You are hereMonthly archive / November 2008
Full season runs of Escape, Dark Fantasy, Quiet, Please, Lights Out -- any show that deep in the pulp thriller flavor, the way it was in the heyday of those magazines and radio shows.
I want writing and characterization that tight and efficient...
If you’ve exhausted the initial first week excitement and are starting to be overwhelmed by the crappiness on the page …
This is the first of our weekly "Rhino Burst *" in which an experienced playwright rallies us to the cause . This week's "call to arms" comes to you from 2007 and 2008 NaPlWriMo participant, Ben Ellis.
Welcome to the second week.
Oh God. What have I done? I had this great idea and the first ten, even twenty, pages went brilliantly, and… and… all of a sudden I feel like I've run out of juice. I'm a goose. What's going on? I should give up. I'm terrible. I thought I had a whole play in me and I'm sputtering now… And I've got the laundry to do. And I've got to get a haircut. I haven't spoken to my family for weeks. I ought to do the shopping. There's a pile of papers I need to sort. Oh, look, the bathroom needs vacuuming. Or a mop. Hell. Let's do both.
Everybody gets this feeling around about now. Whether they are writing in November or not.
Do not fear. It's normal. In fact, what's great about it is that it's necessary.
What is happening right now is that you are writing a first draft. At first, you get excited and run on the initial juice of the excitement. Right now, you might be having an excitement hangover. You're a little sluggish. You have no idea what the next scene is going to be; or if you do have an idea, you think the idea's a bit crap, so you might as well play Solitaire for a few hours, until you feel better. Or find a better idea.
Again. Do not fear. This is a normal and necessary feeling.
Why is it necessary? Because what's happening is this: your writing process from play to play may be consistent, but every play is different, and you are learning how to write this play. You learn how to write this play… by writing it. It's just that the seasoned playwright knows this, whereas the unseasoned give up.
Without doubts, confusion and bafflement, there is no point in learning. If you don't feel doubt or confusion or bafflement at this point, you'd better hurry up and get with the program! Get baffled and confused!
Let me tell you what I'm assured by the friend of a friend of a friend is a true story. It comes from a philosophy major at a university in Canberra who was a bit of a stoner. He was worried about taking his final exam for the year, and so he decided to relax himself – banish the feelings of doubt and anxiety – by smoking a large spliff before heading, red-eyed and optimistic, into the exam hall.
When the exam paper turned up, no problem. He saw the question and knew, just knew, that he had all the answers he needed. So he started writing his essay, and as he was writing it, he started thinking to himself, "My God, this is a great essay. This is the best essay I have ever written. This is a brilliant response." All the way through he kept thinking this as he wrote.
He left the exam hall elated. He thought he'd cracked some pretty major theoretical codes in there.
A couple of weeks later, the professor in charge of the department calls him.
"I'd like you to come in and see me," he says to the student.
"Why's that?" asks the student.
"I think we need to have a little discussion."
Brilliant, thinks the student. So he makes an appointment see the professor, thinking that he'll be asked to convert the essay into a journal article. Or be given the philosophy award. He's excited.
He sits down across the desk from the professor, who starts, as the student expects, by saying, "this is about your exam paper." The professor holds it up. He hands it to the student. "Could you explain this?"
The student takes the paper and opens it up. He reads what's in front of him.
My God, this is a great essay. This is the best essay I have ever written. This is a brilliant response. My God, this is a great essay. This is the best essay I have ever written. This is a brilliant response. My God, this is a great essay. This is the best essay I have ever written. This is a brilliant response.
Pages of it. That's all he wrote.
How does this relate to you and your month-long quest to write a first draft? Your sudden feelings of inadequacy?
It relates because you need feelings of doubt to write a play. You need to learn how to write this play. If you thought you know everything, you'd end up writing the play version of the stoner's philosophy exam.
You'll have characters who are nagged by doubt. Share your own doubts with them. Has something come up for you? Share it with your play.
Can you be more precise about what it is that worries you? Why not write down a list of questions? Once you have this list, why not re-arrange it in order of lowest to highest anxiety?
You might just have the order of the questions that your play needs to confront scene by scene.
As a playwright, you never sit down knowing all the answers, otherwise what would be the point of writing your play? If you're full of doubt right now, you're 90% of the way to being a proper playwright. The other 10% is milking your anxieties for to help you apply your bottom to your chair, pen to paper, fingers to keys.
