TOOLKIT SERIES 2- WEEK 2 Chinonyerem Odimba on Not Writing

Writing a play takes huge dedication. It takes time, head-space, leaps of imagination plus vision, bravery, commitment, compassionate enquiry beyond your immediate experience and perhaps most of all creativity. It is important that we bring compassion and understanding to the situation we find ourselves in. This continues to be a tremendously difficult time for theatre and the artists who make it. 

Whether you have been able to be creative or not, we want to try and find ways to support you to continue to be engaged with the craft of writing for performance, engaging with an audience, telling stories and taking people on journeys. We truly hope that this series of on-line workshops – the Dramatists Toolkit #2 – will inspire and support you to be creative and to find new possibilities for your work to be realised.

We hope that this series will prove insightful, inspiring, challenging and eye-opening, leading you to new places and bringing comfort when your creativity eludes you. Coming up- Bruntwood Prize winner James Fritz on writing a play for audio and explorations of writing with community with Nickie Miles-Wildin, Testament and Sonia Jalaly. 

This week- let the brilliant Chinonyerem Odimba guide you though a process of coming back to your writing though ‘Not Writing’ 

 

As writers, we are all aware of the fiery joy that happens somewhere inside us when we have caught the bug of a story. When the words and worlds flow from our imagination, to form words, and take shape so urgently that thrill is real.

But if that was a thing of wonder before this moment, it is now feels like an unreachable dream in the year that has tested us to feel focused and creative.

So really this workshop is about or being creative when you feel blocked, and how to take care of yourself through your process of coming back to our writing.

The following exercises can be done on a laptop but if it is accessible to you, try to do them using another way of noting, whether that is your phone, a notebook, or my personal favourite, a series of spare used envelopes.

Any writing done as part of these exercises is to be presumed to be private – for your eyes – this is a conversation with yourself and actually writers are rubbish at giving each other advice when we are stuck with how writing. So any way here’s some words about what I do when being creative feels like hard work.

 

Not Writing Exercise One:

This exercise is better done with eyes closed or looking at something not too distracting.

Building a room in your mind.

It is as it says on the tin.

Imagining a room without filling it with characters, animals or words is harder than you think.

First send anything from 30 mins to one hour, imagining that you are building a room from scratch. Brick by brick, you are putting together this room, choosing what materials the room will be built with, what shape the roof of the room will be, what the flooring looks like etc. Continue building the room, until you get to the fine details of décor, the colour of the walls, how light or dark the room is, and what style the room will be in. The important thing is to not build a room for your preferences but to just build a room that feels right to build. So the look, feel, shape of the room might be very different from your reality.

Once you have that, open your eyes (if closed), grab your notepad, phone etc and right now the first 10 details about the room that come to you as quickly as you can.

 

This exercise is the one I used to get to this particular note about the world of my play direction for ‘Unknown Rivers’–

“Dee’s house is a small narrow house. Split into two floors, the first floor is made up of a hallway and front room as well as a kitchen – all the rooms have all the signs of excessive hoarding. The kitchen is to the left, and a front room to the right. The front room has two faux-leather sofas, which we can barely make out, as well as framed pictures of Nene in school uniform that balance on top of piles of magazines, portraits of a child, and a painted portrait of Dee that peeks out from behind one of the sofas. On one side of the room is an almost panoramic view of the skyline from a window that runs from one edge of wall to another. The windowsill is filled with an array of ceramic and glass ornaments, piles of National Geographic magazines, and other odd bits. On a small coffee table by the side of one of the sofas is a phone.

There is a smaller room at the back of the house – a playroom of sorts filled with shelving – full of toys – as well as remnants of sewing paraphernalia, a clothes dummy, reams/tubes of African material.

Down the hallway is a wallpaper of various maps. Maps of different parts of the local area, different parts of the local town, and maps of unknown rivers. Some maps are larger than others. At the end of the hallway is one large framed photograph of Dee and Nene – sixteen years before the moment we meet them.

Upstairs, there is a bathroom and two bedrooms. One is Dee’s – a plainly decorated room bursting to full with broken bits of furniture and a rickety wardrobe in one corner.

The other bedroom is Nene’s bedroom – small, girly, neat.”

