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  • Anita Sullivan

Write Out Yourself (or 'The Joy of Research')

Anita Sullivan, a playwright's book shelf

Our first few scripts are about subjects close to our hearts:

-Our unique Life Experience

-Our current Big Dilemma

-Our long-standing Obsession

If those scripts are vivid and true, they’ll make a impact. But if you want to turn that first hit into a career you need to go beyond yourself and find new stories. Otherwise you'll get stuck in the same emotional landscape, always playing the central character in your work... and eventually writing about a middle-aged writer stuck for ideas.

Typewriter writing a new life

But how can you write outside your gender, sexuality, class, age-experience, race, nationality, or time? What if the subject is biographical or technical? How can you write about the struggles of others? Do you have the right? And what if you get it wrong?

Actually, it's your job to try. Drama is about conflict, but it's also about finding connections. Drama needs different perspectives, different voices to work. To write it, you must think outside yourself.

Be brave. You can tackle any subject if you engage with empathy and imagination... and do your research.

I love research. It's not just about reading books or online trawling. It's about talking to people who have lived the story you're telling, and/ or have deep knowledge of it. It's an excuse to talk to people you find interesting, whether that’s string-theorists, apiarists, fox-hunters, aviators or aerial installers. Want to know what all those people in hi-vis are actually doing at the side of the railway line? How the greatest art fake was made? Or what happens in a funeral home? Well, now's your chance.

You’re a playwright, you can ask.


The great thing about being a playwright not a journalist is people are more inclined to trust you. You’re not filming them or taking their photo. They have deniability and can be anonymous. By speaking directly to someone with real experience you find out not just the facts but the passion, the language and culture of their world. You get all the essential ingredients to shape character and drama.

So you just ring someone up, out of the blue? Send them an email?

Yes, you do. A bit of internet browsing should identify the right person to approach, or at least the person-that-knows-the-person. Connections build

trust. A community opens the door to you. Being able to say ‘Dr Bigwig recommended you as the expert ’ is also a great way to introduce yourself.

People like to talk about themselves, to show off their expertise and talk about their passion. They're pleased to have someone taking an interest. It really is that simple.

So don’t be afraid. You have nothing to lose. And a world of stories to gain.


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