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Dear West End Producer: ‘How can other writers find their Willy – and how did you lose yours in the first place?’

West End Producer will attempt to find a performer to star as the singing sea mammal in his Free Willy musical. Photo: Shutterstock
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To lose one Willy may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness. Yes, my dear, I did indeed lose two actors who were going to play the leading role of my willy whale – Daniel Day Dolphin and Robert Downey Tuna – who both pulled out of the Edinburgh Fringe run of my show at the last minute due to conflicting jobs on other sea-mammal-based aquatic musicals.

But I picked myself up, wiped myself down, and headed to Edinburgh – and now I have 22 of them (including The Stage’s very own Paul Vale). My Free Willy musical is going to be filled with talent, dear.

Now, many writers go through periods when they lose their ‘mojo’, ‘willy’, ‘inspiration’ – or whatever you want to call it. This is what I’m interpreting your question as referring to. It is well-known that writers often have a ‘block’, and find it hard to find their way back into their writing.

There is nothing worse than staring at a blank screen, wishing the words would come out, when in fact your mind just taunts itself by telling you that you’ve no idea what you’re doing. And it can be difficult getting out of that hole.

Many writers say the time when they’re not writing is just as important as the time they are. When it gets to the stage of not knowing what to write, one option is to leave your workplace and take your mind off it. Take a walk or a run, watch TV – distract yourself – and often the solution will suddenly pop back into your mind. Writing is a sacred art form, and there is no one secret formula that breeds success. But usually a writer will know when they’re doing it well. There is a feeling of ‘flow’ – when the words just come out – and this is what we aim for.

Another way of beating the block is simply to force yourself to continue. Sit at your keyboard and write whatever garbage comes to mind. Then reread it, and some will be useable. Most of it will be of the ‘written-diarrhoea’ variety, but from the decent bits you may find a way back into your story.

I’ve always found writers interesting, particularly the way they plan their work days. For some, it’s about having a 9-to-5 timetable. They get into their office at 9am and write for four hours, have lunch, and then continue in the afternoon.

Others write purely in the evening, or early morning – whenever they feel most creative. Some simply write when they’re in the mood. Others even say they have a writing ‘spirit’ who writes through them. I’m not sure about that – the only spirit I have when writing is in a whisky tumbler, dear.

The main thing to avoid is for writing to become a chore. It has to be done because the writer feels inspired by their work. And I suppose that’s the same in any artistic activity. As soon as it feels forced, it becomes fake.

PS: I wrote this article in bed at 7am, with my morning Prosecco, coffee and pastries to my side. Not my own bed, I might add…


Send questions to your dear agony aunt via Twitter @westendproducer. Read more of West End Producer’s weekly advice columns every Wednesday at thestage.co.uk/author/westendproducer

West End Producer – Free Willy review at Assembly Checkpoint, Edinburgh – ‘insightful and entertaining’

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