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Rhino Burst 's blog
When you get close to crossing the finish line on a first draft, inevitably the thought arises, “So how did I do?”
It’s a natural question to ask. After all, you spent a tremendous amount of effort and energy to write something that may or may not be worth anything. Perhaps you have a written a story that will someday be performed. A handful of first drafts written during NaPlWriMo have continued on to become successful plays.
Or maybe the thought of seeing your play onstage terrifies you. Some people write plays during NaPlWriMo as a personal growth exercise. You imagined the journey. Every day you wrote, you grew with your characters.
Either way, you now have a finished (or close to finished) draft. And although people have told you to not judge what you’ve written, you really want to know. “So how did I do? Is it any good? Is it really bad?”
Although I haven’t read your play, I’ll be honest with you. It is both.
There are strengths in your first draft. Find them. Perhaps a character’s point of view is strong. Or maybe there’s one moment in the play where you conveyed exactly why you wrote it.
One of my earliest plays centered on a dysfunctional family. Original, right? I had no idea why I chose these characters or what they were doing. I kept writing because I had a deadline for the first draft. I had to finish it. No choice. So I did. I knew it was terrible. I knew that version of the play was never going to be performed.
But in that first draft, the teenage son put a bomb on the dinner table. Someone asked me what the bomb symbolized. The answer didn’t require much thinking on my part. I knew. I stopped asking, “So how did I do?” Instead, I began asking other questions.
“Why did the characters act that way?”
“What were they hiding?”
“What happened next?”
The answers replaced the bomb on the kitchen table. In the end, I kept almost nothing from that first draft. Even the characters changed. I never gave thought to whether the play would be performed. I kept working on the story because I wanted to answer the questions. It was fun. I had an intuitive sense that I was becoming a better writer through working on the play. I also knew it was challenging my beliefs about myself.
The play eventually got performed, five years later.
So how did I do?
I got far more out of writing that play then I ever would’ve thought. Because I chose to continue working on it, I met actors and directors who became my friends. I traveled to Europe with the play. It opened doors that would’ve otherwise remained closed.
I never could’ve envisioned the future of that play, especially as I was completing the first draft. You don’t know the future of your work either. So don’t judge yourself or the play you’ve been writing. Just keep asking and answering questions about your story as honestly as possible.
Laura Axelrod is a writer, playwright and actress. Her plays have been performed in New York, California and Europe. Her articles have appeared in The Birmingham News and AL.com. Her play, “Everybody In This House,” is published by Original Works. She is a regular contributor to the NYC-based arts blog, “The Clyde Fitch Report.” Laura graduated from New York University, Tisch School of the Arts with an MFA and BFA in Dramatic Writing. Read more at www.lauraaxelrod.com or gaspjournal.com. You can also follower her on Twitter at @laura_axelrod
Playwriting is as unrewarding as anything Sisyphus could possibly have an application in for. Success in playwriting is getting your text into a theatre good enough that you’d care to see a show in it for a reading. It will be incubating, in the new play nursery, from where it will “experimentally” “emerge” for a “world premiere reading” or some bullshit. After which they will tear it apart and explain that in a few years you will be good enough for the black box downstairs (or offsite).
So don’t think I don’t know what the voices after your midnight bourbon and Fudge Stripe run say. I do. It sucks. Those voices are the single most destructive thing to anyone’s creative process. The no’s someone else tell you can be motivating. The no’s you mutter to yourself before an idea is voiced is the perfect destructive crime. No one can stop it and you’re accountable to no one for it.
So stop it.
The negativity and the creative abortions, not the midnight bourbon and Fudge Stripe runs those are still on.
Let me segue clumsily to a metaphor you care nothing about
That right there is the Green Monster.
It is a thirty seven foot (and 2 inch) wall that graces left field at Fenway Park in Boston and it is a sports icon. It’s enough of an icon that even some of you non-sports fans knew what it was.
Can you see the texture?
The Green Monster stippled with the imprint of thousands of batted balls. It gets resurfaced occasionally and recently was surfaced with hard plastic in lieu of the old school green-painted tin, but while that surface is hanging do you know how you can tell one dimple from another? You don’t. You can’t.
One divot is indistinguishable from another.
The wall faces every batter who steps up.
A very short 310 feet away it looms begging your attention, but it’s as unpredictable a target as you could imagine.
There a scoreboard on it. And a ladder. And there are dead spots in it that hamper bounces.
Balls that are sure home runs in other ballparks are singles with a true bounce while conversely (relatively) tiny men like Bucky Dent can chip a ball over it for devastating home runs.
But you have to play.
You have to swing.
It won’t be a career (and life) defining moment every time out. It definitionally can’t be. Heck, in baseball two thirds failure make you an all star…but you can’t let the unlikeliness of world beating success stop you from writing. We need your voice in this moment. We need everyone to suit up or we don’t have a culture. We can’t win this game, this recordation of our cultural moment, without the entire team. One hit at a time.
Not a single one of those wall dimples is “success” by the ultimate definition of success for the baseball hitter– the home run. Not one of them. But the mark they left is very real.
Travis Bedard is the Artistic Director of Cambiare Productions in Austin and the managing editor of 2amTheatre.com. A long time theatre blogger and proud advocate for new work in general and Austin theatre - specifically in the social media realm, Travis is also a participant in Arena Stage’s #Newplay initiative and livestreaming channel, and a facilitator for World Theatre Day. With Cambiare Productions he produced the Austin Critics' Table Best Comedy and Best New Script nominee MESSENGER NO. 4 (OR HOW TO SURVIVE A GREEK TRAGEDY), produced, designed and performed (Menelaus) in ORESTES (multiple 2009 B Iden Payne Award Nominee including Best Production - Drama), produced and directed Caryl Churchill’s SEVEN JEWISH CHILDREN, produced (with Gobotrick Theatre Company) the Austin Critics' Table nominated NINA VARIATIONS, produced Megan M. Reilly’s design-as-performance work TRANSFORMATIONS and co-created (with Will Hollis Snider) the B. Iden Payne nominated INTERMISSION.
