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.

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