When is a play done?

writing pic

You’ve written a first draft, second draft, and so on. You feel you’ve done all you can do with the script, when it’s just you and the script. How do you know when a play is ready to move on to the next phase?

How do you know it’s ready to go out into the world?

You’ve received feedback

It’s not enough for you to think your play is ready, you need to find out if it resonates with others. That doesn’t mean you have to change your play to suit the whim of every respondent, nor should you. But your play will not and should not exist in a vacuum. That means you have to get some reaction.

If you get positive feedback from at least 3 respondents ( don’t put all your eggs in one basket) consider yourself on the right track.

You’ve heard the play

There’s no such thing as silent reading in theatre. Reading your words or hearing the lines in your head will work only up to a point. You need to hear your play read aloud by others. You need to focus all your energy on listening for awkward dialogue, repeated dialogue, sentences that confuse the readers. You’re listening for how long it takes to set up a character or a scene – are you overwriting or is your script sharing just what it needs to keep an audience on the edge of their seat? A text at it’s best is going to be clean, efficient and orally engaging.

I would suggest you plan on two readings during your process. In fact, I would plan a rewrite schedule like this: 1st draft – 2nd draft – feedback – 3rd draft – reading – 4th draft – reading.

If you’ve heard your play and you’re satisfied the dialogue is clean, efficient and engaging, (or the changes you have to make are cosmetic rather than surgical) feel confident that you’re ready to move on.

What next?

A play is not a play until it’s produced. This is the hardest step for so many writers, especially those who don’t have access to theatres, actors or directors. But in order to fully complete your work, it has to be staged in front of an audience. But that’s a whole other adventure…

17 Questions to Ask in the Dog Days of Writing


You’re deep into your draft. You can see the light at the end of the tunnel and it’s getting brighter every day. Here are 17 questions to ask yourself in the dog days of writing. If you know the answers, you’re headed to the finish line with your script.

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?

What happens when you strip away?


What story does your dialogue tell if you strip away everything else?

  • No character descriptions.
  • No setting descriptions.
  • No stage directions.
  • No emotional directions.

Just the words.

Take a scene and remove everything but the dialogue and look at what you have left. Are you relying on the externals to get your point across? Can you identify a moment where it’s hard to figure out what’s going on when you just read the dialogue?

Or does just seeing the dialogue make you realize how much you’re saying. Is there any place you can make your dialogue more efficient?

One of the most important jobs for the writer is to communicate efficiently. That means being specific with your characters and what they have to say. Use less words to create your world and your images. Having too much “talking” in the stage directions and the externals is a part of that efficiency.

How do you use less to say more?

The importance of rewrites


The importance of rewrites

It is a common misconception that writing happens in a complete block of time. The idea happens, the writing flows, and when you get to the end of your piece – the writing is done. When the fact of the matter is the first draft is only the beginning. There are rewrites, more rewrites and more rewrites.

This image of the writing process often stops many would be writers in their tracks.  But rewrites are an essential and necessary part to make your work the best it can be.

What does it mean to rewrite?

Writing can only improve when you dig deeper into the why. When you write something you’re initially concerned with the what. What’s happening?  What is the journey from point A to point B? As you write, you address what’s happening and you’ve figured how to make it happen.  This is why writing a first draft is so satisfying.

But it’s only the beginning.  Start asking why. Instead of what happens next, ask the question,  “why does this happen?” Why does this character choose this action, say this line, make this decision?  You can even question yourself, why am I writing this? The more you question your writing, the more specific, effective and effecient your writing will be. The why of your work will take it to the next level.

Where do I start with rewrites?

  • Go through your work and write down any questions. Circle anything that does flow. Put a question mark beside anything you don’t like.
  • Write a synopsis of the piece. Can you concisely describe the work from beginning to end? If not where do you get hung up?
  • Create a character profile for your main characters. Where do they come from? What are their likes and dislikes? What are their memories? What is their relationships? You have a sense of who the character is through the first draft, now go deep with the minute details. Even if you don’t use a single detail you will truly know your characters. And more importantly you’ll be able to compare the charcter in the first draft to the character in the proflie. Do they differ.

Rewrites can feel less rewarding than a first draft because they can take so much time to complete. Sometimes a single sentence may take an hour. But if you dive into the piece by asking why, by going deeper with your characters, you cannot help but come out the other end with a much improved work. The best you could possibly deliver to your audience.


Where do you write?


Where do you write?

Behind closed doors? In a den? In a comfy chair? At the kitchen table? At a noisy coffee shop?

Where do you write?

I have a desk. I don’t use it. For me, it all comes down to the chair and my desk chair doesn’t do it for me.  Also, if I sit at my desk, I’m staring at the wall. That’s no good.  If I sit on the couch, I have a view of the street. I’ve learned that looking out the window is an important part of my writing atmosphere.

Where do you write?

The right writing atmosphere is important.  This has nothing to do with being “inspired” to write.  If you’re uncomfortable, too hot, feeling closed in, the room is too quiet or too noisy, these annoyances become easy excuses to walk away from the page. Rid your surroundings of annoyances to fully focus on your writing.

And don’t write in a place because you’re supposed to. You don’t have to write in silence in a stuffy den, unless you thrive on that kind of atmosphere. It won’t make you less of a writer to sit in the garage to work. The best place to write, is the one that gets words on the page for you.

Where do you write?




Do you need a writing time out?

Doors and windows 12 (2)

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.


Careful or Careless?

End of October template 2

Am I receiving care-filled or careless feedback?

This is the most important question to ask yourself during the feedback process. Tough feedback should not be avoided if it’s filled with care. It’s when your respondent is being thoughtlessly “tough” that you have to take a step back. Your work is more important than any careless comment.

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.

Thirty Automatic Writing Prompts


My favourite warm up is to Automatic Write. I’ve mentioned automatic writing before – it’s an exercise where you give yourself a topic and a time limit and your job is to keep the pen moving or keep the fingers going on the keyboard for the entire time. If you go off topic, you write about that. If you get stuck, write about that. This is an act over content exercise – it is the act of writing that accomplishes the exercise.

It’s a great exercise to use at the beginning of a writing session. Instead of diving into the deep end with your draft, ease into the water. Start with an act of writing exercise to get your brain into writing mode.

Here are Thirty automatic writing prompts:

  • What makes you happy? Mad? Sad?
  • What did you do last night?
  • My ideal day is…
  • Is tv bad for you? Why or why not?
  • Friendship
  • Fast Food
  • Jealousy
  • Fear
  • Dating
  • Smoking
  • Strangers
  • Confidence
  • The Truth
  • Music makes me feel…
  • My definition of success is…
  • If I could change one thing…
  • My grandmother is someone who…
  • I believe the holidays are…
  • I feel lost when…
  • If I ran the world…
  • Peer Pressure
  • My ideal Job
  • It really hurts me when…
  • It scares me when…
  • The best super power is….
  • Fairness
  • War/Peace
  • My biggest pet peeve is…
  • Ghosts
  • Heaven/Hell

This is not writing to change the world. This is writing to get words on the page and prepares your brain to write.