Observation Thursday

Every Thursday I post something I’ve observed. I don’t know when or where I’ll use it but that doesn’t matter. What matters is the consistent habit of making an observation and writing it down. When you start to do that, everything becomes an idea for the future.


Out of Place, out of time

When: August 17th. A Sunday afternoon.

Observation:  We have a very small horse track not so far from us. It’s actually a quiet way to spend the afternoon as it’s never busy and there’s lots of time between races. If you only bet the minimum it’s a great outing.

Last time we were there, we spotted a family. Four kids and the parents. Every girl in the family was wearing a dress or a long skirt. Every girl had hair to their waist in a braid. The father and boys were dressed in pants and long sleeved shirts. Not jeans. It wasn’t Amish or Mennonite but it was clearly a religious choice of some kind. And they were at the track.

What you can do with it:  Get writing.

  • Write a scene where a couple discusses what they’re seeing. What’s they’re response?
  • Write a scene where the husband in the family wants to be there and the wife does not.
  • Write a scene where the wife in the family wants to be at the track and the husband does not.
  • Write a scene where the only reason they’re there is to watch horses and don’t realize gambling takes place.
  • Write a scene between a kid in the family and another kid. The kid is overly curious as to why the other kid is dressed that way.

Your Life is waiting for you

The most solid advice . . . for a writer is this, I think: Try to learn to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep, really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive, with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell, and when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough.  WILLIAM SAROYAN


You’re overwhelmed, overworked, writing till the wee hours of the morning to catch up. You get things done but your exhausted, some days you never step out side. There isn’t any end in sight as the days march on and the mountain of work never diminishes.

There’s a problem with living this way. As artists it’s hard to turn down work or  manage our time in a organized fashion. But the reason you need to is simple.

You need to live life.

Living life doesn’t mean working yourself to the bone. It means going out to dinner. Going outside. Taking a day off. Playing with your kids. Playing basketball. Not letting the days pass in a fog but being in the moment and enjoying the moment.

Taking a day off doesn’t mean your lazy. Writers need days off as much as any other human being. Maybe even more! Getting away from the words will recharge the brain. Have you ever found you solve a writing problem after you’ve stepped away from the page? I solve more plot holes on walks than I do staring blankly at the immovable words.

You need to get a hobby.

Seriously. I’m not talking macrame or stamp collecting. A hobby is something, that isn’t your job that you gladly spend time doing. It can be anything. Hobbies use a different part of your brain and that’s important. If you’re only a writer all the time, that will lead to burn out.

My hobby is being an Aunt. I have two nieces and I make an effort to go see them, to plan activities for them. It’s never dull, always fun and if you want to learn how to be creative, hang out with a four year old. I also practice yoga, bake and travel. 

All of this makes me a better writer. It’s good to use different parts of your brain. Sure, you still have to manage your time so that it’s not a 24 hour niece yoga baking party on the beach. But life is about balance.  

What is your balance between writing and life?



Time Never Magically Appears

Time is what we want most, but what we use worst. – William Penn (1699)


Even in the 17th century they worried about time. We always want more and no one’s figured out yet how to make the day longer.

If you are overwhelmed, if you take on too many projects, the first place to look is time. How do you manage your time as a writer?

I’ll get to it…. later…..

Many artists suffer from the misuse of time. Whether it’s not buckling down to consistent work day after day, a disorganized calendar which makes us too busy to be productive. Do you know someone who constantly cries I need more time!

Time management is your best friend as a free lance artist. Because you don’t have a traditional nine to five job, you have to figure out not only when you’re going to work but how long projects are going to take.

Get control of you time

Put writing time in your schedule or calendar. 

If you’re not writing consistently, start thinking of it as an appointment you can’t miss. You wouldn’t blow off your doctor (I’ll get there…later) don’t blow off your writing time. If it’s in the schedule, don’t cancel it. Don’t put something else in it’s place, don’t agree to go for coffee. Keep that appointment.

