Friday, April 25, 2008


I've been working on this play that came from a portion of my 365 project. It's working title is 'All Shook Up'. It came from an idea that a young woman was being visited by Young Elvis in her dreams and in each dream, they end up making love, and eventually, the young woman finds herself pregnant, without having had sex in waking life. The first scene I wrote was a disjointed dream sequence during which she gets a call about her sick mother and after she realizes Elvis has once again left the building, she has her first bout of morning sickness.

This was fascinating for me, because I am interested in magical realism. I'm not sure this actually falls into that category since my heroine, Rebecca, is just having these dreams about Elvis, but I like the idea that something from her dream life has hopped the gap into her waking life. That sort of thing really gets my brain excited.

But the waking life scenes, which comprise most of the play, aren't jiving at all with the dream scenes. I know that dreams are really crazy and disjointed and they don't need to follow the rules of waking life, but I feel like in a play or any other form of writing, the dreams need to reflect something that is going on in the rest of the play. And I think that's the trouble I'm having. I mean, am I wrong to think that? I've always been told that everything in the play has to propel it forward to it's natural end. If things don't do that, they need to be tossed. But what are you supposed to do when trying to force the dreams to work within the context of the waking life parts of the play the dreams just kind of deflate?

I know what the problem is: it's trying to force the play to fit within the parameters I want it to fit into. And that doesn't work in my experience, but I'm just stuck with this idea that the dreams have to reflect the waking life.

Maybe I'm just being too literal about it. Maybe I'm being too bash you over the head with the message of the dreams. Maybe I can be more obtuse about it without being all performance arty about it. I don't know what to do about it, but it's definitely a source of frustration.

I think what I will do is continue to flog it and see what happens.

I'm also frustrated because while the events in the play itself are kind of extraordinary, the people of the play are pretty damn flat. I think it's because I haven't done enough character work, but I feel kind of like these characters are just NOT going to open up. Maybe I named them wrong (that has happened before; give a character the wrong name and he or she will just stare at you, like you took away his or her voice). Maybe they're in the wrong play. But I don't think so. I think Mama Playwright has just been lazy.

Lately, my self-esteem has been flagging as a playwright. I'm not sure why exactly. Nothing in particular has happened. I've been reading some good plays and I've been reading a book called 'One Continuous Mistake: Four Nobel Truths for Writers' by Gail Sher, which might be the source of the problem.

I was going to write about this book in another post, but I guess I could write about it now. I try not to buy new books about the writing process. It's a plague that has spread: reading about writing instead of writing. It's easier that way, to commiserate with someone who has more writing experience and such, and then not write yourself. And it's a temptation. But 'One Continuous Mistake' takes the Buddhist principles behind The Four Noble Truths and applies them to writing in a way.

Sher outlines the Four Noble Truths for Writers on the back of the book:

  • writers write
  • writing is a process
  • you don't know what your writing will be until the end of the process
  • if writing is your practice, the only way to fail is to not write
And that's some powerful shit right there. All truth. No bullshit. She cut right through it all and just says it. This is what writers do.

And that's what you get with Buddhism in general, a cutting through all the bullshit to the heart of the matter.

This book says it simply. Making writing your practice means you give attention to showing up every day to write. No exceptions. Because to not show up is to fail. And there's something wrong anyway when you don't write. Everything feels off, until you sit down and the words come.

I think the distractions Sher talks about in this book are mounting a heavy attack on me in the form of self esteem issues, because that has been the biggest block to writing for me in the past. And the same old song and dance go a little something like this:

  • your writing is stale, it's been done before, you have nothing to say
  • just because you've been published doesn't mean you're good
  • nobody is responding to your work you've sent out because you suck
  • all your characters sound alike and you will never figure out how to make them different
  • all your ideas are stupid
and so on, and so forth until I just stop writing all together.

and this can't happen.

so some of the frustration with this work is because I'm trying to distract myself, or rather, allow myself to be distracted. And this is the time to really just work through it. It's just hard to do it on your own sometimes, so being able to write it out definitely helps. And it takes the power out of the self esteem issues in a way.

This could start a whole rant about self esteem issues and depression, but I think it's time to end this post and get ready to go get to work.

No comments: