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I was asked to give a five-minute "Advice To Young Writers" speech at drinks during the NZ Young Playwrights Competition workshop presentations at the Herald Theatre in Auckland, New Zealand.

Here it is:

Advice to young writers, by Gary Henderson.

  • Stay out of jail.
  • If you do go to jail, make it because of something you've written.
  • At least once in your life write something that might land you in jail.
  • Only write things worth going to jail for.

  • Remember that once something is written down it becomes fiction.

  • Always write for curious, intelligent audiences who pay attention.
  • Always write for the best actors.
  • Always work with people you like.

  • If someone doesn't support you, stop seeing them.

  • Don't sleep with the cast.
  • Don't sleep with the crew.
  • Never sleep with anyone from Creative New Zealand.

  • Learn how to write silence.
  • Learn how to write light.
  • Learn how to write space.

  • Remember that once something is written down it becomes truth.

  • Make sure the conflict you resolve at the end of your play is the same one you seduced the audience into at the start.
  • Your play has one theme. One. Everything else is either a variation or it's in the way.
  • You are not obliged to solve anything, but you are obliged to resolve everything.
  • If you don't know what your play is about by the time you have finished it, you haven't.
  • Good characters will always come to your rescue.

  • Remember that truth is stranger than fiction, but fiction is truer.

  • Strive to make your writing simple and complex. They are not opposites.
  • The quality of your play has nothing to do with how hard it was to write.
  • If you don't have an authentic connection with your material you're a fake.
  • Always place your story. A play that claims to be about everyone everywhere at any time, is always about no one anywhere ever.
  • There are no universal characters called A and B.
  • Write in your stage directions whatever it takes to convey your vision, but don't tell the actors how to act or the director how to direct.
  • Bad stage directions will keep them on track. Good stage directions will encourage them to go exploring.
  • If you get stuck, take a break, stop writing the play, and just let the characters chat amongst themselves for a while.

  • Never write for television.

  • Never write a play for personal therapy. It will backfire. The audience will always ridicule the character that's you.

  • Occasionally try to sneak a glance at your reflection when it's not looking.
  • Make the most of being the latest hot young thing while it lasts.
  • You are as good as the last thing you had on stage this year.
  • Become an expert at spelling, punctuation, grammar, and sentence structure. These are the tools of your trade. If you can't use them you will never be a good writer.
  • Breaking the rules will not make you fresh and exciting. Every bull in a china shop leaves the same old predictable mess. Learn the rules, understand them, then subvert them in a way that's never been done before. That will make you fresh and exciting.

  • Trust your conscience.

  • Two bits of really good advice can contradict each other. Get used to it.

  • Train yourself to listen to music all the way through.

  • If you aren't already, become a shameless eavesdropper.

  • Never get interviewed on television sitting in a row of theatre seats.

  • Never put off writing until you are better at it.

  • Strive to be clever enough for your own good and big enough for your boots.
  • Never be intimidated by people who are better than you.
  • Never allow yourself to be bullied out of your right to tell any story.
  • Never be ashamed or frightened of your truth. Whatever it takes, you must find the courage to tell it.

  • Contrary to what you've heard, you CAN change the world.

That's it.
Thank you.

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