But most of all, now is not the time to judge your work. To think right now that "this is the best play ever" or "this is the worst play ever" is the stoner's philosophy. Best of all, procrastinate when it comes to judging your own work. Leave it for another day. Keep putting it off. Write something instead, knowing that you're putting this important work of judging your material until the last. As long as you keep writing and learning, you'll get around to judgement some day or other…
Actually, more importantly, what you are learning here is how to create in the face of anxiety. You're doing it with imagination and with your own resources. You've also got the NaPlWriMo community there to help you out. Your mission - imagination triumphing fear - is the kind of small, beautiful act that the world needs. I need you to imagine a future despite your doubts; you need me to do it too. That's part of the essential reason human beings make art. The act possesses its own nobility.
So, if you feel stumped right now – and I always feel stumped around this point of the process – congratulations. You are well on your way. Make your coffee to celebrate, make your lists of questions and keep going.
*A burst is the sound that an adult rhino makes, though it is barely audible to human ears. A baby rhino on the other hand makes a squeak.
Ben Ellis is a Gippsland-born playwright and columnist now based in London. His recent work includes an adaptation of Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis for a Sydney Theatre Company and Malthouse Theatre (Melbourne) co-production (2005). His Poet No. 7 was selected for the 2006 Dublin Fringe Festival after its premiere in London in February 2006.
Currency has published three of his plays: Falling Petals which attracted furious debate in Australia—including fist-fights among audiences—for its depiction of an unsentimental and hypocritical rural community; These People, concerning Australian responses to the stories of asylum seekers in detention centres in their deserts; and Post Felicity, a black comedy which satirises the obsessions of baby boomers which won both the Patrick White Play Award and the inaugural Malcolm Robertson Prize.
He blogs at http://parachuteofaplaywright.blogspot.com
My bosses are all in Boston for a conference so I'm going to sneakily write at work (and take a two hour lunch as well).
Okay... so... as many of you know I am writing a solo show... this solo show is highly autobiographical.
I want you to please ask me some questions.
Here is what you need to know : I was raised on a sailboat around the world from age 6 to 16. What do you want to know about that ? What interests you ?
I spent a lot of my life on a long healing journey from victim to survivor. Ask me questions about that !
When you meet someone, what interests you the most about them aside from the basic, what is your name, age, profession basic stuff ?
A mesmerizingly measly ten pages...including the musical numbers. That is what many in the artistic realm might possibly consider unbelievably pathetic. I am at around 23,000 pages in my nano-novel, but only ten in my musical?! What in Ibsen could cause such a monstrous travesty to occur?
Ah, well...it may be ten pages, but I must admit it was a well-thought-out ten pages. I am in fact moderately satisfied with it so far, and I am nearing the end of the first act, which is truly the shortest. If any of you have read my other blog, you'll know what I'm talking about when I say that the first act is essentially only describing the arrest of Dreyfus, the murder of his wife and daughter, his escape and vow to destroy civilization.
And on that jubilant note, the drama progresses to 'pièce deux,' and as the writer sits down to torture his already nearly clinically insane brain, the nano-audience sits back to watch the carnage.
From Scene 2:
OTHER WOMAN: What are your names?
MAN: I'm Brent--
WOMAN: And I'm Brittany.
OTHER WOMAN: Brent and Brittany. (Aside.) Just feel the alliteration there, folks. Sounds right, doesn't it? Like Bread and Butter. Like Bed and Breakfast. B & B. Absolute Bullshit.
From Scene 3--
A group of us playwrights were chewing the fat the other day over at NYU-Tisch Asia and the topic of where we write came up.
My buddy Bill said that he had to write at home. Another said she wrote almost exclusively in coffee shops. Another said she was mobile and whipped out her laptop when inspiration hit.
I admitted that I do the bulk of my writing in a cafe. That little cafe, and the usual table I sit at, have come to be affectionately known by some of my college students and colleagues as "my office."
Check-in Here on Sunday, November 9th!
We want to know how many pages you've written on your play so far. And of course... anything else you care to share.
I haven't started yet. I'm going to get myhaircut and then I'll write.
REMINDER: The week one check-in is tomorrow and IT IS MANDATORY.
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Machelle Allman, Holly Arsenault, Will Bond, Karen Chandler, Michael Lee, Leslie Liautaud, Jeff Mackey, Maggie McAleese, Marian McNamee, Marla Porter, and all our anonymous donors.