 

Not Writing Exercise Two:

Choose as many of these as you want and tick them off in a day –

 

Drink water…

Open the window when it’s a little breezy…

Hold hands with a house plant…

Call a friend…

Join a webinar about something you’ve never done…

Challenge yourself to cook a meal that has all the presentation of your favourite restaurant…

Read this – https://www.newyorker.com/science/maria-konnikova/how-to-beat-writers-block

Watch your favourite film or read your favourite play/novel again and remember with glee all the things you love about it…

Write down all the things that make you a great person that aren’t about you being a writer…

Write an email to a friend who’s work you’ve seen to just want to tell them what joy it brought you…

Recreate the dance moves form one of your favourite music videos or musical…

Write lists – non writing lists, lists of all the places you have lived, all the names of school friends, all the times you’ve laughed until you cried…

 

Not writing Exercise Three:

Creative writing is such a big heading that covers so many types of writing and sometimes when I’m stuck with playwriting I try to write in a completely different form. Most of the time for me that’s poetry but every so often I write other types of things –

Pick one of the below and write in that style. Don’t write a story about it. Write as though you are writing for that form. You are allowed to look at examples of this kind of writing. You are allowed to get lost in a recipe book for hours. Or read a comic to

  • A restaurant review.
  • An Agony Aunt advice piece about relationships or family.
  • A picture book for children under 7-years old.
  • A recipe for someone who has never heard of the dish before – even if a popular dish!
  • A Haiku
  • My current favourite – writing voiceover narrative for wildlife shows.
  • 10 things you would say to your younger self.
  • Start s WhatsApp story ‘relay’ with a friend…only 100 words each for each message – passing the story between you – having fun creating twists and turns that the other has to respond to.
  • A commentary piece on something you are passionate about as though you are a world leading expert in it.
  • Political speech that you think your local MP would give – this particular one I did as an exercise once when trying to get the speech of a political character in my play ‘His Name is Ishmael’ –

 

“My people!

 

(beat)

 

My people?

I am the new way.

 

Florence puts her hand to her ear.

Waiting for a response.

The noise of the crowd roar until it slowly fades down again.

 

Are you ready? Because today you have chosen to be ready.

Today. My people have chosen to be ready. Ready for a

change. For a new way…

 

(beat)

 

All the doubters. The haters. Those that hated on our dreams. Those that prayed for evil on our plans. Those that wanted to bring juju to our door. Your juju did not work! Can you not see? Your wicked ways have not lead to anything but disgrace. Devil is all yours. You can go and hide because we, my people, we are ready! Today we are ready.

We have fought a big fight against bigotry, against greed, against the mindset that does not allow for change. We have fought that war and won.

Like David against Goliath

 

Crowd roars.

We have seen that the spirit of goodness against evil, love against hate, justice against corruption will win. I am the bigger woman, your first lady, ready to lead us towards change. Change that does not involve corruption, change that does not mean inequality, but a change for everyone!

 

Crowd roars.

 

Do you hear me my people!

A change for everyone. Man, woman or child, today is your day of victory too! Let us celebrate together. Together we have victory!

 

Crowd roars. “

 

Not Writing Provocations –

 

My last workshop on here was about the enquiry as an active tool in your writing process, and so much of my work starts with questions, so it feels important to me that when things feel sticky with my writing, that I put myself in a place of enquiry again.

Write answers to the following questions – write as much or as little as you want in response…

  • When was that moment that you got a buzz for writing?
  • Where did you feel it? In your body, your senses, in the room, or somewhere else?
  • What made you decide that you want to share your imagination with other people?
  • Are there any particular people you are writing for? Family, friends, a community of people, a whole city, or country?
  • When did you feel most alive whilst writing?
  • Where is your favourite place to write, and why?
  • If you had to choose one place or moment in your memory that you wish you could capture in words, what would that moment/memory be?
  • Where or when do you get your best ideas?
  • If you could read anything right now to remind you why you love writing what would it be, and why?
  • Why is your story/ writing vital for you?
Chinonyerem Odimba is a playwright, Theatre director and poet. Her work for theatre includes ‘Joanne’ and ‘Amongst the Reeds’ for Clean Break / The Yard, a modern retelling of Twist for Theatre Centre, and ‘Medea’ at Bristol Old Vic. Recent commissions have seen her work produced at Hampstead Theatre, Kiln Theatre, Live Theatre, Watermill Theatre, and Radio 4. She is currently working on a new musical for  Paines Plough.
For screen Chinonyerem, recently wrote a new film ‘Adulting’ for Channel 4 (2020) and a new short film for BBC, as well as working on a new feature film.
Her work has been shortlisted for several awards including the Adrienne Benham Award, Alfred Fagon Award, and the Bruntwood Playwriting Award. She is winner of the 2018 Sonia Friedman Award. She is a finalist for the 2020 Women’s Playwriting Prize.
She has also worked as an Assistant Director/Director for Bristol Old Vic and Theatre503. Chinonyerem was due to be directing ‘Braids’ at Live Theatre, Newcastle in April 2020.
Chinonyerem Odimba also teaches at theatres and universities across the UK.
Published on:
27 Jan 2021

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