First off, let me start by apologizing if you have “that” song stuck in your head. But it is something I have been thinking about lately. Letting go and just how you do it. After having some deep thoughts about what to write about next, I find old starts to plays that I never got around to finishing. Be it from losing interest in the subject, or getting lost down the rabbit hole of research, these tiny gems of writing deserve to see the light of day. Or do they?
When I started them, I was passionate about the story and felt I needed to tell it. But as interest waned, so did the story. I did not love it as much anymore, so I stopped writing. At times I thought I should just push through the pain and agony I felt of writing, but other times I would think why work on something you don’t love. And if the latter is the case, will I fall in love with it again?
As I sit here sorting through my note cards of brilliance (as I like to call them) I feel the sparks of love that were once there. But will the spark turn into a forest fire, or just fizzle out in a light breeze?
The next thoughts that seep into my brain are: “Well, this story is kinda current in the news right now; maybe I should finish this piece”. Again is that a good enough reason to look into? There is no burning desire to work on it; it’s just “yeah, it’s there”. But I also don’t have anything burning a hole in my notebook that I must write about. (Sidebar: what’s with all this burning?)
Why do I even worry about this? Why am I now expending so much energy on this topic?
I am thinking about this, not only for my writing, but other aspects of my life as I take a look at what I have done thus far this year and how I’m stacking up with my to-do list. Looking at new job possibilities and the freelance lifestyle that I currently have going on. When is enough enough? When do you shut down these passion projects that were once integral parts of your life, as expiration dates creep up, you start evaluating whether you want to go on or not.
So I ask you, when is it good to “Let it Go” and when do you push through for writings sake?
I had forgotten the exhilarating feeling of enjoyment of writing. I have been working in a supervisory roll, meaning I sit back and wait for something to happen, and most days I literally just sat there. I could bring other work if I wanted, but I chose to sit there, glancing occasionally at my phone and social media, but that got boring after a while. This of course was after clearing out my podcast backlog. Who knew it was that easy to go through 100+ episodes of just one. I had to start looking for other things I was interested in. I cannot tell you what a motivator this was to me and it made overseeing the job not so quiet. I could sit there with my phone on speaker or just one ear bud in, and take notes of the interesting points of view from that day’s topic. It also helped my writing. When I write, I try to work out all angles. I play my own devil’s advocate. I should look at it as giving my characters different points of view and more depth, but for me it was to try and hit both sides of the argument, because even though I might share only point of view, I tried to construct how my argument would happen. I never thought of this as dialogue, I just wrote it out, but realistically, that what it is. Giving my characters depth and being able to present current issues in a well rounded point of view.
After a few days of procrastinating and working things out in my head, I finally narrowed down what I wanted to say. I also only had 2 days until the submission deadline. What made it easier for me was to write out the rant(s) that my character needed to say. After listening to the variety of podcasts though, the rants were all over the map. When I was finally sitting down writing out the scene, all the things I wanted to say were distilled and my protagonist found her voice.
Next problem, was figuring out how I wanted it to end. I finished it and submitted it with a whole day left to spare. It was like a weight had been lifted and I wondered why it had taken me so long to write this 10 minute play, but it felt so good! The only drawback now, what’s next?
How do you feel when you’ve finished that first draft?
Ok, so you’ve finished a play. You feel super excite and ready to write more. You are wondering what the next project is and why you have not been doing this more. Then you get so excited that you start Googling and researching (which, let’s face it is your demise, because you get so into your research, that you aren’t actually writing anything) and then the hammer drops and you need a glass of whine wine because you now feel down about yourself because you are finding all these people you know that have been writing and working, while you have been hiding from everything and listening to way too many self-help books that gave you a shot of encouragement, yet fed your love of knowledge and made you read more about self-confidence instead of actually writing (which is what is was supposed to do). You are seeing all your peers (right? they are your peers because you’re both writers) getting stuff done and you feel like an imposter. Wait, did I just say that twice?
Ok, unpack that for a second. Because we are super self-aware society (at least people want to think “they would never do that – I know myself”) we don’t think we are good enough, or that someone will find out that we are not “qualified”. I say, we, but it’s the royal “we”.
Where was I going with this? Oh yeah, get it done! So for this week, I hope you will enjoy my journey and I invite you to comment on the struggles you’re facing. That’s why I blog about the ugly stuff, because I want to connect to others out there who are having similar issues (I was going to say problems, but I’m trying to stay positive). I would read other writer’s blogs in the hopes that I would be able to relate, and most times I just found writing tips, which were super helpful, but not in the ways that I needed help.
