Who are you writing for? Work does not exist in a vacuum. The audience is a necessary part of the theatrical experience and that means they are a part of the process. As you write, keep asking the question: Who is my audience? Who am I writing for?
You don’t have to strap on a pair of rubber gloves or pick up a duster to do some Writer Spring Cleaning. Consider this while you wait for the thaw.
Organize your desk
If you have a specific work area, clean it up. Get rid of those piles sitting on your desk, put any books back on the shelf. Your area doesn’t have to be pristine but it has to be effective. And if you have a “virtual” desk, read on.
Archive your work
Do you keep scraps of old drafts around, or is your hard drive littered with multiple copies? Archive anything you’re not actively working on. Use a program like Evernote if you want to keep files on your computer. If you haven’t looked at a particular play for six months to a year, it’s time to make some decisions. Don’t leave it on your desktop, deal with it. Maybe it needs to go away for good.
Go through your Inbox
Are there emails in your inbox that have been sitting there for over a month? Deal with them. Either write that email or the time has past and delete it. Make it a project to not let your inbox fill up so that you don’t have to make those decisions. For me, when my inbox any more than 10 emails I schedule time to go through them.
Reflect on your Writing Goals
Did you make any writing resolutions at the beginning of the year? Reflect on where you are. If you’re moving forward, revise your goals. Has anything changed? Are you happy with your path? If you’re stuck reflect on why that is. What stops you? What action can you take to get un-stuck?
Failure. It’s the fear of something that hasn’t happened yet. For me it’s a big black pit in my stomach that calls out What if this happens …. What if that happens ….
The fear of failure holds back many a writer. What if they don’t like my work? What if it’s never produced? What if…. Fear of failure can lead to writers stall, writers block, to writers never picking up the pen again.
What do you do to fight the fear? I want to know. We all want to know how others do it.
Personify failure. Create a picture of what failure looks like to you. Give it a name, a look, a way of standing. Turn failure into a character. And then write a scene where you talk to you failure. What would you say to this thing if you had it right in front of you? Make yourself the super hero super shipper of work and take failure down!
If it helps, print the scene up and tear the paper into little bits afterwards. Or maybe develop it further. There’s nothing more theatrical than taking something that isn’t human and put it on the stage.
If a fear of failure is holding you back, don’t stare at a blank page. Write down all your fears. Never leave a fear in your head. What’s the one thing you fear that hasn’t happened yet with the piece you’re working on? What are five steps you could take to combat this fear?
The most interesting characters come alive in the smallest details: a favourite food, a favourite type of music, a fear of spiders, an allergy to plums, a scar from a fall at two years of age, a love of reality television. These details are what makes a character three dimensional and human.
They may seem mundane, but think about what defines you as a person. Is it the grand events in your life, or the day to day? These details of the small add a layered richness beyond the world of the story. The more you know about your characters, the deeper the well you have to draw from, the more specifically you can write for them.
This character development exercise will allow you to create the details of the small for your characters.
What’s In Your Bag?
Empty out the bag you use most regularly, whatever you take with you when you go out. If you don’t carry a bag, think about how you carry what’s necessary to get through the day – what’s in your pockets?
Look at the bag itself. Why did you choose it? How long have you had it? Do you need a new one?
Write out in a point form list each item in that bag. And then answer the following questions:
- Why do you carry each item?
- What purpose does it hold in your life?
- Is there anything emotional in your bag?
- Is everything in your bag strictly functional?
- Is there anything in your bag that shouldn’t be?
Once you’ve answered all the questions, look back at what you’ve written. What does your bag say about you? What is expected about your answers? Was there anything unexpected?
Now, apply these steps to the main character in whatever project you are working on. Give this character a bag.
- What does the bag look like?
- Why does the character carry this bag?
- If the character wouldn’t carry a bag, create the reason why.
- How do they carry what’s necessary for their day?
- Is this character the type of person who can’t leave the house without a huge bag?
- Is there a job related to the bag?
- What does this bag tell you about this character?
