Acclaimed theatre writer and dramatist Lucy Flannery is currently writer-in-residence for the University of Plymouth’s English and Creative Writing department. This role is supported by Literature Works and as part of her residency, we asked Lucy to provide us with some blog posts we could share with you all.
Since January, Lucy has been coming to campus to spend time mentoring and working with English and Creative writing students, the aspiring writers of the future, to help them discover the dramatic genre and to answer their writing queries. In light of the current situation, Lucy’s residency has paused for now, but she wanted to share some positivity with you. Here’s her first blog post:
‘Alliteration is good’.
I have discovered something through my residency at Plymouth University — I absolutely adore alliteration.
It’s a device, I recognise now, that I have been using for years; I find it a more effective mnemonic than other methods such as acronyms. I believe others also find it useful which is why I employed it at my recent workshop. I will highlight five key concepts, I told the audience at Pitch and Punt: How To Sell Your Work and, pleasingly, they will all begin with P. [The five Ps were Proofreading, Presentation, Preparation, Practise and Professionalism.]
But it’s to another letter I turn when looking at my residency as a whole: the letter ‘E’. And “E’s are good”, as The Shamen memorably stated. There are three E’s which form the cornerstones – or more accurately, the tripod – of my approach.
The first E is Encouragement. It’s hard being a writer, sometimes bitterly so. We all need every thumbs-up we can get, at all stages of our career. And yes, of course it’s important to give feedback where rookie errors are being made and writing could be tightened and improved, but it’s also essential to acknowledge the stuff that novice writers are doing well. And invariably, there is plenty that they are getting right, not least developing their own distinctive tone. A writer’s most precious possession is his or her unique voice – that delicate, indefinable essence that can all too easily be drowned out in the welter of guidance, advice and ever more strident dos and don’ts that are all over the internet and social media threads. Feedback and criticism are vitally important, of course they are, but the value of encouragement is incalculable.
The second E is Enthusiasm. Yes, it’s definitely hard being a writer . . . but we love it! What else are we going to do? We are storytellers, we need to write in the same way that we need to breathe, or eat. The word enthusiasm comes from the Greek en theos meaning the god, or spirit, within; it’s a way of connecting with our best self, the one that feels joy, and passion, and conviction. It’s the part of us that connects with the natural world and each other, and communicates ideas and emotions that are both universal and specific. It’s all too easy for anyone trying to carve out a career in the arts to sink under the weight of disappointment and rejection. Sometimes we need to stop, take a breath and take pride in what we have achieved. That’s why I embrace every opportunity to celebrate the craft of storytelling and express enthusiasm for its exponents.
I’m aware this probably makes me sound deeply uncool. As a society, it feels like we prize scepticism, cynicism and satire above all else. We certainly need a healthy dose of those qualities but we also need enthusiasm, by the bucket-load. Because enthusiasm, I would suggest, is a necessary prerequisite for fun. As evidence I produce the abundance of online kitten and puppy videos. There’s no sign of our appetite for this type of footage ever abating and why should it? Puppies = legs, ears and concentrated enthusiasm. After all, have you ever seen a pup that isn’t having the time of its life?
My final E is Expertise. I have been a professional writer for over two decades. It’s good to share with others those tips and pointers that I would have loved to have had revealed to me when I first started out. Some of these I’ve stumbled upon by accident, some are blatantly stolen from other writers and some are hard-won through painful trial and error. All are worth passing on.
But it’s not just a one-way process. I firmly believe that whatever stage we are at, we should be open to learning from one another and that this exchange should continue, right up until we lay our pen down for the final time. I learn constantly – from my students, from fellow writers and from the greats. I love absorbing something new. Whether it be a way of constructing subtext, a technique for improving editing or a method for avoiding procrastination, I am hungry for everything that you can teach me.
So here’s one last, bonus E – Education. Like a puppy, it’s for life.
Words by Lucy Flannery, March 2020.