If you don’t like the rigidity of an appointed writing time in your day – then block off times in the calendar where you’re not allowed to schedule anything else. The last week of the month for example.

Overestimate your time. If you’re teaching a workshop, or giving a presentation, don’t just schedule the day. Block off two days before hand. That way you give yourself time to review notes, to prepare, to even just think about what you’re going to do. There’s nothing worse than feeling unprepared or looking unprepared for an event.

Look at your calendar daily. It’s great if you’ve got everything mapped out on your calendar. It’s not great if you never look at it and you make plans on the fly. That’s how you end up double booking, or not giving yourself fully to a project because you’re swamped. Put your calendar on your phone. Have it at your finger tips so that if someone wants you to do a reading, or wants to set up a meeting you can be honest about your time. Which leads to the best tip for time management….

Say no. If someone asks you to do something, and you’re booked up, say no. Don’t imagine you’re going to re-organize your time to make it work. Or that time will magically appear to make it happen. Time never magically appears.

Give yourself time to have a life

 Time management is not about being rigid. It’s about being organized, productive, and ultimately giving yourself time to have a life. As artists it’s important that we get out into the world. That we examine humanity. How can we do that if we’re hunched over our work 24/7?

Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana. Groucho Marx

Do you keep the rule of three sacred?

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I could be talking about Aristotle’s Three Unities of Tragedy, or the rule of three in comedy (although if you can go to 17, it’s even better), or even the pattern of writing where the flow works best when events come in threes.

Those are great. This rule of three will save your brain from overload.

Last week I talked about Overdoing it and now it’s time to turn the boat around. Let’s get into the solutions for overdoing it.  What can you do to keep your writing life fulfilled but sane?


The Rule of Three

When you’re considering a new job or a new project,  answer the following three questions:

  1. Will it make you happy?
  2. Will it provide a unique challenge?
  3. Will it make you money?

In an ideal world, we should answer YES! to all three questions. We’re happy, we’re challenged, and we’re paying the bills. But let’s face it, we’re artists. I’ll bet you can name dozens and dozens of projects that made you happy and offered a unique challenge. It becomes harder to name those projects made money and also brought happiness or challenge.

New Project = Time

But these are the things you need to think about. New projects take up your time.  Your valuable time.

You want to be wary about are the projects where you’re answering NO! to all three questions. Those are the red flags. There’s many reasons we take on new projects. Maybe you’re helping out a friend or a relative. Maybe someone wants you to do just one more thing. Maybe you’re trying out a project just one more time to make it work. If you’re miserable, if you’re not challenged, and if you’re not being financially compensated, then why are you doing it?

Worse are those projects where not only are you not being financially compensated, you’re expected to pay in. There are many playwriting contests and theatre groups that expect playwrights to pay if they want play. We’re supposed to be grateful for the experience. The experience of performance is not enough. It’s not worth your time.

Money, money, money…

You want to be wary too of the money only projects. I’m just doing it for the money, I know I’m doing it for the money, it’s ok. It can become a mantra when you’re working long days on something that doesn’t serve your soul.

I applaud anyone who can just do it for the money.

Seriously, I wish I could do it and maintain my happiness. But I can’t. I’ve done it twice. Both times were total misery. Damaging my health misery. Sucking up months of my time. It wasn’t worth it.

Is happiness enough?

Of course that brings us back to being happy and challenged but maybe not being paid. You have to consider that as well. Your time is valuable. Only you can answer the question – Is happiness and creative challenge enough? 

It all depends on how you define happiness. In my early years when I wasn’t making money as a writer I would temp. I would work full time as a secretary for six weeks and then write for two. That made me very happy – the bills were paid and I was working to make writing time.

Recently I’ve started adjudicating festivals. Some for free because I’m a beginner. The act makes me happy because I’m developing a skill.

Here’s the bottom line.

Never flippantly take on something new without thinking it through. Every project sounds interesting on the surface.  But what are you getting out of the experience? What is your time worth?

