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Writing Plays and Making a Living as a Playwright

By: Angelique Caffrey - Updated: 21 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
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Life as a playwright; it sounds exciting, maybe even a tad romantic, but if you’re serious about undertaking it as your primary source of income, you’ll need more than talent to get you to a comfortable place both financially and professionally.

First, be advised that playwrights do exist and do collect paycheques. Some of their names may even be familiar to you, such as Sam Shepard; others may be obscure ever hear of Mark Dunn?

Regardless of their fame, playwrights can make money from their literary art… if they take some deliberate steps.

Playwrighting as a Business

One of the toughest aspects of becoming a full-time playwright is that in order to “make it”, you have to think like a business person. This can be extremely difficult for persons who are more inclined to art than science.

For example, playwrights need to be diligent about always producing materials. They cannot wait for their “muses” to strike; they must actively seek out inspiration.

Not surprisingly, this can seem strange to authors who have been taught that writing does not happen without almost-otherworldly intervention. However, rest assured that playwrights who have money to buy groceries do not twiddle their thumbs, awaiting a knock on their brains from a sprite. Instead, they condition themselves to compose even when they do not wish to write.

Trend Watching… And Setting

Successful playwrights also keep an eye out for trends in the theatre. Is one type of play more popular than another? Is a certain theme losing momentum, with another theme gaining high regard? Though it’s not necessary to jump on board with the latest craze, it’s important to understand where the modern theatre scene is leaning.

Of course, that doesn’t preclude a playwright from being innovative, off-the-wall or downright bizarre. After all, someone must be at the forefront of a fad. Yet it’s definitely risky for an unknown playwright to flood the marketplace with his or her imaginative works.

If you desire to be a trend setter, it might be wiser to write a few unusual pieces, but hold them in reserve until you have sold one or two “mainstream” dramas or comedies.

Diversification = Revenue

A versatile playwright has a much better chance of being picked up than an author whose works are formulaic and staid.

NOTE: Some incredibly formulaic—and debatably dull—playwrights do achieve notoriety, though this is not the norm.

Generally speaking, you’re better off having a wide-ranging portfolio, complete with a variety of script themes. This doesn’t mean you have to explore all genres, of course. If your focus is comedy, there are plenty of storylines you can create that would amuse audience members while showing the scope of your abilities.

Get Out There

Yes, you could sit in your home or flat and create all day. But if you’re sincere about wanting to become a paid playwright, you’d be wise to seek out opportunities to become “known”, at least in your community.

One of the best ways to do is to collaborate with an amateur dramatics society in your area. Their troupe could produce your plays, and you’d be able to gauge what “works”… as well as what doesn’t… in front of live onlookers. It’s a symbiotic relationship that has benefited many amateur dramatics groups and budding playwrights.

Another upshot of such a relationship is that when you attempt to sell the rights to your works, you’ll be able to state that they’ve already been “tested” for crowds. This may or may not win you a contract with a publisher of plays, but it’s unlikely to hurt your chances.

Stay Focused

In the end, remember that a professional playwright must remain focused. Rejections will happen. So will achievements. You’ll have good days, and you’ll have terrible ones. But the playwright whose coffers are regularly filled is the one who can stay the course and write, write, write.

Good luck on your journey. May it bring you much fulfilment… and the accolades of audiences and critics around the globe!

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