Goldilocks is a rotten writer


Are you a Goldilocks writer? One of those people who has to have everything perfect?

 That idea’s too hot. That idea’s too cold. I’m not ready to write, I’m not in the mood. I need to have the exact right idea to get started.

Goldilocks writers have the best of intentions. They want to write something good. They want to be a good writer. They want to write under the best conditions. They are willing to wait until everything is just right.

Goldilocks will wait forever for the right conditions. They spend their entire lives saying “I’ll write tomorrow. I don’t have time today. I’ll get started when I know exactly what to write about. “ 

The only way to become a writer is to put words on the page. Good words, bad words, ugly words. If you wait to only write something good and perfect,  you’ll never write. If you wait until you have the perfect writing conditions, you’ll never write. If you wait until you have time, you’ll never write.

Is that you? Are you a Goldilocks?

The first  secret to being a writer is that writers know there is no such thing as constant perfect writing conditions. Sometimes you have to scribble notes down in a car. Sometimes you only get five minutes. Sometimes what you’re writing is awful – but you don’t stop. That’s key. You write when the bed is lumpy and when the porridge is cold.

There is no quota or quality control when you’re a writer. No one will come and knock on your door and say: You wrote poorly today. Hand over your writer’s license.

The second secret to being a writer is consistency. It’s better to write every day no matter what.   If you write every day  good moments start to pile up. Five minutes a day is better than an hour once a month. The more you write, even when you don’t want to, the more writing becomes a part of you. The more  you want to write. The more you celebrate your bad and ugly words. Ugly writing is still writing. It’s way better than no writing than all.

Don’t wait for perfect. Don’t be a Goldilocks. Don’t wait for porridge that is just right. And don’t take someone else’s porridge either. Get your own.

Observation Thursday

Observation is my number one method of finding play ideas. If you’re ever at a loss for coming up with something to write about, start logging observations. I write down observations on a daily basis and on Thursdays, I’m going to share one with you what I’ve seen and then you could do with it. Observation Thursday

An inappropriate Selfie

Observation: Two people dressed in funeral blacks taking an odd selfie outside a funeral reception.

Date: Saturday June 14 2014

Comments: I was driving down a residential street. I stopped at a stop sign and saw a house with many many cars outside. I saw people get out of a car dressed in black, and a few more outside the house dressed in black. My keen powers of deduction decided that this was a house reception after a funeral. I saw two young people standing on the lawn. Both in black. He had a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. She was pouting and toasting with a wine glass. They were taking a selfie of themselves. At a funeral reception.

What can you do:  Create the scenario.Who are these two people and what is their relationship to the dead person? Are they sad? If they’re not, why? Who has died? Why do they feel it’s okay to take a selfie in these circumstances. Write a scene between these two characters. Write another scene where a third person comes up to them and sees what they’re doing. What would their reaction be?

Two Steps to Creating Specific Characters

I’ve always been a character writer. I love character development, my favourite theatrical experiences center on interesting, well-developed characters.

What is your favourite part of a play?

One of the reasons writer falters, certainly in a play, is because of one-dimensional characters. Characters with no life outside the play. Characters who are there only to serve the plot. Characters who only exist in an occupation – teacher….doctor…mom… (unless of course this is a specific theme driven choice. I have a play where the characters are numbered One to Fifteen) The more alive a character is on the page, the more they’ll come alive off the page.

How do you create specific characters?

Take these two steps and you’ll be well on your way to creating specific characters.

Give them a name. This is the easiest place to start. Even if that name never makes it into the script, the easiest way to visualize a character is to name them. A name is the gateway to so much information. I have a play called Sweep Under Rug in which there are two sisters named Miranda and Ariel. The names come from Shakespeare’s The Tempest. The mother in the play is never seen, but is described as a drug addict and all around “bad person.”  

I wanted to provide a detail that showed a different side to the mother, since she can’t speak for herself. That side is a love of Shakespeare.  Yes you have to know Shakespeare to get the reference, but if you’re a director studying the play it doesn’t take too much research to find out where these two names come from.

Secondly, Miranda and Ariel are very pretty names. It’s even hard to say the names in a harsh manner. The world the characters live in is decidedly ugly. I purposefully chose pretty names for these characters to contrast their surroundings.

How do you choose names for your characters?

Character Specific Language. When you’re writing for specific characters you want to give them their own language. What words do they use? How do they sound? Do they use a lot of noises – umms, coughs, hums? How do they sound when they get emotional? How do they breathe? How do they respond to pop culture? Would your character swear or say “oh my gosh?”

Establishing a character language is extremely helpful to crafting character driven dialogue. In Sweep Under Rug the older sister Miranda is extremely depressed. She’s sad to the point that she can’t express herself fully. She doesn’t know what to say or how to say it.  To that end, she  is losing her language. She speaks in fragments. She doesn’t use complete sentences.

MIRANDA: Walls crumbling away. Crumbling.