So I will post a blog everyday and stop starting every sentence with the word so.
I like to call myself an accidental writer. I didn’t start out wanting to write plays, blog postsr essays, but I always wrote. I don’t know if I’ve told you this before, but I, up until recently, had a 3-inch binder full of hand written things on different sizes paper with different incarnations of my handwriting. It wasn’t like a scrapbook, more of a reminder of what I used to do for fun. A collection of angsty teen poems that now make me laugh and smile as the memories of those people come flooding back. This collection is now housed on my hard as I scanned it all to make moving easier and lighter and instead of a binder I now have a collection of tiny notebooks that I bought on sale at Vromans. I couldn’t pass up the crying tiger.
These notebooks are littered with with half started ideas, and notes from books and websites I have read all in the hopes of finishing something. I bought four of them in the hopes they would fill quickly with new musings as my hopes to write daily. Years later I’m finally on my 4th notebook. It has taken me a long time to get here. I went through book one the other day and wondered who this author was? I must have copied “that” from somewhere, I think as I read it. Who is this person? Then as I read on, I find the sarcastic humour and inside jokes that I tell and I am reminded that yes, Jennifer you have some moments and why aren’t you sharing this with the world. What is stopping you? I also realize that I have to quit thinking of things as accidents. Writing has obviously always been a part of me, as witnessed in the binder and notebook collection. I hesitate to call myself a writer because nothing has ever felt finished. It’s a wonder I finish blog posts. Or maybe I don’t even finish those, come to think of it…Because there is always more to the story that I start writing about and then get caught up in my thoughts and hems and haws and never quite feel complete. I am getting better. I think. Instead of one hapless page of notes, I now try and complete a thought before I stop writing. Maybe I am subconsciously wanting to engage the reader? Wanting to talk about the world around us in a non-threatening way, and in this digital age it is so much easier to hide behind the anonymity of the internet. To hide behind an avatar or a picture of you from 5 years ago. To feel warm and safe when the trolls come out to play. Maybe that’s why I don’t finish anything? Because my fear of the discussions I want to have are outweighed by the fear of someone actually reading my stuff…
Yet here I am getting ready to hit “post” on this mishmosh of thoughts.
Right now there is a need for our stories to be told from our perspective to illustrate the diversity that exists in the world. When I say our, I mean American Indians. But what happens when we tell do tell our stories and our own people don’t like it? When you are trying to spread knowledge and stories, but the victims of the crimes and their families feel cheated and used, who are you helping? As a writer, when you tell a story, who can tell it, when is it not “too soon”, when is just promotion to sell your work and profit from someone else’s misery.
While working on a devised piece on boarding schools, my theater group read brief pages from a book then improvised the story surrounding that page. One person was then assigned to write out the scene we had just performed and the next week we would read the new scenes aloud. We talked about it as a group and further changes may or may not happen, but the conversation did help us to understand the process as well as how others saw the story. As a group of American Indian performers from different backgrounds and tribes, our understanding of the boarding school experience differed, as did the message we wanted to give the world. As we read the stories from the book, that helped form our own interpretation of the actual incident. Not once did I consider how I was glorifying someone else’s pain or justifying the actions of the school administrators and parents.
These are the things that keep me from writing. I have so many ideas in my head, so many stories I feel need to be told, yet this feeling of betrayal sits deep inside shaking its head telling me it’s not my place. But who’s place is it then? Who can tell the story? Just this morning, as I was “researching” (procrastinating) to make sure I was going down the right path, I found a video from Adam Conover, from Adam Ruins Everything, telling the “True Messed Up Story of Pocahontas”. Now to me, he’s not really ruining the story. As native people we’ve heard the true story. We’ve listened to other natives tell the story, we may have even watched a PBS show or two about it. Yet it still amazes me that in this “everybody is native” culture that we live in, there is still shock. “I never knew that”. Yes, I know the story because I had the pleasure of playing the role of Matachanna, Pocahontas’s sister, in a play, so I was aware, but is that it?Is it because of the obscurity of Native Playwrights and Screenwriters? Does it really take a non-native comedian with a TV show to educate America? Is it less threatening coming from a “celebrity” rather than the actual people living it? Would people have known about Standing Rock had Shailene Woodley not been arrested with a t-shirt that everyone wants now, or Mark Ruffalo wasn’t live tweeting? Don’t get me wrong, getting the message out there is appreciated, but I continue to wonder why, if native people have been given the raw deal, why is it so difficult to actually listen to the stories from those who live it?
