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  • Writer's pictureLaura Atherton

Staying still, moving forward

To some people’s surprise, during the first lockdown I decided that it was the best time to apply for a Masters degree. For years I’d said I wanted to do further studying but there was never a good time. The thought was always, would a tour come in that would mean that I couldn’t commit to a course? So in an uncertain time it conversely gave me certainty that I wouldn’t be travelling around the country as I normally would be.

Having my Creative Writing Masters during the various lockdowns and restrictions has given me a creative lifeline and stimulus through a very flat time of living. As the weeks go by, we are not allowed to see people again and are advised against leaving our homes. The course, in which I am on the scriptwriting path, offers a world outside. In the online classes I connect with other writers and discuss plays, films, tv shows, we discuss ideas and, importantly, how to best convey those ideas. It is a world of creativity that I balance with my ‘day job’.

Balancing the two worlds is tricky, but that’s how I have always lived my life as a creative freelancer - juggling whatever stable job that I have along with the jobs that fulfil my creative drive. One of my current ways of doing this is to get up as early as I would if I were commuting and claw back what would have been train time to read, read, read. The recommendation on the course is to read at least three plays a week - plus I love reading novels and I don’t want to lose that. So the morning has been carved out as reading time. A symptom of this purposeful reading is that I now often have three books on the go at once - a new thing for me. I used to be a purist, a monogamist reader but the need to read for the course has shifted that mindset.

I then fit my writing in on my days off; I work part time to allow for the creative work. Ensuring that I write as much as I can in allotted time is tough - I dream of having all the time in the world, an expanse of time, but the truth is I would probably let that drift away. Focus is key and there are both course deadlines for essays and my own self-imposed deadlines for drafts to give me that.

The largest share of credits for the course comes in the form of a full script. As a part time student I have two years to do this and am using this first year to explore ideas. I have two draft scripts on the go and am tempted to start another option before honing any of the words that I have but I am aware that could simply be avoiding the hard graft of the redraft. The redraft process where you scrutinise your own work and try to take a big step back in order to see if as a whole. Will this work on stage? Does it say what I want it to say? Does it have rhythmic drive? It’s hard work and I do miss the theatre community that I usually create with. I want to bounce ideas off people - I’ve tried with my husband but as a non-creative and being my husband he tends to just tell me that all my ideas sound great…

Online learning has its drawbacks of course, including fewer opportunities to network, which seems to be a big appeal of postgraduate study. You won’t bump into someone in the library or on campus. Incidental meetings are impossible. In order to counter this I am trying to take all the possibilities offered to me; working with a PhD student, writing film scripts for the adjoined acting school, attending talks. It can feel overwhelming with the aforementioned struggle for time but I’ve made the choice to do this course and it is not a cheap thing to do, therefore I am determined to squeeze everything out of it that I can.

Being able to do the course is a great privilege; we’re taught by experts and sharing creative ideas with fellow writers is highly stimulating. Plus during this incredibly tough time of the pandemic, in our third national lockdown and as we move towards the horrible anniversary in the UK of one year since our worlds turned upside down, my Masters is a lifeline. A stimulating, fascinating course that keeps me moored to my creativity and pulls me towards a future that is more fully freelance.

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