She’s also a poet. In a couple of moments where she’s able to communicate, she shares her view of her world in a poetic form – it’s something specific and different from her world, it defines who she is as a character.

MIRANDA:  Getting worse out there. Anger under lock and key. One with Knife. One with Nail. Yesterday one just takes your stuff. Today you‘re dead. Today there is a never ending rain, never ending in your bones. Flood up to the ears, up to nose, up to eyes. It‘s the knowing we will drown. That‘s the worst part.  

If you just take these two steps with your characters you’ll elevate them off the page. You’ll make your characters come to life. And that’s going to make an audience remember your work.

The 12 Most Pervasive Lies About Creativity

I wrote this post “The 12 Most Pervasive Lies About Creativity” over on and the reaction has been pretty amazing. There are lots of folks out there who strongly believe  we need to debunk the definition of the word. I couldn’t agree more. There’s a lot of lying going on.

“Creativity only happens in the arts”

There is more than one way to be a creative person and to find creativity in your life. It’s not about picking up a pen or a paint brush, it’s simply looking at the world or a problem in a new way. How many times a day do people have to come up with a new way to solve a problem?

“Creativity only happens to special people”

When people tell me that they think they’re not creative, it’s like they feel something’s missing. They don’t have the right part. I wish I could change their mind and I wish I could show them how easy it is to find creativity within.

“Creative people don’t fail”

Creativity isn’t pretty. It’s messy, it’s full of mistakes. It’s trial and error. All these things are great for your brain. It’s good to fail. The only way to grow is to fail over and over again.

Check out the rest at

12 Most....poster

What do you want your Play to do?

play to do

It’s a simple question. It’s something that writers, in this case playwrights, forget to ask.

What do you want your play to do?

What do I mean by that. You have a play, it’s being produced, there’s an audience, they are on the receiving end of your words and…. what?

  • Do you want your play to inspire?
  • Do you want your play to enrage?
  • Do you want your play to inform?
  • Do you want your play to make them laugh? Forget their troubles?

All of these answers are valid, so long as you choose one. Knowing what you want your play to do gives your work a purpose. A drive. There has to be more to your work than just  – you know, I want my stuff done, just getting it out there, it doesn’t mean anything,  you know.

No. I don’t know. You need to know why your writing, what you want to achieve with your work, how you want your audience to act.  And it doesn’t have to be political or epic or grandiose. To bring joy is a great action for your play.

This knowledge will give focus to your writing. It will curtail writers block. If you have the why and you have the endgame you can reference each when addressing a problem.  If character X does Y will that accomplish Z?

Are you working on something right now? Ask the question. Write it at the top of a fresh piece of paper. How easy or difficult is it to answer?

What do you want your play to do? 

It’s Ok to Walk Away

Not everything you write will be perfect. Are you ok with that?

Not everything you write will move forward to completion. Are you ok with that?

The first one is pretty tough to deal with. We all want perfect writing.  It’s hard to not keep working and working and working at something until you get it just right. My latest play is in proof form and still I can’t help tinkering. Trying to get it perfect.


But over time it becomes easier to realize that if you want your writing out in the world it has to reach “doneness.”  Doneness can be wonderful, and it can be your best work and not be perfect. And that’s ok. It has to be. Because as we  have all heard time and time again – nothing is perfect. It’s tough to come to terms with that, but not impossible.

But what about that second one.  What about the idea that some of your work will never, ever reach doneness? It won’t even come close.

Could you walk away from a piece of writing?

That would feel like failure wouldn’t it? That would feel like your quitting. That would feel like you couldn’t hack it as a writer. That would be proof that you will never be a writer.

No. No, no, no, no.

You can’t think like that. What if you had a great idea that just doesn’t flesh out? What if you started writing a play but quickly realize it’s more suited to being a novel, and you don’t write novels. What if you lose your passion?

Maybe you need a break from your writing and everything will come together later. But maybe it just doesn’t work.

There are many reasons why a piece won’t reach the finish line. Not everything you write will succeed every time. And so what if it feels like failure? Failure in the arts is good. You have to fail. You should try things knowing they might fail and do them anyway.

If you’re trying to avoid failure as a artist, then you’re doing it wrong.

Now, that doesn’t mean you can’t leave everything half finished in a drawer. But if you’re consistently writing, and consistently finishing product and then this blip in the road comes along, treat it just as it is –  a blip in the road. It’s a pot hole, not a pit. Don’t collapse into a deep dark hole that isn’t there. Simply put the words to the side and pick up something else.

It’s ok to leave that writing and move on. That’s what writers do.


Have You Ever Felt Like This?

hands speak

I feel like this 24-7. I think I’m a horrible speaker, and I don’t speak well off the cuff. If I have something to say, I write it down. I love speaking with my hands. I can take my time. I can make sure I get it right. There have been endless numbers of times when I get something so wrong when I say it out loud. But when I write, it feels just right.

How about you? Do you speak best with your mouth, or your hands?


