I am Analyn Revilla. I’ve been working on my first play for two years. I asked my writing mentor, “How long does it take to finish?” The question was posed among a group of students of varying backgrounds and writing experiences. The melange was: a lawyer and a published poet writing her first novel; a chef working on her memoir that begins with finding herself in a homeless state; an elementary teacher creating her first screenplay; an accomplished journalist reveling in her third novel; a busy actress expressing her story of an 8 year old boy in her first novel; a retired legal secretary exploring the story of an orphan seeking her birth mother in post WWI Germany; and then there’s me, an IT Specialist who has been “dabbling” in writing since I was eleven, and recently started my first play.
My co-writers and I have been gathering for the past 5 months at 9 am on Saturdays for 3 hours sharing our work and our experiences in the process of our “rewrite” of the first draft.
The question was an impulse to get the class started. It seemed thoughtless and absurd, after I blurted out the words. Then I realized it may not be as thoughtless as I felt, because I noticed the others look on with piqued interest at the mentor in front of class. As he started to speak people began jotting notes into their notepads or their laptops. He responded that he can’t answer the question in directly, but the first thing he wanted to emphasize was “There are no rules.”
As he continued to speak my mind was still resisting the idea of “there are no rules”. I can’t go on imagining the life of this story, because I could go on forever. The characters evolve and they all have their arcs and shifts in perceptions (small and big), and maybe none at all. Then he said that he’s not interested in the product. What? my mind screamed. He doesn’t care about my play? I heard his words – I am here to help you through the rewrite process and teach you to be curious and to ask the right questions about the nature of the dilemma of your protagonist.
Finally he said that it’s not any easier for a professional writer. It’s hard work. When he concluded my brain took a tangent to the idea of how marathon runners train. I followed up with a comment: When you said it isn’t any easier for a professional writer I thought about the rigorous training of the marathon runner. The first draft and the rewrite is like it is for an amateur runner learning to run a race. The expert just has more experience in the process and knows how to train to be able to complete a race regardless of whether or not they win the race. And there are varying beliefs in what “winning” is.
One of my classmates spoke up: I’ve run marathons, and it’s all about the distance.
When I got home I dug up a book I had lying around: “The Triathlete’s Guide to Mental Training” by Jim Taylor and Terri Schneider (published by VeloPress.)
The first chapter on Introduction to “Prime Triathlon” talks about the philosophy of “Prime Triathlon”: Before you can begin the process of developing Prime Triathlon, you want to create a foundation of beliefs about triathlon on which you can build your mental skills. This foundation involves your attitude in three areas: (1) your perspective on competition; (2) your view of yourself as a competitor – how you perform in training and races; and (3) your attitude toward success and failure – how you define success and failure and whether you know the essential roles that both success and failure play in becoming the best triathlete you can be. Clarify your view in these three areas will make it easier to win the mental race and to achieve Prime Triathlon. (source: “The Triathlete’s Guide to Mental Training.)
I replace the triathlon parts with writing:
My views on competition is that there are merits in healthy competition with others when it’s about improving the writing. For instance, I saw a couple of good plays last weekend, and was delighted with seeing the techniques the playwright had used in conveying the idea and the feeling. I thought, ‘Wow.’ then “How can I do that in my own unique way,’ or ‘hey, I can use something like that’. But the real competition is within myself. This answers both (1) and (2). The struggle of the balancing act to schedule the time and the energy into the writing, and being dedicated to dig deeper and deeper to unearth the subtexts, and having the endurance to rewrite and rewrite until the gem has been cut and polished to show it off at its best.
My attitude toward success and failure. Right now (and I say right now because it may change because “There are no rules”) is I will be successful as a long as I don’t give up. I may have a shift in my perception as to what success is. But only I can measure this and not allow other forces to shape my vision of success. As I heard one musician tell it to another musician as they waved good-bye after another unpaid gig, “Keep fighting the good fight.”
Going back to my mentor’s initial response that “There are no rules” is applicable in what I’ve learned from meditating on the three questions from the book on “The Triathlete’s Guide to Mental Training”. There are not any rules that can be applied universally to specific situations i.e. the writer. We have varying attitudes about competition, ourselves and what we define as success and failures.
Everyday as I go down this path deeper and deeper into the woods I can never ask the question if I can find my way back, because there is no turning back. That’s probably one universal rule that can apply, because I can’t undo what I’ve learned along the journey to evolve in exploring my impulse to write. I expand my heart with each step walking in the shoes of my characters as I witness their choices under the circumstances they are in. It’s that journey, though sometimes sorrowful and sometimes joyful, that has enriched my humanity.