How I write: Dawn King


Dawn King in rehearsal for Ciphers

Dawn King‘s play Foxfinder won the Papatango award and the Royal National Theatre Foundation Playwright award. She also won Most Promising Playwright at the Off West End awards 2012. Her spy-drama Ciphers,  was produced by Out of Joint, The Bush and Exeter Northcott Theatre, and she’s now developing it into a screenplay. She wrote a major touring adaptation of Brave New World, and has written radio plays and other radio drama. Dawn’s short film The Karman Line starred Olivia Coleman and won 18 awards, including Best Short Film at the British Independent Film Awards.

Where do you find inspiration?

I imagine myself as having a huge, invisible sensor array mounted on my head to seek out ideas and inspiration. It includes a large bronze listening trumpet, a delicate net, a huge magnifying glass and a raw nerve held in two bronze clamps. By which I mean that I always try to be receptive to whatever inspiration may be around.

I go out actively looking too. Galleries and museums can be very helpful, so can talking to people. I try to follow my obsessions because if you can’t stop thinking about something you might have to write about it.

Do you ever abandon a writing project?

Yes, I usually know if I can’t get past about page twenty there isn’t enough there to make a first draft. I have abandoned scripts after first draft too, if I didn’t think there was enough good there to be rescued through rewriting. More painful though is the forced abandonment of projects I’ve been pitching for or working on that have gone nowhere and that I really wanted to write. In those cases you just have to put all the things you loved about the idea back into your head and hope you’ll have an opportunity to use them in future.


Brave New World (Royal & Derngate Theatre/Touring Consortium)

How do you organise your writing time?

I have a To Do list which I update every Monday with specific things like ‘rewrite script to page 50.’ On a day to day basis I try to decide what I’m going to do in a certain period of time and then do it, rather than just sitting down ‘to write’ which for me can become just messing around with punctuation.

I often have rules; every day having to write one, three, five new scenes, and if I miss it I have to make it up the next day. I’ve realised that just spending hours and hours sitting in my room ‘writing’ can be very unproductive and this focused burst approach seems more effective. That said, I also like blocking out days to just write, and let everything unspool, for as long as it takes.


Where is your favourite place to write?

I split up working at home and working out of the house in cafes, because I get bored of being in the same place and I find if I move locations I can often squeeze out another couple of hours.

Do you procrastinate, and how do you combat it?

I switch the wifi off on my computer so that when I try to click the button to check my email nothing happens. That extra step really helps.

Ciphers (Out of Joint/Bush Theatre/Exeter Northcott Theatre)

How much do you use research?

As much as feels right for each project. Ciphers (as a play, and now as a screenplay adaptation that I’m working on) involved lots of research – and has been pretty hard to research because the subject is MI5. My adaptation of Brave New World involved a lot of research into Aldous Huxley, because I really wanted to get into his head. I try to mix up writing and research, because stopping writing because you ‘need’ research can be procrastination.

What do you do when you feel stuck?

Take my dog for a walk, do some exercise, watch a film or a play, writ something else, talk to whoever is around to try to jiggle my thoughts around.

How do you know when a play is finished?

I’ve had experiences with plays not changing in rehearsal at all, and plays being rewritten right up to opening night, so that’s a really hard question. Also, a play is only ever the recipe not the finished cake. But I know when it’s ‘finished’, as in I’ll let people look at it and judge it when I can’t think of anything else to do to it to improve it.

Read more of the How I write series.