Top Five Tips for Adaptation

adaptation banner

An adaptation is my favourite type of play to write. I love taking a work from one genre and figuring out how it will thrive as a piece of theatre. I’ve written theatrical adaptations of A Christmas Carol, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Walt Whitman’s Drum Taps poems and my most difficult challenge Edgar Allan Poe. It was worth every drop of blood, so to speak.

Want to turn a book, a short story, a poem, or a song into a play? Here are your Top Five Tips:

Round and Square do not Mix

Do not try to fit a round peg into a square hole. A book is not a play and vice e versa. The storytelling techniques that work in a novel are completely different than those in a theatrical setting. Books and scripts don’t play by the same rules, so don’t try to force the rules of one genre into the environment of another.

Is there theatre in these pages?

When you look at the original source material, ask yourself this most important question: is this a piece of theatre? You need to find the theatrical in the pages, be it an image, a moment, or a character. And if it’s not inherently theatrical ask yourself: what theatre can you make out of the work? Do you see Moby Dick as a plank and a couple of ladders? Can you illuminate the Headless Horseman using just shadows? It’s not enough to transfer the words from the page to the stage, what are you going to do with those words?

Character and Conflict

Character and conflict are the lifeblood of every great play. The reason we still study Shakespeare is not because of the archaic language but because of character and conflict: a boy and a girl who fell in love when they weren’t supposed to. A young man who has to deal with the murder of his father and killing his step-father. This is key in adaptation. Who is your main character and what is the conflict? What stands in the way of the main character? Define this in your source material and bring it to life in your play.

Ditch the Narrator

Narrators are death in theatre. They hardly exist in a play for their own merit with their own unique character. They’re used to  move tell us the plot, describe a location, or share the inner thoughts of a character. Playwriting Rule number one:  show your story, don’t tell your story. Show what’s happening inside a character, visualize and theatricalize that inner thought. Unless you can find a theatrical way to use the narrator and bring him to life beyond being a plot device, get rid of him.

 The Audience needs this because….

Lastly, you have to ask yourself why  – why does an audience need to experience this work in a new form? What’s in it for them to see a short story on the stage? Your audience must always be on your mind when you write. Include them in your process. If you can articulate exactly why an audience needs to see Moby Dick instead of read Moby Dick then get writing. You’re own your way to a great adaptation.

When is the best time to write?


It’s a question that plagues many beginning writers. “When should I write?” Unfortunately there is no one way to answer, just as there is no one way to write. But you can examine your process so that your time with the page is most effective.

Assess your Day

To move writing forward, you need time to write. What if you feel you have no time? Write out every activity you have to do in a day. Do you have to get your family ready for school?Do you have a full class schedule yourself? What are your daily tasks? How long is your daily commute? How long do you sleep? How long do you eat? Don’t forget your time wasters either ­ how long do you spend on Facebook, TMZ, the Drudge Report? How long do you watch TV at night? Your job is to find free time. What activity can you replace with writing?

Finding free time often means a sacrifice ­ No TV and no Facebook. How does that make you feel? Excited or irritated?  If it’s a chore to find writing time or it makes you resentful, perhaps you don’t want to write.

Change = Time

There is time to write in every day. It isn’t pretty but it is doable. You have to change the status quo. Get up half an hour earlier. Go to bed half an hour later. Write during your lunch hour. Change your method of transportation – can you take the bus to work instead of drive? Change your tools – if you can’t find time to sit down and write, get a recording ap for your phone and talk into it every spare second. You can easily find someone to transcribe your work on sites like

It takes practice to write on the fly. Don’t give up after a couple of sessions, try it for at least a month. It’s not as idyllic as spending a leisurely afternoon with pen and paper, but it gets words on the page.

Schedule It

Your day is done and you haven’t written a word. That needs to be addressed. If writing in your spare moments doesn’t work, schedule it. Put writing time on your calendar. Think of writing like a doctor’s appointment or yoga class or Jimmy’s hockey practice. You wouldn’t bail on these activities because they’re important. Make writing just as important.

You may need to train your family to value writing time as much as going to the doctor. Again, don’t give up after one session. It takes time to set a pattern.

What if I get writer’s block during my scheduled time? Once you set up your writing time, keep that appointment. If your brain doesn’t want to write, use the time to improve your skills; warm ups, read something that inspires you, write in a journal.

Do Your Thing

Never choose a time to write because another writer crows about their productivity at X o’clock.

“I write from nine to five! I write at one in the morning!” 

First of all, you don’t know if they’re telling the truth, maybe they’re just showing off. Secondly, writing is an individual task. The best time to write will always depend on the individual writer. If everyone talks about how great it is to get up earlier to write and you’re not an early riser, don’t do it.  Find another time in your day. There is no formula to follow to writing success.

Do whatever it takes to finish your work.

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The Best Time to Write

Write. Now. Bonus.

write now

That’s right, you get a bonus day! This exercise is more about looking at who you are as a writer. That’s is valuable information – the more you know about what’s going on inside of you, the more specifically you’ll be able to write for your characters.

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