It is encouraging that this past weekend 3 plays opened from 3 women playwrights, who happen to be native. If it’s any indication of who should be telling our stories, I better get writing.
The holidays are a time for rest, relaxation and reflection. It’s also a time for travel for some, especially since you live far away from family. This year instead of spending it with family, I decided to take time to finish some writing and house sit for a friend. A quiet three weeks of walking the dog and taking care of me.
The first days in a new city my head was abuzz with how I needed to get out and visit the city. Thoughts and story ideas that normally fill my groggy morning head were non-existent. Long walks in the park with the dog still gave rise to no new advancements in my stories that I promised myself that I needed to finish. Instead I turned to further research. Which, for me, leads to a rabbit hole of clicks and a gazillion tabs being opened on my laptop and even more story ideas.
I’ve always wondered what people do when they get a writing residency. Sure, some people write. But if you don’t have a daily practice of writing, sitting down at your desk with either your computer or notebook takes a lot of willpower. Even the thought of writing a blog post filled me with dread. I can’t even finish, much less start a thought of my own, what was I thinking?
So, I read. That can’t get me into trouble. I began reading a Playwriting seminar book, which gave me a place to start. Usually, when starting a new project I have a purpose. To submit to a particular company. But this writing, just for me, seemed frivolous. I kept reading. The further I got in the chapter, the deeper I was descending into a new rabbit hole. Structure. It stopped me dead in my thoughts. What? Now I’m thinking of how to write a play and adding to my already picky self editor, and I’m only on page 2. I am reviewing all my plays that I have started and judging them from a mere few scenes. I just need to finish one story, that’s all I-
After completing my first show, I thought the next one be easy. But now I collect bits and pieces of different stories I want to tell, never quite finishing a scene, but amassing a variety of stories, each with its own theme.
My one-person show began as my collection of writings grew. With every new writing class I would take, more pages emerged. With every writing exercise I would do, my stories sounded the same. Different names, different situations but the story was the same. As a first time playwright I did not realize this. I did not think of it as me working through something. These were just the stories that came out when I sat down to write. No conscious thought. Just writing.
Those were the days. To just be able to sit down and write. The freedom of it. Now I feel this invisible pressure on me. That each file I save on my computer must be a piece of brilliance, lest it just be taking up space on my hard drive. Everything has to be perfect the first time around. I’m not sure where this absurdity came from. But here it lives. My writing is done in my head before it even, if it even, makes it to the page. The stories, the dialogue are figments that talk to each other in my head. I try not to edit and produce the text to no avail. I’m not sure where this need for a perfect first draft came from. I, by no means, am a perfectionist. I make no bones about saying that I have no clue what I am doing and nor do I search the internet on how to write a play (I usually Google the heck out of a topic before I even start). It did take me quite some time to actually finish that first draft of my show. But that was more fear than perfection. Fear of what the audience would say and think. Would they get it? Would it be ok to say those things out loud? To people? Who am I to tell this story?
But now as I move on to part 2 of the show, and anything else I write, I am now haunted with the thought of ownership. Who can tell these stories? Do I need permission to talk about this? Who are these people who police the art?
To finish that first play was excruciating. But the worries I had never came to fruition. No one voiced, to me anyway, the ugly thoughts I had had in my head. Listening to what people thought of the play was freeing. It wasn’t about me, my story was just a window into that audience member and how it related to their life and how it made them think and feel. In the end that’s all I ever wanted. Sure it would’ve been nice if they “got” my message, but even more it helps me to keep writing and remember why I started in the first play.
As I continue on my journey to be a playwright, I try to surround myself with like minded people, so I can ask questions and pick their brains. I started writing my first play by accident. I was trying to work some stuff out and would write random thoughts, collecting stories, and poof a play.
Ok, not exactly poof, more like a volcano that has blown and the lava is slowly inching its way to the sea, and when it hits the salt water a cloud of volcanic yuck fills the airs with a sizzle. That’s where I’m at. Volcanic yuck. My first play completed, workshopped and performed but no idea what to do next. The sequel that I had started hangs over me like ashfall, with no end in sight. I have been again collecting bits and pieces of writing as I try to figure out this next show. Trying to write for a specific topic to be performed in a specific venue. So many options for stories to be told, where do you start?
