Friday, May 30, 2008

Things I Do when I have Writer's Anorexia

I'll get to the whole 'Writer's Anorexia' thing in a post or two.

Recently, I've been suffering from a bout of it. It's made it hard to get anything done, so I go and do what I usually do when I can't seem to get the pen or cursor moving: I work on submission packets.

And I realized that I have a month to get 'Squall Lines' together to make a deadline I want to send a package for it to. Luckily it's for 'works in progress', otherwise I would have to choose something else or not submit at all.

But I am realizing some things about the play. And it pertains to killing babies from the last post. I need to cut whole sections and paste things together so they work. And this is okay. It's actually kind of cathartic to do. To not be so attached to something that you can't just hit delete and never look back.

Natalie Goldberg talks about having a spontaneous poem booth at a fundraiser or two, where she would write a spontaneous poem on any subject given by someone, and the person would pay some money for it. She would write the poem and give it to the person, never to be seen by her again. That is the ultimate in letting go. Spontaneously writing something like that and seeing it walk away. That idea is very fascinating to me. It might be difficult to do a spontaneous play booth (I think that's actually covered by improv), but it's a good thing to think about.

I really feel in the end when something needs to be cut or trimmed or tossed completely out, it's for the best of the work. It's only when the ego gets in the way that things get rocky.

Like now.

I mean, when I wrote 'The Rope Swings' in 2003, I had written several different drafts of the play. It was the night before the play was due for 'The Ten Minute Play Festival' and I scrapped the whole thing. I started over, splitting my own argument in my head about what to do about a demand my mother had made on me into two different characters, sisters, linked by family and by emotional damage inflicted by all the mothers in their lineage down to the very first mother. And I just dashed it off, a first draft, and turned it in the next day. I fretted for several days until I discovered I had made it in.

So killing your babies isn't a bad thing. I have to work today from 11 to close. I am hoping that I feel better after I get off work, better than I felt last night, so I can actually rip 'Squall Lines' apart and put it back together again.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

killing my babies: Redux

So yeah. I know I have to do it. And that might be why I feel like I hit a wall with 'Squall Lines', who knows. But I know there's whole chunks of that play that's going to have to go. It's not starting in the middle of the work, it's just kind of floundering around. And the most disheartening part of the whole editing process right now is realizing that these characters aren't doing what i had planned for them.

Didn't I talk about this earlier? Didn't I talk about not forcing your will on your characters, your work, your play?

Yeah, I'm pretty sure I did, and I'm not living up to my own advice very well. So I am going to do the next best thing: set it aside for at least a week and do something else.

I think that's what's been going on with me today. I've just been blah blah blah. And struggling with 'Squall Lines' isn't helping.

The thing is, this is based on a true story.
I love wikipedia to start research with. It usually gives me some good terms to start with for searching.

But since this is based on a true story, i really feel a calling to get it going and done, but I still haven't finished writing a full first draft. It's annoying. I guess I shouldn't be grumpy about it when it took me four years or something to get a full draft of 'Pleased to Meet Me' out, but still. There's something longing to be said. I felt that with 'Hauntings' too.

So yeah, not the best writing day.

I did print off 'A Death in the Family' and 'All Shook Up' to work on the rest of the weekend and I suppose I will drag 'Squall Lines' around as well. But we will see.

So i haven't killed my babies yet. I guess I have to get detached from them first. But sometimes it's hard.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Killing my Babies

Every play I've written has whole passages or characters I have to discard. When I do this, it's akin to killing my babies. So i have to kill some babies when I get home tonight from work.

I have to have some time to get over the fact that something I've worked on for over a year is going to require some death.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Pleased to Meet Me

I just control S-ed the tenth draft of Pleased to Meet Me. That's actually not an accurate number. I have saved probably twenty files in the Pleased to Meet Me file in My Docs, but I guessed there were ten actual drafts because there were several that were experimental drafts. Maybe I should count them all. Oh well, draft 10 or 20, what's the difference now?