Once you’ve established the bag itself, make a point for list of the items in the bag. And then answer the following:
- What do the items in the bag help the character to do?
- Based on what you know of the character, what items in the bag are expected?
- Put one thing in the bag which is unexpected.
- What does that unexpected item say about the character?
If you want to go further, write a scene involving this character and their bag.
Exploring the world of the small in your characters is always going to give you a wealth of material to work with.
Have you had someone impose on your work? Suggest changes? Make changes on their own behest?
We own the copyright on our writing. The instant we put pen to page. You can do the fancy register process, but legally it’s not necessary. You can’t copyright an idea or a title but you can copyright the execution of that idea. Copyright laws very much favour the creator.
That doesn’t seem to stop people from thinking it’s okay to change a play. Make it better. Make it cleaner. And no one seems to be immune.
I had a director tell me (the day before rehearsals started) that my play wasn’t good enough and that she was taking on the rewrites herself. [Insert heart attack and lawyers here.]
It’s a hard thing to deal with because a production is often on the line. If you want this, you need to let us do that. It’s easy to say, well I do want this so maybe it’s okay if I let them do that.
And of course we’re not talking about constructive criticism that helps your work grow. We’re talking about individuals who think they know better than you.
It’s your play. And that means you can do whatever you want with it. You can accept that changes will be made and not feel guilty. With my high school work, sometimes I do just that. I know that the process of that play is more important than the product.
You can also stand up and say no changes, which may mean – no production, and not feel guilty. I do this all the time. There is no discussion. Do the play as is or don’t do it at all.
But always take charge of the situation. You’re the one who knows better. It’s your work. It’s your baby. You decide. You decide how your baby is going to be presented to the world.
One of the things that causes writer’s block, that can plague writers to death, that can make a writer stick their work in a drawer never to be seen again is this belief:
Your first draft is your best draft.
No, no, no. Again no. A thousand times no.
When you think you have to do your best writing all the time, that’s a lot of pressure. If every time you sit down to write your first thought is this has to be perfect, what happens when the writing is not perfect?
Do you stop writing? Do you give up? Do you decide you’re a horrible writer?
As you work on that first draft, problems are going to crop up. It’s inevitable because you won’t have the story fully mapped out from the very beginning. You won’t fully know your characters. Questions will occur. So what do you do when you encounter a snag with the story?
Do you stop writing? Do you give up? Do you decide you’re a horrible writer?
I hope the answer is no for both situations. You have to keep going, keep writing and accept at times that the writing is not what you want it to be. That you don’t have all the answers.
That your first draft is not your best.
And the only way to solve that problem is to keep writing.
The first draft is merely that number. The first. With more to come. That can be overwhelming for some writers – What do you mean I have to keep writing. I got to the end. I’m done.
The first draft provides the frame. It’s the hanger you’re going to put the clothes on. It’s the room painted white. The first draft will give you the bones. It’s the work you do after the first draft that really counts. That’s where you make it pretty and shiny and vivid. And that’s why we need a first draft. But it’s only the beginning.
It’s easy to get caught up in with writing. Does this ever happen you?
It happens to writers whether they’ve been putting words on the page for a few days or many years. We get so excited that we Just! Want! To! Write! We dive into the deep end of the pool and want to get swimming.
Who has time to prepare? Who has time to wait two hours after eating?
Diving into the deep end with writing is one of the fastest routes to writers’ block. There’s one simple question that every writer needs to ask and answer at the beginning of their process.
Ask this of whatever you’re working on right now:
What do I want my play to do?
Are you a sitter or a shipper? Do you sit on your writing, revising it over and over again or maybe never even getting to the end? Or do you ship your work – can you get to the end, get it in the hands of others so you can get feedback, get it into the hands of potential producers?
It’s much easier to sit than to ship. So much easier. If you sit on your work, it’s totally within your control. It’s beyond the reach of bad feedback, theatres who ignore you, audiences who respond poorly.
But shipping is what makes us writers. We have to get our work out there. It can be hateful because rejection is hateful. I got so frustrated with rejection, I started my own company.
