Thursday, December 01, 2005

What to say today?

Isn't that always the question?

Under the threat of minor embarrassment, I did get some writing in today. On something I've been kicking around in my head for a while. That's how I start. (Yeah, I'll talk about that for a while.)

For me, a play starts with an idea. Not really a story per se, but not exactly an image. An idea of a play. A phrase will hit my ear in a certain way, even an ordinary, everyday phrase will just suddenly ping. The way a fair better (and infinitely more famous) writer than I am once described looking at the word "house" and thinking you've never seen those letters in that particular order ever before. (For the curious, here's the writer and here's the play.) That's kind of what it can be like, though sometimes it's with more unusual phrases. Of course these usually turn out to be titles, but often they get discarded for better titles.

Sometimes, though, it's an image. Something that I see in real life somewhere, or a picture of something. Sometimes that image will wind up in the play, sometimes not.

And sometimes I read something, a newspaper story, or see something on the news, someone and that starts the ball rolling. Again, only a faint remnant will wind up in their in the end...sometimes.

This thing can roll around in my head for months, even years at a time. I honestly believe that there are stories that you're not ready to write. The idea is so big, or so complicated, or personal that the skills you have now aren't sufficient to tell it. It's like being a kid and wanting desperately to run across the room, but you've only managed walking, and you can't go any faster. The mind races ahead of the body. Usually when you try to run, you fall down. If you try to write something before you as a writer are ready, you'll fall down. You might be able to get down the basics or even more of the idea, but it won't match what's in your head. I've done this myself. Tried to force something to come out of me when I wasn't ready. It hasn't been pleasant. I've learned to wait it out.

Oh, I take notes, scribble down ideas. My Palm Pilot has probably a few dozen notes in it on plays, movies, even novels I'd like to write someday. Some of them I just might. Some may never happen. Who knows? But I let them stew and percolate. And then one day, I have a deadline.

Deadlines are integral to the writing process. I think for all writers, but also very much for me. And they really need to be true deadlines with the threat of at least mild embarrassment and shaming. Because once you're committed, you can let pride force your hand. I dislike missing deadline and assignments, certainly for new things. So I put the title of something down as what I'm bringing in and I get to work.

Once I do get to work, it can be a quick and easy process. I say "easy" but it never really is. At least it can be quick. This fall, I probably did my quickest major writing ever. I finished two full length plays in about six weeks. Granted, I'd already done the first half of each, but even the writing the first half had been quick. However, both ideas had been sitting in my head for months, if not years before. Of course, as an idea sits in your head, it morphs, grows, changes. Because it's not just sitting there. What I'm doing is writing it and rewriting it, just not writing it down. I will eschew any sense of modesty right here and compare myself with Einstein (there ought to be a law about that, like Godwin's Law). Like Einstein, I turn the problem of a play over and over in my mind before I put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard, in reality). Sure, I haven't come up with e=mc squared yet, but that's not for lack of trying.

So when I do start writing, it can come quickly. I'll still be rewriting and there will still be things I haven't thought of, or rather things that I thought out better before I started writing, but mostly it goes quickly. Everything after the writing is what takes so damn much time.


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