Do you need a writing time out?

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Do you need a break from your writing?

That is a valid question. It doesn’t mean you’re failing at writing. It doesn’t mean you’re burned out. Everybody needs a break from time to time. In fact it’s essential that you take a break from writing.

I feel one of the things that has allowed me to write continually for so many years is taking breaks. Sometimes I throw a draft in a drawer for not a day or two – it’s more like a couple of weeks. I don’t feel guilty and I don’t open that drawer till I’m ready.

That time away allows me to return to my script with a new perspective and fresh eyes. Problems don’t seem as monumental as they did before. The flow of ideas feels less stodgy.

Most times, taking a break doesn’t mean I stop writing altogether – but there’s no pressure. I’ll scribble a couple of notes. I’ll write down an observation. I want to keep up my habit of consistent writing but in a relaxed fashion. It’s all writing. There are no rules or quotas to fill.

Alternatively, I might work my creative muscles in a different way. I’ll go to a play, go to a gallery. I’ll go for a walk and really focus on observing the world around me. This is part of your process. Being out in the world will make you a better writer.

Do not feel embarrassed or ashamed if you’re so stuck with a work you have to walk away. Take a break. Take yourself on an artist’s date. Your brain will thank you and so will your writing.

 

Essential Feedback Questions

How do you prepare to receive the best possible feedback?

You never want to give your new play, your baby, to someone for feedback without knowing exactly what you’re looking for. Before you hand your work off to someone for feedback, prepare the following questions:

  1. Why did you write this play?
  2. Why are you asking for feedback?
  3. What is the one thing you want to know about your script?
  4. What problems are you having with your script?
  5. What do you want an audience to feel about the main character?
  6. What do you want the audience to remember when they leave?

Answer these questions and you’ll be in good shape to form clear boundaries for your respondent and get tangible, practical, feedback.

Writing makes me…

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Finish that sentence in the subject line.

Writing makes me……

What does writing do for you? Does it make you happy? Does it frustrate you? Does it make you realize something?

Define what writing does for you. Because maybe that’s where your inspiration lies. In the traditional sense, to be inspired is get that jump start, that battery boost, to run to the page and keep going.

If you can find inspiration in your work, instead of an external force, then that inspiration will never run dry. If you need to be inspired to write and you can find it in yourself – now that’s a win-win situation.

Here’s how I finish the sentence.

Writing makes me realize I do have something to say and a way to say it.

I get really tongue tied when I speak. And I’m painfully shy when it comes to small talk conversations. But when I write all that is gone because I can craft my words to an exact meaning. That feels pretty good. And it makes me want to keep writing.

What does writing do for you?

Writers don’t need rubber gloves

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Spring Cleaning

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?

 

Ch – Ch – Changes

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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.

 

Your First Draft Is Your Best Draft?

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?

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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.

 

17 Questions to Ask Yourself in the Dog days of Writing

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When you’re closer to the end of a draft than to the beginning it’s time to hunker down and get specific. Look at the play you’re working on and answer these questions. If you can answer every one with confidence, you’re nearing the finish line.

  1. Why does the world of the play matter?
  2. What makes my story specific and unique?
  3. How does each scene advance the journey of the play?
  4. Is there anything I’m holding on to in the script, even if it doesn’t advance the journey? Why?
  5. Is there any time I repeat myself? If so, why is it important to the story to repeat that information?
  6. What style am I writing in?
  7. Why is this style necessary to the world of the play?
  8. How do my main characters change from the beginning to the end of the play?
  9. What are the flaws in my main characters?
  10. What makes my main character specific and unique?
  11. Why does the main conflict matter?
  12. Who is my audience?
  13. What do I like about my audience?
  14. How do I want to challenge my audience?
  15. What do I like about this play?
  16. What do I love about this play?
  17. What challenges me about this play?

Create Your Own Feedback Sheet

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You’ve received some feedback. The best scenario is that the feedback is useful, helpful, and practical. It inspires you to get to work right away. The sky opens, the hallelujah chorus plays and you know exactly how to move forward.

This does not always happen.

In fact it rarely happens. For many writers, the reaction when they get feedback is What do I do with this? What do I do now?

Avoid this by creating your own feedback sheet.

Don’t hand your play off to a respondent with a Tell me what you think! Give your respondent direction. Give your respondent context. Give your respondent a specific job as they read your play. Not only is this going to make it easier on your respondent (most times if a respondent fails to give feedback or gives crappy feedback it’s because they have no idea where to start), it’s going to give you a clear picture of what’s working, what’s not and where you need to put your focus during rewrites.

