Words of Inspiration...by request
Toni Wilson asked me to write a short inspirational blog post that would help keep those who are engaged in this wonderful monthly enterprise going.
Who the F am I? Not really anybody special and any advice is a take it or leave it proposition. My name is Todd Ristau and I'm the guy who kind of started something called No Shame Theatre with some other great folks like Stan Ruth and Jeff Goode in the back of my pick up truck at the University of Iowa in 1986. That mostly just proves I am old.
I am also the director of the MFA playwriting program at Hollins University. That mostly proves I have a job. You don't really care about my resume, you don't have time for that, you're writing a play and you need to be inspired to keep going until you finish it.
Well, here goes....my try at being inspirational.
The biggest enemy a playwright faces is rewriting before you finish a draft.
Well, really, that comes from not having a deadline, because no deadline gives you the implied permission to tinker with what you have written to avoid getting on with writing what you haven't written yet. Or, even worse, we talk about what we're writing instead of actually writing it...but I'm starting to lose you, so back to the inspiration...
So many of us write and write and write and then go back and re-read what we've done so far and are either consumed with sadness at wondering why a half finished baby doesn't look like a human or really excited about getting in there and doing some reconstructive surgery on something that hasn't even left the womb yet.
Let it gestate. Let it get born. Let it play with the other kids. Let it go out on its own a few times. Let it get its heart broken, and then let it fix itself without your help. Let it be who it is before you decide if making it was a good idea in the first place.
OK, nothing is more dangerous than an over-extended metaphor...and we all know what Hedda Gabler does with paper children....let me try this:
Don't try to write something that will make people forget Shakespeare wrote plays and that will put you in the same tax bracket as Neil Simon. Instead, write something that will prove to you can meet a deadline and finish a draft.
If you worry about getting done instead of doing something good, chances are it will be a lot more good because good isn't the goal, good is a plus. The more finished plays you write, I promise, the more good plays you will end up with.
The more plays you finish, the more you will be able to confidently say, "I am a playwright...who finishes plays!"
The less afraid you will be if you get a commission or a writing job and they say, we need that by Monday morning.
The Playwright's Lab at Hollins University is a six-week summer intensive, and a student once told me he was most worried about not learning the discipline required to finish a play if he was only there 6 weeks at a time.
So, I created a class called First Drafts where you get a series of prompts on Thursday and on Sunday you have to send your finished 120 page first draft to everyone in the class. All the plays are read by the other students in the class who makes note and come ready to discuss them on Tuesday. Repeat. A finished play in 72 hours. 6 plays in six weeks.
First week, everyone hates the class, but by the 6th week they love the fact that they have 6 complete plays and are more confident about being writers than they ever were before.
The plays might need rewriting, but in every case, every student did their best work so far. Several of those plays have had professional readings.
The plays are gooder in part because they were focused on finishing something, not proving they were worthy to call themselves playwrights.
So, that's my inspirational message...This isn't about proving you are a playwright. It is about finishing a play. And you only have to finish one, not six.
Now, you still got 15 days or so, get yer Lope de Vega on!
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