Why I Write (Three)
For the third in my series of ‘Why I Write’ posts, I’m really pleased to welcome William Gallagher. William is on this year’s West Midlands Writing Room 204 scheme – I was on last year’s. He is a highly experienced writer – radio scripts, stage plays, journalism – but he is also an incredibly enthusiastic, energetic and motivating person. Check out his book ‘The Blank Screen’. You can’t fail to come away either more motivated or more accepting of the motiveless days!
Look, it’s like this: I do not know why I write. It’s not like the world needs me and it’s not as if I lack any other way to express myself. I run workshops, I produce radio, I speak in schools and conferences. If I’m actually vomiting with nerves before each event, it doesn’t matter because you’d never know once I stand up. Yet there has never been a day in my adult life that I haven’t written something.
It’s not a habit, it’s not a rule, I don’t feel I have to do it and I don’t imagine I’d feel bad if I didn’t. I just do. I just write.
Certainly there is the fact that I write for a living and so am required to be writing radio scripts or stage plays or prose fiction or journalism. Sure. But I don’t write because of that requirement, I get those requirements because I write. Take it all away and I’d still write but I would be denuded. Because I realise now that I write to be read, that it is essential that there is an audience or this isn’t writing.
That definitely sounds like ego to me. But I was trained in BBC News where the key thing they kept repeating was this: “Write to express, not to impress”. You know that they meant that they didn’t want flowery, overwritten, purple look-at-me-I’m-brilliant prose. But there was also the unstated assumption that you would of course have something to express. If you’ve nothing to say, if there is nothing to report, if all you’ve got is you yapping, you don’t do it.
So throughout my journalism career I was compelled to firstly find you some news and then to write to you about it. That continued on into the drama writing I do now and I haven’t shaken it, I’m still compelled but today I’m also hindered by it. News is easy because there is always another fact I can go find for you. With drama, there are no facts, there is just the truth.
I love that. News has all the facts but drama has all the truth.
Drama to me is telling a story through dialogue. I write Doctor Who radio dramas for BBC/Big Finish and they are two-hour stories that, true, have sound effects and music and are actually wonderfully well-produced. But the story is carried by what my characters say. Everything you know about the jeopardy they are in and the fun and the tension is in their words.
Except what I love to my core is that their words mustn’t have any of this at all. If I ever had the Doctor step out of his TARDIS and say “Oh, that’s a very big monster with greyish-green tentacles” you wouldn’t listen. I wouldn’t listen. I wouldn’t be commissioned to write the script. Yet the listener must very, very quickly get a mental picture of that slashing, piercing, blooded alien. So you’ve only got words to tell the story with yet the words mustn’t tell the story.
So scripts are stories told solely using what people do not say. Isn’t that wonderful?
It stretches me beyond measure as a writer. That’s certainly why I write and my belief – whisper it – that sometimes I manage to do this gorgeous thing, that’s certainly why I write too. Definitely.
William Gallagher’s books and Doctor Who dramas are on Amazon UK (http://amzn.to/KcARhq) and Amazon US (http://amzn.to/KcB305). His productivity for creative writers news site is at theblankscreen.co.uk and his own Self Distract blog is at williamgallagher.com/