THE NIGHT SHIFT
by Park Theatre
If you write, what time of day do you write? For many of us, there's not much choice. Due to those pesky non-writing commitments, we're lucky if there's a moment here or there that we can grab to pull out our notebook or gadget of choice and scribble or tap out a few words.
When I wrote the first draft of my first play, What You Do To People, my kids were still toddlers. So I wrote in half-hour chunks, mostly longhand, sitting on the edge of my bed every night after the children were asleep. I never had time to read over what I'd written the previous day, nor could I think much about what I would write next. The pen pretty much took over. That draft was a hideous mess, full of gaps and inconsistencies, but I had written a story of sorts with a beginning and an end, and that gave me something that I could then work on - hacking away at first, then chipping away more delicately till I had something I could really call a play.
I had a meeting this week to discuss that play and it struck me that what emerged from those short, dimly-lit, feverish little late-night sessions was a huge amount of subconscious material that I might not have had access to in a more considered stint sitting upright at my businesslike desk in the cool daylight. The play was described at that meeting as having dreamlike and dark fairytale elements, and while those qualities may not be appropriate for every play, I don't want to lose them altogether.
This niggle intensified when I flicked through my brand new copy of Lisa Goldman's No Rules Handbook for Writers (an 'anti-handbook' written by someone whose work I admire and who's given me warm and generous support). 'Try writing early or late,' I spotted, 'when your mind is most relaxed.' Exactly.
These days I work mid-morning to early afternoon when the kids are at school. If I'm at home in the evening, I tend to grab the chance to go to bed shortly after they do, as I now have to get up cruelly early and need a few hours' sleep every now and then in order to function. But lately I find myself using words like 'plodding' and 'workmanlike' in my daily progress tweets. I know something is missing. I need some of that crazy, sleep-intoxicated, illogical, unselfconscious magic back. I look at my day and it doesn't seem possible, but something is going to have to shift - for a while at least.
Waiting for the perfect time to write is, of course, fatal. If you do that, I will go all bossy and tell you off. But if you have any choice at all (and many of us have more choice than we admit), it may be worth experimenting with carving that time out at different times of day. Just to see when the magic happens for you.