REPOST: Charlene James- on process

Playwright Charlene James wrote two provocations for the Bruntwood Prize back in 2017. As CUTTIN’ IT opens for it’s first preview here at the Royal Exchange Theatre tonight, here’s a repost! 

A sensation at its 2016 premiere, Charlene James’ fiercely brilliant play confronts the vital issue of FGM in Britain. Bold and tender, harrowing and heartbreaking, CUTTIN’ IT will be directed by former Royal Exchange Assistant Director (RTYDS) Nickie Miles-Wildin.


Write what you’re passionate about.

I don’t necessarily believe that you have to write what you know. Of course, it’s a great way to get started, writing about a subject you’re familiar with or a character you know really well but don’t feel that’s all you can do. Sometimes it’s more interesting and challenging to write something you know little about, something that isn’t part of your community or has nothing to do with the work you do or the people you hang around with. You can always do the research and discover new things along the way. I think it’s more important that you have a passion for what it is you want to write. That thing you heard or saw that won’t leave your head and invoked such a reaction in you that you have to write it down.

*As an exercise: discover a new character or world in a place that is unfamiliar to you. What would make you the best person to tell this story? What are you going to bring to it?


Find someone, who perhaps isn’t your mum and dad, that you trust and can give you constructive criticism.

When I did the young writers programme at the Royal Court, one of the most invaluable things I gained was two other writers who I could get feedback from. We’d set ourselves tasks every week with deadlines and then meet up and read a scene of each other’s work and critique it. As a writer, you can find yourself in a solitary environment a lot of the time when you’re creating work. It can be really beneficial to have fellow writers to bounce ideas off, read and feedback on your work and talk to when you’re hitting that wall as they’ve most likely been through it too.

*If you don’t know any writers yet to get feedback from, what specific questions could you ask friends or family members when they read your work so they don’t just say, ‘It was great’? Ask them to give you a synopsis of your story. Ask them what they think it is about. Are they missing key elements? Why? What message (if any) did they take from your play?


Don’t punish yourself if you haven’t written for 8 hours a day.

I’ve had writers tell me that they write for 8 hours a day. I’d ask them what their definition of ‘writing’ was because I’m definitely not the type of writer that can sit in front of my laptop for 8 hours each creating scenes and writing dialogue. I felt guilty that there could be a day in the week when I didn’t even open my laptop – can I call myself a writer if I’m not physically tapping away at the keyboard, putting in my 8 hours? And then I began to look at it in a different way: If you’re on the bus thinking about your characters, the structure, the world of the play – that’s writing. If you’re doing research – that’s writing. If you’re scribbling down that argument the couple in the supermarket are having – that’s writing. If you’re watching cats do silly things on YouTube – you’re not writing but you may need a break. Those hours of thinking, researching and scribbling all adds up. It’s important to be disciplined though. Set aside some time each day when you are going to open the laptop or notebook and write those pages you’ve been thinking about.

*When in the day are you most creative and can utilise this time to get the best out of your work? Be honest with yourself – if you go to that coffee shop, are you going to get work done or are you going to be distracted by the hot barista? Where is the best place for you to work?


Published on:
9 Jan 2020


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  1. Thanks for this; writing is dreaming and hoovering; cats on u-tube, feeling sad and all sorts of stuff as well as a pencil and a notebook, but best is bouncing your words and ideas off people and getting responses

    by Robert Redfern
    12:44 pm, 28 Sep 2018