There is a big difference in the play. I hadn't touched it for months and months and I think it broke through to a new clarity about the play. It's just over 66 pages long now, so I'm not sure if it's a one-act or not. I don't have Act breaks, so whatever with that I guess.

But it felt good to stay with the play. And now I feel like it might actually be ready to be read by someone to get feedback. There's still a lot of work that needs to be done on the play, but I don't know where to start. After I finish posting 'Heavensent' on the Playwright's Forum, I will post Pleased to Meet Me, and see if I get some bites. It's strange because I posted another one act after discussing the way to write the synopsis in a different way from the standard, and when I posted the actual play, no one gave me feedback. It was kind of disheartening. Oh well. I did get one person to feedback on Heavensent, so that's a start.

So yesterday at lunch, I was sitting with my friend, Debbie, from work and we were discussing writing. She's been considering writing a play for a while, and naturally, as two writers and me as a playwright, we gravitated to each other rather naturally. And we got to discussing instructional books about writing.

There's a million of them out there. Most of them are unnecessary, at least to me. I prefer the books about writing life, about the struggle of writing, and even in that arena of books, there's still few that I would actually purchase to return to over and over again. I just purchased my own copy of 'Zen and the Art of Writing' by Ray Bradbury. I love 'The Writing Life' by Annie Dillard; anything she writes is amazing. I bought 'On Becoming a Novelist' by John Gardner on the recommendation of my friend, J.C., back when I was still at Iowa; i never got into it. I can tell you that the one book I always return to, no matter what, is 'Writing Down the Bones' by Natalie Goldberg.

This was one of the first books I read about being a writing and it was different from everything I had ever read. She's got a clarity in her writing instruction that is both friendly and true. At the end of every semester of college, I would read this book to jumpstart my writing for the break. And it worked every time.

I find myself returning to it less and less, but when I do return to it, it's more valuable to me than it was before. I find myself gravitating to her book, 'The Long Quiet Highway' but it's more autobiography and Zen than writing. But still, it's all in there. And it's also a beautiful book.

I am going to bring my copy of 'Writing Down the Bones' for Debbie to read. I hope it helps her get out of her writing slump.

Then we got into a discussing about the one bit of advice that every instructor gives to ever writer ever: WRITE EVERYDAY.

She hasn't found value in it for herself; she finds it too restrictive.

And it can be. For me, the WRITE EVERYDAY, AT THE SAME TIME AND PLACE, FOR AN HOUR doesn't work for me. I am stubborn naturally and I automatically want to do the opposite: 'You're telling me how to structure my writing? Whatever. Piss off.' J.C. told me to do this. And I tried, because really, he's prolific and he's devoted to it. It didn't work. My schedule with work and sleep has NEVER lent itself to writing the same time and place everyday for an hour. He's a bit luckier because he doesn't have to work because he's got some money to support himself. Not all of us are that lucky.

But the writing every day thing, that's important. And this was only a recent discovery for me.

September 11, 2007, I saw Suzan-Lori Parks at Hendrix College. She was there for her '365 Plays' performance project. And I can tell you, she's amazing. She's got this aura about her that makes you want to bask in her light. I can imagine she would be an amazing, yet tough teacher (my favorite kind!). But the thing that sunk in for me that day was that she wrote a new play EVERYDAY. That was a commitment she made, to do this everyday, no matter what. She didn't set a length of time or for the piece she was working on. She just wrote a new play everyday. I'm sure there were days where she didn't want to write, or the writing was cold, but she persevered. And that laid an impression on my heart.

Without telling anyone I was doing it, the next day, I wrote a brand new scene for a play. The day after, another. The day after, yet another. I vocalized my commitment to writing a new scene everyday, no matter what, for a year. I made it five months before being cast in 'The Busybody' took it's toll. I haven't picked it back up. But I can tell you, those were the riches five months of my life as a writer.

