My Way is Not the Best Way but It's Mine

As you may or may not know, I do a bit of writing. What I don’t do very much is write about writing. There’s a lot of writing-about-writing about and I don’t feel the need, or in possession of the appropriate tackle, to add meaningfully to that existing canon.

These few paragraphs may be a small exception. Then again, they may not because what I’m doing today is not suggesting a way you should write but, rather, a way you don’t have to write. You can if you want to, and you’ll probably be way better off if you do, but you don’t have to.

At least, I don’t think you do. The older I get, the less stuff I seem to know for sure.


Lots of the most brilliant writers seem to have lots of brilliant ways to write. They utilise hundreds of tiny index cards and an array of large white boards and felt tip pens and truly-beautiful note pads with pens that spew ink in controlled mayhem. 

These brilliant and envied (by me, at least) writers create a detailed road map of their writing before they ever write anything at all. They may well write entire biographies for their characters such that they know their lineage back to the War of the Roses and they delve deeper into their inner psyche than Freud ever got with any real person.

When they finally come to write, the road map they have created is so clear that the writing itself is a lavender-strewn stroll down a country laneway in high summer to the virtual village pub of the final page…

A quick read back and it sounds like I might be mocking these people. I’m not – gosh, I’m ‘so’ not. I envy them quite a bit. I would love to have a road map of juggled index cards and white boards and ink-ridden moleskine jottings. I’d love to give that a successful try.

Make no mistake, ‘successful’ is the key word in that last sentence ‘cos I have tried. I’ve utilised packs of postcards and written stuff on them (mostly ‘Act 1’, ‘Act 2’ and ‘Act 3’). I’ve even bought software to organise my brain and my plotting into some coherent mass.

None of it works for me.

I get bored and distracted, I lose impetus such that I may even give up what I was trying to do and go and tidy the kitchen instead.

All I can do is write. 

‘Write it out’, that’s what I do. If I sense that I have something to write, all that I can successfully do is sit down and write it. If I ignore the nagging pulse in my arm that tells me I should be writing, if I break out the index cards and the software and the white board (I don’t even have a white board, not really) then I will lose my way and probably the initial inspiration too.

I’m not at all proud of this. In fact, this post feels more like a confession than most anything else I’ve ever written here. I long to be the consummate writing professional, plotting and planning my attack, getting to know my characters, laying the paving before I set off. But I can’t. All I can do is jump into the mire and start plodding my way through. Except that’s wrong, that last bit is all wrong. It’s never a plod or a trudge, not for me. Once I’ve got over the guilt of not doing all the plotting and planning, I sail, I skim along at a rate of knots. Ideas that never would have occurred to me while gazing at an index card pop up from nowhere. I’m sorry, it’s what works for me.

And there are many who will tell you how wrong my way actually is. Robert McKee, if I understand and paraphrase him correctly, would suggest that I will never raise myself about the linear and the obvious and even the cliché if I don’t do my groundwork first. He may be right for 99% of the people but I don’t think he’s right for me. How do I know? Simple. If I had to do all that stuff, I wouldn’t be writing. I’ll still be sitting staring at the groundwork wondering what the fuck to do next.

I reckon a large proportion of writers probably hate the ground work but they do it anyway. They do it because it makes their writing infinitely better and smarter and more original and wonderful and free. Like I said, I genuinely respect that and see the value in it. It just doesn’t work for me.

There is one crucial aspect to the silly amateur way I do things. Crucial. I have to reserve the right to hate the first and second drafts of anything I write. I have to resist any urge to settle for my first and second go at anything. The truth is, I believe I do a lot of the index card/white board stuff in my head, I’m constantly juggling and twisting stuff around as if that is my default setting. Perhaps that’s why any physical manifestation of the process alienates me so. But, no matter how much juggling I do in a first draft, there is loads still left to do. Huge swathes must be cut and chucked in the bin. What came first may now come last or somewhere in the middle. Everything is considered to be in flux until it is not. 

It’s a bit like making a jigsaw puzzle with quite a few of the pieces hammered into the wrong place just to get some idea of how it all might fit together. I think that’s okay, for me at least, but then you have to step back and see which pieces are patently wrong, prise them out, and get them right.

If there’s a point to this post. I think it’s this. I think there are lots of ways of writing and if you’re stuck staring at the notebook or the plotting software, consider letting it go for a while and just writing. Just write. See where you go and where you end up. Just don’t settle for what you write in that initial foray. 

Never settle.

Until it’s good.

Easter is a Hard Habit to Break

I don’t really believe in anything much, religion-wise, anymore but still Easter remains a hard habit to break. 

I looked up the word ‘Agnostic’ on Wikipedia to see if that’s what I am these days. I do reckon I’m some breed of that. 

There’s lots of different types, apparently and, from my quick read, I think the term ‘Soft Agnostic’ is possibly best suited to me. 

According to Wikipedia, a ‘Soft Agnostic’ is someone who doesn’t know or believe in anything today but who reckons it is possible that someday they might.

Gosh that sounds like an invite for every religious head in the land to come banging on my door and email. Please don’t. I’m a lot tougher than I sound and I know what I know… today. You won’t change my mind about any of this, trust me on that.

If I sound rather wish-washy in my disbelief well that’s easy to explain. That’s because it’s Easter Time again  and, as I said, a couple of times now, this Easter thing is a hard habit to break. 

I was never what you would call ‘Devout’ but I was brought up in an Irish household where all the Catholic observances were observed. We did Easter, Christmas, Lent, Ascensions, Resurrections, Ashes, Palms, Loaves and Fishes. You name it, we did it. But none of it was done in a ‘Carrie’s Mum’ crazy ass kind of a way. It was all just a part of Community, Family and Life and it didn’t feel restrictive or oppressive or naive or false. It was just the way everyone did things.

In that environment, as a kid, Easter was the most immersive thing. Christmas was full to the brim with lovely distractions; toys and food and men in red suits and first-run movies. The theological part of Christmas was always rather sweet and happy-ever-after. But Easter… that was another thing altogether. Easter was like a real time movie that was far too graphic for a kid to be allowed to see and therein, perhaps, lay some of the fascination. We had grown up with Jesus as this good guy who did amazing things and slapped down arguments in winning ways. Now, he was caught and he had no safety pin concealed in his garment with which to cunningly escape. He was to be stripped naked and degraded and whipped and dragged to the street and nailed up on a lump of wood. He was to die. The hero of the movie, the James Bond, the Doc Savage of the piece was nailed up and dying, his side was being slit with a sword to make sure he was dead and blood and water was running out… and I was seven.

I was seven, or eight, or nine and this was played out every year in real time. I use the phrase 'real time' over and over again because that it how it seemed. It was like a biblical version of 24 and we didn't just watch it or hear it, we played it out. We went over and back to the church and lived all the big scenes. We had our feet washed on Thursday night, we had a requiem thing on Friday at three o’clock, just as Jesus died, and we gathered at midnight on Saturday night to cheer him back out of that tomb as soon as we could.

After being a kid, and living these scenes out like that, it doesn’t ever really go away. No matter how thoroughly the faith you might have had sails away on a cold wind of logic, historical fact, and basic common sense. 

It’s Good Friday morning as I write this and, although I won’t be in a church this weekend, I still feel the urge to play my music sombre and keep my diet simple. I’m still aware that it’s a ‘Day’ unlike others, for some reason that I can’t quite pin down. Oh, and I respect and acknowledge those people who will live out these days as I used to do as a kid. You go for it. You’re doing the right thing for you and for your respected beliefs and let no one tell you otherwise.

I wonder how much Easter touches people who are non-religious, other than me? Am I a curious hybrid of religious upbringing and adult understanding or am I much more the norm than I imagine I am?


All I know is that yesterday, on Holy Thursday morning, I was drawn from a busy work schedule to go into the church when there was nobody there except the ladies preparing the altar for the ceremonies to come. I went in and I lit a candle. I lit it for my Mum and Dad who would have attended all these ceremonies, if they were still here. and perhaps I lit it for me too, who would not.

What does it all mean? Damned if I know.

All I know is that this Easter thing… it’s a hard habit to break. 

The ‘Dance Night’ Adventure

This week I got to show my newest little play to a theatre audience. I just want to scribble down a little bit about it, while it’s fresh in my head. 

‘Dance Night’ is a fifteen minute theatre play which was written specifically for the Claremorris Fringe Theatre Festival and it was written with a particular cast in mind, all of who (thankfully) agreed to take part.

It was quite funny, actually. I finally made myself happy with the play one Sunday night back in November 2013. Of course there had been the customary draft-after-draft but now, finally, I had something in hand that I was reasonably content with. I printed off a few copies of the script and went around to Donna and Eamon’s houses and slipped them quietly through their letterboxes (Tara lives a bit too far away) then I ran away before I could be heard. Within half an hour I was getting simultaneous calls from both of them, waxing positive about the script, committing to do it, and berating me for not calling in for tea.

The premise of the play is that Diana is delivering her lecture to her assembled audience about the nature of amateur drama in theatre and how it is really just like a dance. She is interrupted by Edward, who saw her talk advertised in the local paper and, when he noted the title ‘Dance Night’, he mistakenly thought the evening was going to be an actual dance. Edward has come to dance and possibly, if he’s lucky, run into his wife again.

I had a few objectives in mind with this little play. As ever, I wanted to inject a little of my most personal experiences under the skin of the piece and see how that worked Also as ever, I wanted to make my audience laugh. I love a laugh and I work hard to get one if I can. This time, though, I wanted something more. I wanted to make the audience cry too.