The Feedback form is divided into two parts.

PART ONE

1. Answer this question: Where are you with this draft?

Is this a first draft? Have you been working on it for a month or a year? Are you happy with what you’ve written? Are you frustrated? What do you want to accomplish with this play? Let your respondent know exactly where you are with the draft.

Eg: This is my second draft of “The Waiting Room.” I’ve been working on it for three months. I really love my beginning but struggle a lot with the end. I want this play to really hit the audience. I want them to be dazed when they leave the theatre.

2. Give the respondent a job.
Instead of asking “What do you think?” give a specific job to your respondent. Give them ONE thing to accomplish as they read your play. Ask them –  “Do you think the ending is satisfying, why or why not?” Ask them –  “Is the main character is loveable or hard to connect to?” Ask them  – “Did you get the plot twist?”  Come up with ONE thing you want your respondent to answer.

PART TWO

In Part two you’re going to avoid asking for likes and dislikes. These are opinions and they’re subjective. Just become someone “likes” your work doesn’t mean it can’t be improved and just becomes someone “dislikes” your work doesn’t mean it has value. Instead ask your respondent for Impressions and Questions.

1. Impressions are important because they tell you what stays with the reader. And what stays with the reader is what is going to stay with an audience. It could be a moment, an image, a character, a tone, a line of dialogue. What resonates? Ask your respondent for 2 to 3 Impressions.

2. Questions are important because they give you something to answer. They give you a task to accomplish right away. That means you’re not sitting staring at your feedback wondering where to start. You have forward motion. Ask your respondent for 3 questions.

When you give a draft to someone for feedback include your version of this Feedback sheet. By doing so you’ll up your chances of getting that useful, helpful and practical feedback that will move your work forward.

Observation is your number one tool

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What did you observe today?

The best way to never run out of ideas is to have a consistent stream of input. And the best way to have a consistent stream of input is through a habit of observation. Make it a habit to write down one observation every day. What’s come across your world view? What did you see, hear, smell, touch, taste? Don’t worry about where you’ll use this observation. What matters is that you create the habit and you maintain the habit. Observe something, write it down. When you do that, everything becomes an idea for the future.

My Observation

Here’s a conversation I overheard yesterday between a couple:

_________

SHE: That food truck only has mac and cheese.

HE: No they don’t.

SHE: We went and all they had was mac and cheese.

HE: No they don’t.

SHE: We went –

HE: This is a special event.

SHE: I hate mac and cheese.

HE: I SAW their menu. There was NO mac and cheese.

SHE: Really? Can we go look?

HE: Yes.

________

What can you with this: This was pretty much word for word. Even the emphasis.  I did not see the couple, only heard the conversation. The first thing I would do would be to create a relationship profile. Who are they? How long have they been going out? Are they happy? Why was the boyfriend (or husband) so emphatic? Have they been irritable with each other all day? Why? Is this really a conversation about mac and cheese or something else? What’s going to happen tomorrow?

Write an inner monologue for both characters. What are they truly thinking during this conversation?

Going in the File

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Do you have a file? You know the one. It’s on the corner of your desk. Maybe you use Evernote. Maybe it’s something on your phone – I just started using Google Keep and that is working nicely.

It’s the place you keep the “oooooh” and the “hmmmm” and the “maybe later.” Something comes across your world view and you know in an instant – that’s going in a play. I don’t know when or where or how or why. But someday it’s going to be used and you don’t want to lose it.

This is my most recent “oooooh”

It’s a Consumerist post about 15 product trademarks that have become victims (okay) of Genericization.  I had to get my dictionary out for that word and then realized – Generic!. These are products that either never applied for trademark, abandoned their trademark or had their trademarks canceled in court.

And while this list of 15 is interesting – did you know that cellophane used to be a product and not just a type of plastic wrap? Or how about Thermos or escalator? – it’s the products that aren’t yet out of trademark that are even more interesting. Mostly because it includes products you sure were already “victims” of genericization:

  • bandaid
  • bubble wrap
  • Crock-pot
  • onesies
  • popsicle
  • Putt Putt Golf

The list goes on. It’s things like this that make me go hmmmmmm. What if I had a character who was obsessed with trademarks? Or wanted to make their own crock-pot and got sued for some reason? Or disagreed with another character whether or not you could use bubble wrap in a story?  Or… something. I don’t have an idea yet and I don’t have a character in mind. But I certainly don’t want to lose a detail like this. This is the kind of story or fact or, well, detail that makes a character unique, specific and gives them drive.

And isn’t that what we all want for our characters? To have them be like no one else?