I wrote at least three scenes for 21 new plays (most I wrote at least six if not seven scenes). Four of these are plays that I have fleshed out into complete drafts. I continued to write new scenes for two plays I was stuck on that I started before the project. I wrote two one acts.

All of this was because I made it my job to sit down everyday and write. I didn't limit myself on time or how long the scene had to be. The goal was to sit down and write a new scene for a new play every day. Trust me, there were days I didn't want to do it. All I wanted to do was watch 'Dr. Phil' and eat ice cream. But you can't do that when you're committed to something. You turn off the TV and put the ice cream back in the freezer and say that those things are your reward for actually finishing your scene. And some of them are REALLY bad, like, so bad, I don't remember them at all. But it was good to be able to come to the blank final draft document and write. I didn't know what I would be writing half the time. I would just start.

And then the write everyday thing became true for me. I try to write everyday. Somedays I don't make it, and let me just say, those are the days that I am the most depressed, the most wanting to be writing when I can't. And that's the hallmark you're looking for. When you're not writing, you might as well be dead. And it's true.

Write or die is the creed. Write everyday or die is really what it should be.

It's about making it habit. It's about making a promise to yourself that you will take the time to do it. Your friends, family and loved ones might not understand. Like my friend, Megan, who said to me after I was published the first time, and she wanted me to go thrift store shopping with her, and I said I couldn't because I had to write, she said, 'You just got published. Take a break.' That is what you will be up against. You'll be up against children wanting your attention, your husband or wife or SO wanting your attention, your job, the kitchen which is dirty and piling up everywhere, the laundry, the cats, the dogs, your mother. They will all want a piece of you. And usually they get what they need. But at some point, if you're serious about writing, if there's a deep yearning in yourself that can ONLY be satisfied by sitting and writing, then you need to make a space for that in your life.

Pianists continue to practice. Tennis players know the value of practicing. Dancers know this is important, lest your body loses it's muscle memory. Give your body, your heart and mind the same consideration.

But like me and Debbie, you might need to figure out specifically how to make that work for you. Writing everyday is important, but you have to figure out how to make it work for you. Chaining yourself to a desk is not always an option. John Grisham, legend has it, would get up early before he would have to be in court and write, and even then, he would write during breaks of court on a legal pad. And his first book was rejected before going to a modest first printing. It wasn't until 'The Firm' came out that he became the household name he is today. I haven't read any of his work, I'm sure it's just fine, but what impresses me about him is his devotion to being a writer. He wrote all the time, no matter what.

And that's what's important. Write or die. I'm going to go listen to my own advice.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Pleased to Meet Me Breakthrough

Since June 2005, I've been working on this play, 'Pleased to Meet Me'. It's about a 30 year old woman, Eugenie, who is going absolutely nowhere--she's in a dead end job, has a jerk boyfriend and a mother who is forcing her to go to therapy. She's angry and unhappy. After she bursts out in a therapy session about her desire to go back to where everything changed so she could change it, she meets a 17 year old girl, Mae, who is eerily familiar.

This play was inspired partially by a philosophical theory I learned when I was in Professor Desmond's class, possible world semantics, which is roughly an idea that the actual world is just one of many possible worlds. When we make a decision, like do I eat and apple or an orange, and we choose, both possibilities actually happen, but only one happens in the real world. From there the real world sort of splits from the possible world, and this continues on and on with every choice we make.


That was my brain asploding. I loved philosophy.

That's a very elementary way to understand it, but I think that's the best bare bones I could think of.

The only problem for a writer using possible world semantics is that there is 'no trans world airlines', according to Prof. Desmond's words. Things that happen in the actual world can't cross into a possible world or vice versa.

But that's when I jump onto magical realism. YAY!

So thinking about my own situation a couple years ago where I was angry and unhappy, but nowhere near as angry and unhappy as Eugenie, I came up with this play.

And I've worked on the damn thing for nearly three years. That's a long time to be working on a play. I could list here all the problems I have had with the play, but I will just talk about one particular problem.

