Michaela Coel

Letting Your Craft Rule: Michaela Coel's Guide to Powerful Storytelling


Oct. 3 2023, Published 2:18 a.m. ET

Talented storyteller and actress Michaela Coel has been in the spotlight for her captivating films and television shows, drawing many to her craft. Best known for her shows Chewing Gum and I May Destroy You, which she wrote and starred in, her storytelling techniques are far from ordinary.

With just two shows, she has already established herself as an icon in the industry, earning her multiple awards, including a BAFTA and an Emmy.

What Makes Her Stories Tick?

Michaela is admirably open about her writing journey. Here are some takes from what she has shared in her interviews that play a crucial part in writing these irresistible stories.

Making It Personal

In her interview with Harper’s Bazaar UK, Micaela says that her main inspiration is her own experiences. She gets her story from surfing through memories. Everything she writes is either to purely share the experience with her audience or challenge a narrative that she’s not okay with. And on this, she’s spot on. Storytelling is an art, and you have to approach it from a personal standpoint that works for you.

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“As an artist, I don't really control the stories that I tell," she explained. "My responsibility is to serve the story, and the story has aims that are out of my control a lot of the time."

She first figures out which side of her she wants her audience to see and what she wants them to learn from that side. From here, her story guides her on the best way to tell it, which will be expressive enough to make her feel heard and effectively communicate her message.

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Embarrassing Discomfort

During her acceptance speech at the 2021 Emmys, Michaela urged her fellow screenwriters, “Write a tale that scares you.” She urged any writer to try and write a tale that feels uncomfortable and uncertain. It's only through poking your innermost feeling that you genuinely reveal what lies underneath.

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As a writer, her responsibility is to “serve the story.” It may be surprising or lead her to parts she never thought existed, but she has to tell it. She retreats to a secluded area where she can connect with her memories better and allows herself to go through everything—writing, crying, and expelling her guts.

Space For Trial And Error

Even the best storytellers never get it right with the first draft. She says that she writes multiple drafts before coming up with a concrete story. While writing I May Destroy You, she came up with 191 drafts, which gave life to her 12-episode HBO masterpiece.

While writing, she tries to break down ideas and refine them till she comes up with something that conveys her message as she intends to. Regardless of how long it takes to say what you want, the worst thing you can do is say nothing.

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This continuous writing is her biggest trick to beating writer's block. Given that she writes stories revolving around her, she just continues writing what she feels. The pressure and passion of telling a story can get in the way of writing, but remaining truthful to herself easies the process.

Make Your Audience Feel

In her conversation with Bazaar, she said, “The thing I want to leave the audience member with, it's a feeling - and I don't know what the word is for that feeling. And I don't think that there is a word for that feeling. It's very hard to get 'the feeling', but I want it to do something viscerally and hit all the senses.”

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For Michael, the goal should always be to make your audience feel like they have been on a ride.

Loosen Up And Let Your Craft Rule

From her insights and revelation, it's clear that remaining true to your authentic self and allowing your artistic side to take charge is key to a captivating story. Michael lets her experiences, perceptions, and emotions take control as she pours all of them into the script. She’s not afraid of getting vulnerable or coming off as weird. She just expresses herself.

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