at the Singapore Writers Festival, and we became fast friends and devoted pen pals. The relationship stimulates and sustains me, as I go to Kaite with my highs and lows, and have celebrated and bemoaned hers. If you're a writer struggling away on your own, I hope that you will take heart from what I'm posting today – an excerpt from an email Kaite wrote to me during one of my darker moments – both because of her words, and also because it encourages you to connect with other writers, to share your work, your fears and frustrations, your successes and suggestions. I couldn't do without it.
Kaite's Words of Wisdom
This is a tough response and one I know as a dramatist when you realise the play they want is not the play you have any interest in writing. In fact, perhaps you're not even that kind of playwright for god’s sake! And then distance comes and the breath (BREATHE) and the understanding it is all negotiation and collaboration – in theatre at least, as you know so well – it is all process and nothing is ever lost, nothing is ever 'slashed and burnt' – it is all creative, and we just need to find our way and see what is possible with this particular project.
I have largely made most of the projects I've really committed to – but some, like the novel, I am still roiling with a decade on as in a stormy sea I have no understanding of. But it sort of fascinates me, despite the pain and danger, so I stay engaged and hopeful and learning. It's finding the collaborators and it's deciding what the compromise I'm willing to do is, and within that compromise there is always an integrity still, and learning.
I've also walked away from collaborators, and shelved projects, and put manuscripts again to bed. Not very much in my middle adulthood, but it's always an option that actually the time isn't ripe, and the feedback isn't right, and the fekking market isn't right, and so I go 'So what would I be interested in writing to fit this temper of our time and the people I'm with? And should this be put down now and picked up another time?'
And when I write responses to peoples' work, and critiques, or when I mentor, I always say (as do you) 'this is just one person's perspective'. It will not be that the writing isn't good, or the novel 'right' - it just 'disappoints' certain criteria or ambitions that we have no control over.
All we can do is be true to our selves and true to our writing and what fascinates us and the stories we tell. But also to know as creatures of skill and learning, we can also turn our hands to something else if we decide that may be helpful to where we are in our lives and our careers – and decide is it worth reworking that again in this aspect, what shall we learn and gain from that, or is there a better use of energy and focus at this point or should a different project work better?