How I Write: Simon Stephens

The Olivier Award-winning playwright shares his thoughts on the writing process – including why it’s important to sit on ideas, sometimes for years at a time, and how the ‘boring’ work can be key

Playwright Simon Stephens has been penning words for the theatre since the late 90s, steadily turning out stories that have addressed everything from the 2005 London bombings, to people’s often fractious relationships with their fathers. He’s also behind a hugely successful adaptation of Mark Haddon’s novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which premiered at London’s National Theatre in 2012.

He firmly believes in the power of theatre, describing it as “the most human artform”, as well as a medium that’s particularly important in the age of Netflix. As he points out, it’s one of the few remaining experiences that still offers a sense of ritual, and an immediate connection with other people – both the actors on stage, as well as the stranger sat next to you in the darkness. Here he shares the reasons he never suffers from creative block, his thoughts on playwrights as builders rather than writers, and why he thoroughly embraces the ‘boring’ side of the process.

How the writing starts There’s a process which has slight modifications and variations with each play, but fundamentally could be described as going from what theatre director Peter Brook described as a ‘formless hunch’. I really like that phrase. It’s just the vaguest possible sense that there might be something I want to investigate in the making of a play. It might be a character, an image, a line of dialogue, an actor, an experience or a story I hear.