After more than sixty years in the literary and show business worlds, I have come to some conclusions about the various aspects of it all. The separate fields of play wrighting, novel writing, TV and movie writing, performing, producing, and directing are interlinked, yet vastly different from each other in their necessary skills and circumstances.

I have always been a playwright, since the age of twenty, through all my years as an actor, director, and theatre manager. It has been my main source of occupation and income. And for the last forty years, I have also been a novelist, experiencing the intense and ever-ongoing learning process involved in compiling a full-length book. It is so different to the business of stage/screenwriting. Each branch of what might loosely be described as 'the literary arts' deserves a whole volume on its own and indeed there have been many, but I have condensed my thoughts on each to just a few basic principles.

Let's start with novel writing, as that has been my most immediate concern since Covid-19, which closed most of the world's theatres. The writer's experience of creating a novel, as opposed to the writing of a play, has a parallel with the experience of the reader. The book reader invariably consumes the product over some time. He/she maybe reads a chapter a night before putting out the light, or a few pages whilst on the subway on the way to work, or possibly even several chapters on the beach before falling asleep in the holiday sun. Rare is the "I couldn't put it down" experience of devouring a story in one sitting (ah, but isn't it satisfying when that phrase crops up in a booklover's review?!).

The turning of the pages is a steady, considered business, throughout which the reader absorbs the gradual unfolding of the story, the revelations of character, the unravelling of description and the cerebral theme. It mirrors the creative effort, where the author builds his story page by page, sentence by sentence, developing the plot (often in unexpected ways even to himself), fleshing out the characters, and refining the language. To quote from an article in my blog, “How to write”:

I have often compared the method, not so much to composing a piece of music, but rather to creating a sculpture out of clay. One starts with a big amorphous mass and a hazy concept. Gradually one moulds the whole thing into shape. Adding a bit of material here, scraping away a bit here, defining a feature there. Until one can finally step back and see the whole thing as one single completed creation, which may in fact have turned out to be something quite different from your original conception.

In the same way, the reader also goes on a journey of discovery as the plot gradually reveals itself. By contrast, the audience's experience of watching a stage play or a film is a far more immediate, fast-moving event, happening in real time, and with a little diversion from the narrative towards description or philosophical reflection. Everything is presented to the spectator in direct visual and aural form, and the background context and inference are left to their imagination.

Similarly with the writing. The play/screenwriter lives the experience in his imagination and records it as it happens. Playwrights often record the feeling, especially with their most successful pieces, that they are 'writing themselves'. The art is simply to hang onto the reigns, attempting to direct the galloping story by the most vivid and interesting route possible. It is the same dynamic, whether with the frantic and chaotic unfolding of a farce, or the intense and sincere exposition of a drama. And if the audience experiences a similar involvement, then the process has worked.

However, in all cases it is then the constant revising, revising, revising of every word and every sentence that in the end produces the goods. This is what differentiates the true professional from the wannabe amateur. Which I'm afraid I haven't had the time to write about in this piece!

Hawdon's latest novel, 'The Land, The Land' is now published by Cambria Books.