Our final Rhino Burst comes from Marisela Treviño Orta. I met Marisela over the summer, but have enjoyed reading her blog posts for awhile. I'm inspired by her work ethic (she has admirable & stellar work habits) and her enthusiasm for theater and playwrighting is contagious.
This is it. Cue Chariots of Fire.
Ya know, the thing about the Chariots of Fire theme song is even though it conjures up this image of crossing the finish line, it’s in slow motion. At least that’s how I imagine it.
And I imagine there are plenty of playwrights out there trying to finish their plays in these last days of November who feel so close yet so far away from their own finish lines. You may be fighting to get there inch by inch, or rather, line by line. Or, if we continue with this running analogy, you’ve hit the wall and find yourself praying for endorphins to kick in and carry you on a wave of euphoria over the finish line.
I have to say, writing-related endorphins have only kicked in AFTER I’ve accomplished something, after I’ve had a breakthrough. But getting that breakthrough, accomplishing what I once thought was almost impossible doesn’t always come easy. In fact, it usually is never easy. That’s the real work of a writer: to make it past those doldrums, to solve the problems we’ve created for our characters (and ourselves) and to finish what we’ve started.
Now, while I am not currently participating in this month-long exercise (I have a good reason: I’m working on two plays with deadlines that hold me accountable to two different theatres), I know what you are going through dear playwright. You see, one of the plays I’m working on I had to write in a much shorter span of time than I’m accustomed to. Technically I had all summer, but other writing projects and…well, procrastination whittled down that time frame to one month.
I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: there’s nothing like impending doom, I mean, a deadline to get you to write.
Now, you need to know that usually I take my time when writing the first draft of a play. I mean months. Months! But this past August I had no choice but to write the first draft of a play so that I could take it to a September retreat where I would share it with my peers.
I remember the home stretch of that play. I had a gaping hole in the narrative near the end. You see, I tend not to write linearly, so I already had my ending written. But like I said, there was a gaping hole in the shape of a blank white page staring back at me from my laptop.
It was Chariots of Fire time and I was running in place. I didn’t feel ready. Not ready to finish the play, to write the penultimate scenes that would fill that gap in the narrative. This was unfamiliar territory for me. Like I said before I usually take my time to write a play so this shortened time frame was forcing me to write.
I had to tell myself: just finish. Just write. The ideas are there, even if they are kind of fuzzy.
I had to tell myself to remember that this is just the first draft. It doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact, it can be imperfect. It can bring up questions. It can leave you wanting more. Because the truth is I would have the next six months to keep working on the play, to flesh out the scenes, do rewrites, edits, etc. And you dear playwright will have more time with your play. There will be second and third and possibly more (several if you’re like me) drafts of your play that you can continue to refine or rewrite however you choose.
But keep in mind that this month’s challenge is not just about getting you to write a new play. It’s about challenging yourself as a writer, about pushing yourself beyond your own writing limits.
Because it’s when we’re challenged that we grow, that we are forced to develop. And in the end this experience will provide you with a frame of reference so that in the future when you find yourself faced with a writing challenge that seems impossible, that requires you to venture into new writing territory, you can look back on this past November and recall how you raced against time, against writer’s block, against the odds and crossed that finish line.
And remember, whether you cross it at a full sprint or at a crawl the important thing is: you finished.
Best of luck!
Marisela Treviño Orta is a San Franciscan poet and playwright. Her first play, Braided Sorrow, won the 2006 Chicano/Latino Literary Prize in Drama and the 2009 Pen Center USA Literary Award in Drama. Her other plays include: American Triage, Heart Shaped Nebula, The River Bride, Wolf at the Door and Woman on Fire. Marisela also writes a literary blog: Variations on a Theme (http://www.xanga.com/mtorta). Follow her on Twitter at Twitter.com/MariselaTOrta.
- Naplwrimo 2009 Burst # 2: Follow Your Digressions by Dennis Schebetta
- Naplwrimo 2009 Burst # 1: Every Way is the Right Way by Aaron Riccio
- Naplwrimo 2009 Burst #3: 8 or 9 Things to Try by Mead Hunter
- Naplwrimo 2009 Burst #4: The Ways We Stop Ourselves by Sherry Kramer
- Naplwrimo 2009 Burst # 5: Reflections on Naplwrimo by Elizabeth Spreen.
- Go, Rhino, Go!
- Naplwrimo 2010 Rhino Burst #2: Keeping It Simple by Travis Bedard
- Naplwrimo 2010 Rhino Burst #3: Getting December to Talk: What Happens When Characters are Too Quiet
- NaPlWriMo 2011 Rhino Burst #1: There's Still Time
- NaPlWriMo 2011 Rhino Burst #2: Discovering Theatre
- NaPlWriMo 2011 Rhino Burst #3: The Readiness is All
- NaPlWriMo 2011 Rhino Burst #4: The Time and Space to Write
- NaPlWriMo 2011 Rhino Burst #5: The Home Stretch
- NaPlWriMo 2012 Rhino Burst: Take Your Cuts
- So How Did I Do?
Naplwrimo runs on love, sweat and your generous help.
Thank you to our donors!
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.