How do you force yourself to ship?
If you’re not finding a home for your work try this exercise.
- Write a page on the kind of theatre you write. Make it detailed, what is the best way to describe your writing? What do you like about how you write? What genres do you favour? Why do you favour them?
- Now cull this page down to half a page. Hone in on the most important aspects.
- Do it again so that you are left with one sentence. What is the tagline that describes your writing? Be efficient, be effective with your word choice.
- Make a list of plays by other playwrights that also fit your tagline.
- Make a list of where those plays are being produced.
- Make a list of the directors who directed those plays.
- Make a list of the principal actors in those plays.
It’s a lot of work and a lot of research but if you want to be produced, you have to find the right fit. You have to show people you’re the right fit. Whenever and wherever you can, get your work in the hands of people rather than sending it off blindly. Obviously you don’t want to come across as a creepy stalker but in large, plays are produced because they’re either popular or there’s a relationship. Start reaching out.
How do you name your characters? Baby books? Online baby name sites? Do your character names have meaning? Do you fit a name to a character like a leather glove? Do you agonize forever over your character names or do they come easily?
Recently I named a character Tundra. Just as an experiment, to see what kind of character I would create based on such an….unusual name. It was very exciting! (not skydiving, but you know what I mean) I had this full blown image of this woman – her life, her posture, her way of speaking. All from a name.
How clearly can you see your characters?
Here are five names. Based solely on the name, use the Character Profile Questions below to create a character. When you read the name, who comes to life for you?
▪ Aristotle Lutsky
▪ Kennedy McIntosh (a girl)
▪ Hank Walker Jr.
▪ Wynter Lockwood-Sinclair
▪ Juan Diego “Gato” Velasquez
Character is King
Character, character, character. If you’re writing a play your characters must be king. They are the conduit between your work and the audience. How much do you know about your characters? Do you know their background? Their personal beliefs? How does their personality find it’s way into the dialogue? How does their personality affect the conflict? Answer the following questions about your character:
Best Personality Trait:
Worst Personality Trait:
Level of Education:
Where They Live Now:
Living Environment: (how do they keep their home)
Getting words on the page is vital. If you leave words in your brain, you can’t move forward.
Writers write, that’s what we do. Words on the page should be your mantra, especially if you’re having difficulty writing consistently. Words on the page makes your writing tangible and concrete.
But rules are meant to be broken. I fully believe in getting words on the page. But sometimes a good think is necessary.
This isn’t general thinking. “I should write something.” This is specific focused thinking about a work in progress where you let ideas, characters, questions, and plot points run around your brain.
I think a lot when I’m in the middle of a play. It’s an active part of my process because the work is always with me – when I’m grocery shopping, when I’m getting ready in the morning, when I’m trying to sleep at night. I like to have a constant connection with my writing even when I’m not in front of my laptop.
Get your think on
Talk to yourself. Talk yourself through a plot hole. Imagine a conversation with your main character. Imagine the play is being staged, what does it look like, what are the most effective parts? Use your think time to visualize what you’re working on.
Ask questions. Ask questions and come up with a couple different answers. Ask yourself What if? If you give yourself a structure to your think time (like asking and answering questions) it’ll feel less like a free for all and you may indeed solve problems more quickly.
Sometimes you’ve exhausted your time with the page. You’ve written down so many words and none of them are right. You can’t figure out where to go next. Change the method. Take a comfortable seat, close your eyes and connect to your thoughts.
My favourite think time is when I’m walking. If I’m stuck and frustrated, a walk often does the trick. I can let my brain go wild and get some much needed fresh air. Nine times out of ten, the problem I couldn’t write my way out of unravels itself easily.
And then what?
Write it down. Always have a pen and paper nearby, or put an ap on your phone (like Google Keep) where you can type in your notes. Thinking is good, and if it leads to writing, even better.
Are you a thinker? If you are, don’t shy away from it because of any “how to write” rule. Make it work for you, make it part of your process. Use every tool at your disposal to get that draft done.