Perhaps I’m wrong but I think it’s far easier to make an audience laugh than it is to make them cry. An audience is predisposed to a little laughter and is often actively looking for a reason to do so. Not so with tears. Crying is a private thing and it does not come easily.

After we did the play in Claremorris on Tuesday night, quite a number of people came up to me and to the players and confessed that they had cried at the end of the play. For me it was a dream fifteen minutes. The cast played it beautifully. Let me name them, Donna Ruane, Tara Ní Cheallaigh, and Eamon Smith. They did me proud. I watched the performance from a nice vantage point on high and to the right of the hall so I got to see the lovely warm audience come along with us on our little journey.

This, for me, was the very best thing. To get the opportunity to put the writing onto the stage, to have it so brilliantly performed, and to entertain and even move the audience. There were prizes for best actor and actress and script and we got our fair share of nominations, which was gratifying. But I bet all the winners feel much the same way as I do about things. It's great to win, really great, but to get to do the plays and do them so well - that was the real prize. 

Thanks to everybody at Claremorris Fringe who enabled the sixteen plays to come from far and wide to play on their stage. It was a genuine blast.

Thanks as well to our own lovely Linenhall Arts Centre who allowed us into their wonderful theatre to rehearse at every opportunity. What friends they are.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go and write something new. There’s an audience out there who may not know that they are waiting... but they are.

Late Shows and Slow Dances

This is about two things that we did as ‘teens in a small town’ that ‘teens in a small town’ don’t seem to do anymore.

Movie late shows. Gosh and golly, I saw so many movies at the late shows when I was, like, sixteen and seventeen. I think it was an innovative thing then, at least in our town. Previously, the eight o’clock show would finish at about half ten or eleven and then the cinema would close up and everyone would go home. 

Then some bright spark had this novel idea. Why not do another show at eleven o’clock, running until half one or two? I bet somebody laughed and said it was a bloody ridiculous idea. Who would want to go to that?

But we did want to go and we did go. In some numbers.

It wasn’t for everyone, of course, this 'late show' lark, but it worked for my friends and me. We would go to the pub, you see, on a Friday evening. I didn’t drink and none of my mates did to excess. We’d just enjoy being out and chatting and having a bit of social time together. Come elevenish, the pub would be calling last orders and it still felt like way too early to go home. It was Friday Night, after all. 

The Late Show was our redemption. It was a place to go. It made you feel like it was the weekend because you were out late but it also felt pretty safe too because… well, because it was The Movies.

I saw lots of the movies of the day at those late shows. Rocky 3, For Your Eyes Only, Welcome To LA (left early) but the most memorable one, for reasons I can’t begin to understand, was ‘An Officer and a Gentleman’. I think it was because it was more ‘actiony’ than we thought it would be. We feared a unadulterated love story but there was an assault course too. As Kung Fu fans of old, we all thought that Louis Gossett Jnr looked a bit 'pants' doing his moves and I know that I still do.

The Late Show was a great addition to our extraordinarily limited social calendar. It allowed us to prolong our evenings for little expense and it also allowed us to stroll home in the almost-dawn of high summer without having really gotten into any trouble at all. 

Slow dances seem to be gone too. This is more serious. When we were teens, at the dances, the slow sets were your only chance for a fleeting moment of female proximity. The fast songs would stop, the DJ would exhort the gyrators to ‘take a break’ and the floor would empty. But gradually people would ease back out to repopulate it. Like with Russell’s Ark, they came in two by two. People who knew each other well and, much more importantly, people who hardly knew each other at all. 

It’s hard to talk about the value of the slow dance without sounding faintly pervy but there was really nothing dodgy about it at all. You got to hold on to a girl. Not too tight, not too intimately or, for sure, not too ‘gropily’. In a world where proximity to a girl was largely unattainable for a spotty teen with an unthinking haircut, the slow dance became a warm, innocently-sensual experience.

I say ‘became’ because, initially, I was terrified of the prospect of the slow dance and I would run and hide in the toilets as soon as one was heralded. I didn’t feel equipped to steer a soft girl around the floor without some international incident breaking out.

I remember my first slow dance was with a girl who had been a friend for some years. Perhaps she felt sorry for me. I remember it well. The sensual aspect I referred to earlier came largely through the nose. She smelled so amazingly clean. There was shampoo and soap and God knows what else. I don’t remember the song. I closed my eyes and breathed in the ‘Head and Shoulders’ and allowed myself to be transported to a nicer place than that damp and beer-sticky hall. 

After that, slow dances were easier. It’s a difficult thing to pin down exactly. It was rather like a compliment. A girl might not want to let you walk her home or go out with you or she might not even want to bear your children but she would have a slow dance with you. It was a compliment, you weren’t the best but you weren’t the worst either. You were okay for a dance. There was a little self-esteem to be harvested there.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe there are Late Shows and Slow Dances still going on out there in the world for the hard-pressed teens of today. I rather hope so.

If there’s not, I think it’s a bit of a shame.

But, hey, what do I know?