The therapist, Dr. Morrow, who Eugenie goes to, in the first scene, his language wasn't proper for his profession. Now, I've been to two different therapists in my life (I'm sure that won't be the last two I will see) and the language he used didn't work for me. However, his intent was definitely right. I just needed to work out different language for him. And the funny part was, I was NEVER comfortable with that scene. I didn't like what he said to her, not because it wasn't what she or I wanted to hear, but because it didn't seem believable for a therapist to say what he was saying. So understanding the intent behind his words helps because now I can fix the language and suddenly the first scene will be solid.

It only took me three years.

There's a couple of different scenes that need some work and I need to do some character work, but I think it might be ready to be read. This makes me happy indeed.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

San Fran?

It's been since August that I've been here, and I haven't been able to buy a copy of American Theatre magazine since then, because I simply couldn't find it. I was going to Hendrix to read it, but it's nice to relax at home or wherever I might be. I couldn't find it at Hastings, which wasn't a surprise, but I did manage to find it at Barnes and Noble. I had looked in the writing magazines, which was where I would often find it at other bookstores. Then I got desperate and looked in the screenwriting section and there it was. YAY!

I know, subscribe. Whatever.

In the latest issue, there's an ad for the 2008 bay area playwrights festival. During this, there will be a weekend intensive with Naomi Wallace from July 31-August 3. Registration is soon and the class is only open to 12 students. There's not information about how much it will cost, but there's other classes that cost $300 and there's no reason to think it would be different for this class.

I am trying to determine if i want to do this. I mean, I know I want to do it. It's Naomi Wallace. Doi. But I am trying to determine if i can afford this. $300 for the class, $xxx for the hotel. plane fare, etc. I talked to Bill and I was kind of hoping he would pop the bubble, but he made me think it was possible.

And I got my income tax return today. And I could be getting up to $600 back from the stimulus package. YAY.

So I am just trying to figure out what to do as far as this goes. I have nine days to decide.

Let's see, what else? Just working on the plays. I am still working on All Shook Up and I got a bunch of other plays in the wings. Bill has been in California for a couple days. He'll be back on Saturday. Saturday. The next day off. Yay!

Friday, May 2, 2008

Blown Wide Open

It's really hard to just be open to possibilities. I'm not sure why that is. It probably has something to do with change, and not liking change, and that sort of thing. Some of it probably comes from being a perfectionist, in my case anyway.

But it's difficult to be open to trusting yourself and just letting whatever happens happen. But something has been blown wide open in All Shook Up. It started when the character, Abe, who I had previously mentioned, showed up. And now, two more characters have shown up. They are just shadows for me right now, but they are there, just waiting. I mean, they've been trying to have a baby for years and are searching for a baby they could adopt, so I am going to assume they're used to waiting. Pretty patient, those two. Or at least the husband is.

This is something I get to do more and more with my writing. I just trust in the process, trust in myself to go in the proper direction, even when it seems like I'm butting my head against a brick wall. But if i just hold on with enough tightness to stay with the play and don't strangle the life out of it because it's going in directions I never dreamt were possible, then I am all right.

There's a couple things I can think of specifically that have me addicted to being a writer. The first one is that 'a-ha!' moment where the warmth of realization that you are going in the right direction spreads through your chest. The writing then is loose and flowing like honey. And getting to that moment is wonderful. It makes slogging through the muck of bad writing days that much more tolerable (someone remind me of that when I complain about bad writing days).

The other thing is something that only happened to me once, and I hope it happens again. I was working on a short story (this was before I was a playwright--back in the stone ages of black hawk college!) and as I was writing a particularly emotional scene for both myself and the character i was writing about, I felt as though I had left my body and she had just taken over. I cried with her, I felt her anxiety and fear, and her relief that the situation had been fixed. And it was a scary wonderful rush of possession by a character that I don't think I've felt since. I might have in small doses, but nothing like that first time it happened. Crazy, eh?