Writers On Writing / ‘Everyone has several plays in them,’ with Timothy Daly

We interviewed award-winning playwright Timothy Daly ahead of his 6-week Contemporary Playwriting Techniques course starting 12 October. He spoke to us about writing with heart, finding inspiration and how writing is the expression of self.

What are the key characteristics that make up a great contemporary play?

The greatest thing a writer can bring to a play is heart! Writing about what matters to you is the most important thing. Sure, structure is important. But having no emotional energy means there is nothing to shape.

Where do you source inspiration for your playwriting?

The first place I look is inside myself—what moves me, makes me laugh, saddens me or puzzles me. What I emphasise in the Saturday playwrights course is that everyone has several plays in them: their pleasures and pains, their ‘coming of age’, their crazy emotional life, their sad divorce, their hopes for the future or their regrets about the past.

I recently taught a group of very talented fiction writers and showed them that they are not just fiction writers: they are creators of stories – which can be applied to any medium (film, theatre, fiction).  A story, for me, is the solving of a mystery. And story technique can be taught, just like playwriting techniques can be taught. I’ve just had published in New York a whole book of playwriting techniques that prove that playwriting doesn’t just belong to professionals or ‘born playwrights’ – actually, there’s no such thing, because the techniques can be learned, and they’re fun, and most of them can be used in fiction writing as well.

As one of Australia’s most internationally produced playwrights with many awards to your name, including recently the Patrick White Playwrights’ Award for The Man in the Attic, can you tell us how you have cultivated a successful career?

I wasn’t afraid to fail, so while I did that, I often succeeded too! But I’ve always tried to treat writing in as a type of creative joy – a release of pleasure, combined with a fascination with the techniques of story-telling. When I teach, I try to convey to people: writing is the expression of the self, in the guise of ‘other characters’. If you get that, you’re already half-way to becoming a playwright.


Timothy Daly is one of Australia’s most internationally produced playwrights, with a string of national and international productions to his credit. His recent play, The Man in the Attic, was awarded Australia’s most prestigious award for a new play, the Patrick White Playwrights’ Award, and has just been performed in Paris. Timothy Daly’s newest play Richard III (ou presque) premiered at the 2010 Festival of Avignon, followed by a season in Paris in Oct-Nov, 2011. He advises on over 100 plays and productions a year both in Australia and the US. Read more about his work here.

Contemporary Playwriting Techniques will start on Saturday 12 October and continue on consecutive Saturdays until 16 November, at Writing NSW, 1-4pm. 

Book your spot here>>

Contemporary playwriting techniques Timothy Daly

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