Sitting alone at my computer doing endless research, I am no further along, with the exception of a few dozen avenues to explore. My goal is to find a writers group to just sit with and write. I don’t have to share with anyone, I just need to feel the pressure of others actually writing and I think it would work. When I do have the opportunity to sit with real writers, I feel like a fan girl gushing and asking non-stop questions. Writing with other writers and then sharing is a an opportunity to understand the process of writing by their comments and how they ask questions. They don’t offer up suggestions for your characters or “maybe you should change the location so then your protagonist escapes the bad guy, you can change this and you can change that”. They tell you what they liked and what they didn’t understand and what they wanted to know more about and it makes you want work harder.
I can feel the tradewinds blowing and the ash lifting. The only way to get past the yuck is to just keep writing. Sit down, turn off your internet connection, so you won’t be able to do “research”. Or better yet, go old school, grab your notebook and find a comfy, place to write, and just write. Don’t worry if it’s good, it doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be.
Well yes, I’m always stuck in my own head, that’s how I write. I work it all out in my head before I commit to paper. Not the best way to do it, but I work out the problems I think I’ll have then I write. But the stuck in my head I’m talking about is a song. You know, you’re in a store shopping and on the overhead speaker some song comes on and you start bopping to the tune. Next thing you know you’re walking to your car and now you’re full on singing that same song. I hate that when that happens.
But today, I used this mild annoyance as a writing exercise. It was a song from when I was in high school. After I sang myself horse, I sat down with pen and paper and tried to recall where I was the first time I heard the song and all of the sights and sounds of the day. It was the summer between 10th and 11th grade. It was a Friday night in July. The air was hot and muggy and my friends and I contemplated what to wear to that night’s dance at the community center. Wendy’s parents were gone for the weekend and we had the whole house to ourselves. Shanon was in the kitchen mixing drinks, while I turned on the tv to MuchMusic. I could smell the sweetness of Shanon’s latest concoction as I brought it my lips, she had a thing for blue drinks and this was just the latest in a rainbow cocktails. A warm breeze blew through the screen door. The metal frame tapped as a reminder that we had to go. Outside, the blue sky was fading into burning shades of red and orange as the sun set. A chill filled the air. I could feel the goosebumps popping up on my arm. The mile walk to the dance felt like an eternity, why did I wear heels? After paying our money at the door, we found our way to the dance floor. I took off my heels and felt the cold concrete under my feet. The light from the disco ball caused prisms of color to bounced through the fog. Even though there was a chill in the air outside, the heat from all the bodies inside made the air inside heavy. The DJ called the last song of the night. There is was. The song. My friends has deserted me for dance partners. I sat in the bleachers as he walked over to me. He had finally made it to the dance. He stretched out an arm as an invitation to the dance, a feeble attempt at an apology for being so late. The only saving grace was that it was our song.
That’s what I had written about the song. Memories of a distant past that brought back emotions long forgotten. No recollection of the boy, he’s just a shadow in the memory now, but when it originally happened, my teen heart was in conflict and full of drama. But today as I listen to the song again, I think of the sunset, the sky, the warmth of the air.
This writing exercise made me rethink how I listen to songs and the memories they evoke. So much material to choose from when you consider whose perspective you’re writing about.
Goodbye, farewell, au revoir and ciao. To express good wishes when parting or the end of a conversation.
Saying a goodbye. An ending is sometimes a good place to start. To help get me started on my writing, I like to get inspiration from a quote, but while searching for a goodbye quote, all I found was sadness. My current thoughts about saying goodbye are about going on a trip. More “see you soon” than “have a nice life”. Quotes about goodbye left me with a finality of never seeing the person again.
I guess I’ve never really thought about what goodbye meant. In my head the characters were just going away on a business trip, but in truth, that feeling of leaving someone behind is a lonely and scary thought. As much as I want it to be a happy, freeing release, it’s really more like your guts are being ripped out and you’ll never feel whole again. Your life is ending, you cannot go on.
Ok, I’m a bit dramatic, but in truth you are in a way moving on. Leaving people behind. Growing. Learning. Rambling. Oh, wait that’s me. To me saying goodbye at the airport was sad, but I never thought of it a solitary moment. They give their hugs and kisses at the curb. One trying to hold the feelings in to be strong, the other a blubbering mess that cannot stop. But as I think of these characters saying goodbye, I feel a loss. It’s as though their lives are headed in two different directions. The person boarding the plane has to go. They don’t want to go, but must because they have obligations and that’s what grown-ups do. It’s supposed to be a happy moment because they are doing what they love and are fortunate that someone is paying them to live their dream. The person staying behind is living their dream as well though.
I want there to be a winner. Someone who comes out ahead. Someone who feels better for the choice of having to say goodbye. I’ll have to think about this one a bit harder. My flight is leaving.