Write It Scared…

I’m pretty fearless when writing but there are still instances when I am not (two to be exact).  I was writing a one woman show for a friend some years ago.  It started pretty crazy with the voices coming out of my mouth while I was driving – always as I neared or left the Post Office.  This happened for a few days before I realized the voices were characters in a play and not me losing my mind out loud.  There is a poem in that first scene called “Before the Red”; I felt and still feel that the piece should have explored that specific subject matter but I ended it when the voices quieted enough for me to go on to write the other monologues in the piece – maybe because I was tired of those strange characters blurting things out of my mouth – maybe because deep down I knew I was not ready to go THERE…  Individually, the monologues work but the collective piece is not a conclusion to the matter.  And, though I did not censor myself in writing the monologues, for whatever reason, I did fail to push into that first world I found – the THERE space…  I know the exact point I decided not to write the whole ugly truth…when those darn girls stopped blurting out sentences.  It’s at that point where I decided to write a variation of that truth – a modified portion of it which merely scraped the surface – the almost whole story.  The meat of it was left in the quarantined sector in my story bank – in the scary dark – THERE…  Though I am not easily jarred, with this piece, I was scared.  Scared that to really tell it, I would have to go deep enough to hit oil.  Would I be able to survive the gushing out of it?  I was scared to find out and I was scared that if I could survive the gushing part, I would put it out there before its time…  I am a firm believer that “to every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven…Ecclesiastes 3”  Baring “uglies” for no purpose other than to bare them is not part of my makeup as a writer.  Perhaps it’s all those Aesop’s Fable cartoons I watched as a kid or the Twilight Zone episodes…  I sort of let myself down by writing an alternate piece and it’s stuck in my head (annoying me with thoughts of – “You know you still have to tell that story ‘cause you didn’t really go THERE… and you know you didn’t.  When are you going to write that story?  Soon, I say, right after the submission period is over and I have more time.”). 

I had been able to push the first instance to the back of my subconscious for a few years until I met playwright Will Eno who wrote “Thom Pain: based on nothing”.   I met him at a conference and he knew at once when I read the girls’ scene that I had failed to let that play go where no play (of mine) had gone before…all the way to the scary dark THERE…  The conversation went a little like this (because this is how I remember it):

Me:  “I think I failed.  I think I edited myself in some way.  I think the play wanted to say something else.”

Will Eno:  “You’re right.  You failed.  You have to throw it out and start over.”

Me:  “But, what I ended up with – the monologues are good.  I can’t throw them out.”

Will Eno:  “Then keep them but you still have to start over.  Trust that the thing that originally motivated you will motivate you again.”

He’s right.  I started over.  Since I never actually kill my darlings, I have them on standby to recycle/rework into other pieces.  When I sit quietly enough, the girls start to chatter again, taking me back to those moments when the sparks of their voices made me shake…

More recently, the second instance came about when I decided that I did not want to write a piece too close to the occurrence of the current event that inspired it.  My preference…  Again, I was scared that the timing was not quite right to go THERE … so I wrote something else.  A good piece but not the project I should have tackled.  Then I went to see “Stoop Stories” by Dael Orlandersmith.  After the talk back, I mentioned to her how her play “Yellowman” affected me.  Profoundly.  It made me shake…made me remember the girls who have been stepping aside for all the other plays I’ve written (funny both plays involve just girls/women).  Dael’s work makes me think about those two pieces on my back burners; it makes me want to revisit them nowit makes me want to tackle the scary dark…just get right in there and look around.  I asked her how she was able to keep from editing herself.  I asked if she cared about what people may think or how they would respond when she’s writing.  I asked her if it scared her to be so open and honest.  She said – (and this is what struck me the most and this is how I remember it) – she said, “I care but I can’t do that to myself.  Do you understand?  I just can’t do that to myself.  Of course I’m scared; it scares me but I have to do it.” 

She’s right.  I just have to resolve it in myself that I will always write everything as open and honest as I can.  Otherwise, and I’ve learned this over time, I won’t give myself a pass because I can’t do that to myself either… 

As a writer one owes it to oneself to go to the THERE space… to the scary dark place and write it…just write it scared…

2 Comments

  • By Analyln, August 4, 2010 @ 2:14 pm

    Hi Lady Byrd, Good stuff. I have this problem all the time, and my mentor has already mentioned this to me many times. I run out of the kitchen when it starts to get hot, and I miss a lot of the alchemy that suppose to happen. Thanks for sharing this. Analyn

  • By Robin Byrd, August 4, 2010 @ 3:42 pm

    Hey, Analyn —
    Yeah, that’s the part that I love the most — the alchemy. Besides, you can’t cook outside the kitchen! Robin

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