What To Do If You Can't Write King Lear

Writing tips
Shannon TL Kearns

Much has been made in recent weeks about social media exhortations to use this time of pandemic to be like Shakespeare and write the next King Lear. Those posts were then quickly followed up with contrary exhortations to simply allow yourself to rest and feel whatever you’re feeling.

So what if you’re stuck in the middle? You want to be writing something. You want to keep your creative practice flowing and moving. But the thought of starting a new project or revising something (or even working on anything full length) feels like it will take more bandwidth than you have at the moment.

Here are some things you could consider working on that will keep your career moving while also being bite-sized:

Rework your goals

If you’re like me, you set some pretty ambitious goals at the beginning of the year and now, just a couple months in, you’re totally off track. This doesn’t mean you need to throw in the towel; it simply means you need to recalibrate. Take a look at the goals you set, and see which ones still feel right for right now. It might mean scaling back on a couple of things—that’s okay. Or it might mean keeping your goals the same but reworking the due dates or your plan to reach them.

Update your resume

Do you need a new format? Do you need to update some productions or fellowship wins? Maybe it’s time to take off a couple of older plays that you’re not really shopping around anymore. Make sure your resume is up to date, clean, and has your current contact information on it.

Take another crack at your Artistic Statement

This is a perfect time to spend with your artistic statement. Take it out, re-read it. Does it still represent how you want to be talking about your work? Have your goals changed since you wrote it? Has your style or subject matter changed? Have your goals around the next steps in your career shifted?

Update/clean up your submissions spreadsheet

You do have a spreadsheet, right? I’ve found it super helpful to keep track of what I’ve sent out, when, and to whom. It’s also saved me from embarrassing myself by applying to the same opportunity twice. Take a look at your spreadsheet. Have you heard back about things that you haven’t recorded on your sheet? Have some plans changed as theaters shift their seasons? Is your spreadsheet capturing all of the data you want it to (like submission fees or who you heard back from)? This is a great time to clean that sheet up.

Plan for upcoming submissions

Once you’re done cleaning up your spreadsheet, use it to plan out upcoming submissions. Are there places you’ve applied to in the past that you want to make sure you apply to again? Are there places where you’ve always meant to apply but then missed the deadline (oh, that’s just me? Whoops!)? Plan out what places you’re going to submit to and what materials you’ll need for each. Even if an opportunity doesn’t have dates attached yet, materials needed don’t change all that much from year to year.

Reach out

Now is a great time to make some connections. Is there a playwright you admire that you could send an encouraging email to? Is there a director who you could connect with? Maybe it’s a writing group that you used to be a part of and fell out of touch with. Or maybe it’s a new writing group you want to put together. Send some emails to connect. To commiserate. To get back in touch. Don’t be offended if folks don’t have time to respond, but you might be surprised at the relationships you can rekindle.

Take time to research

Have you been thinking of writing a play for a while, but you know you need some more information before you do? Even if you can’t stomach the thought of writing right now, this is a perfect time to do some research. Pick up a book about the historical period of the play you want to write. Do a deep dive into biographies. Figure out the science behind that spaceship you want to build.

Take time to play

Maybe even all of the stuff on this list feels like too much. Or too serious. That’s all right. What can you do that will allow your mind to wander and your spirit to play? Is it time to play with your kids’ Legos (not your kids, just their Legos)? Or do some coloring? Or walk around the block and just let your mind wander? Or just sit and listen to music?

Update your NPX account

Do you have an account on New Play Exchange? You should. It’s affordable and an amazing way to connect with other writers and put your work out there. This is a wonderful time to make sure the drafts of the plays you have on NPX are updated. Make sure your bio and contact information are correct. Go through and fill out all of the new data (like character demographics, play length, and playwright demographics) to make sure that your plays are showing up when people and companies search.

Read other people’s plays (and leave some reviews)

While you’re logged in, read some other writer’s plays and (if you like them) leave a review. It’s a great way to connect with other people, to get some inspiration and learn from your colleagues, and to spread a little cheer.

About the author

Shannon TL Kearns

Shannon TL Kearns is a transgender man who's playwriting is obsessed with big questions told through small stories. He is the founder and Artistic Director of Uprising Theatre Company in Minneapolis, MN. He is a Lambda Literary Fellow and a Finnovation Fellow for 2019. He was awarded a spot in the HBMG Foundations’ Winter Playwright Retreat in 2018 and 2019. He was a finalist for the Equity Library Theatre of Chicago’s Reading Series, the 2019 TransLab, and the American Stages 2019 New Play Festival. He was a semi-finalist for SPACE on Ryder farm in 2020.