  1. Will it make you happy?
  2. Will it provide a unique challenge?
  3. Will it make you money?



Words are sneaky

“There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic.”  – Diane Setterfield

I’m always amazed at the power of words. I’ve had schools pull productions not because of anything done, not because of any threat, but the mere presence of words and what they might do. Isn’t that what censorship is all about? The fear of what might happen? The fear that those sneaky, sneaky words might cause havoc in the streets?

When have you felt the power of words?

The thing is that words are sneaky.  They can sneak into our consciousness and make us do things. Think things. Words sweep us away into imaginative worlds. Words make us stand up and stand behind a leader. Words can be so powerful that even if we know we’re being lied to, we believe. That is so sneaky.

As writers, it’s important to know the power of words and respect them. And not to be afraid to use words to their utmost. Words are our job. Words, for some of us, are our lives. Know the power, use the power. Write for the best effect possible.

Are you aware of the power of words when you write?

It’s important to know that “writing for the best effect” doesn’t mean manipulative writing. You want your audience to have a genuine emotional response, not one manufactured by sneaky words. I cried while watching My Girl when Macaulay Culkin died and I hated it because it wasn’t a good  movie at all.

Has a movie ever made you feel something, you knew was fake?

But you absolutely want characters who are sneaky with words. Characters who lie. Characters who manufacture emotion in other characters. These are human traits and further fascinating traits.

This episode of Penn and Teller’s Bullsh*t is a perfect of the power of words and that words can be sneaky. The premise is simple, will people believe the food they’re eating is high class if they’re told it’s high class?

Check out some exercises for this concept below the video


  • Make a list of convincing words. What words hold the most power for you?
  • Think of a time when someone was able to convince you to do something simply because of words. Not anything that they did, but what they said.
  • Think of a time that you used words to convince someone. What were you trying to accomplish? What words did you use?
  • Create a character description of a good liar. What words do they use when they lie? Why do they lie? What makes them a good liar?
  • Write a scene between the Liar and their significant other. What lie is being told in the scene? What sneaky words do they use?


Orange is the New Character Development


Did you watch Orange is the New Black  – Season One or Season Two?  Are you sad that you have to wait a whole year for season three? Do you have no idea what I’m talking about – orange is the what?

Every writer should watch this show. Even if you’re not fond of the material or you think they got prison wrong, every writer should watch this show just to study the characters. Orange is the New Black is a character study brought to life.

The show takes place in a women’s prison. Over the course of the two seasons, you not only see what these women are like in prison, for a lot of them, you see who they were in their regular lives and how they landed in jail. It’s not always what you think (pay specific attention to Morello and Sister Jane) and it’s a prime example of how situation and location can change a person. This is vital for writers to know, be aware of, and use.

If you have access to Netflix and you have the chance, sit down and watch Orange with a pen and paper. Pick a character and study her as if you were taking a course on character development.

  • Who is the character? Why did you pick her?
  • What first impression do they make?
  • What assumptions do you make about that character based on how they act?
  • Who do they interact with in the prison?
  • Are they a dominant character or a subservient character?
  • If this character is dominant, how does power affect them?
  • With each episode, what details do you learn about the character?
  • Do you learn why they’re in jail? If so, does the reason surprise you or confirm your assumptions?
  • How does this character act in a desperate situation?
  • Do you empathize with this character? Why or why not?
  • Will this character survive outside of jail?  Why or why not?

Have you Ever Tried to Write Wrong?


We’re all so concerned with being right. Our writing has to be perfect. It has to have the right beginning and the right ending. The characters have to be exactly right. If our work isn’t right, then we’re wrong, we’re a failure, we’re bad.

But is that really true? Is it so bad to write wrong? To try to write in the wrong direction?

Have you ever tried to take your writing in the wrong direction on purpose?

I heard a story attributed to Quincy Jones (I know it’s ridiculous to say it like that but I wanted to be clear I’m adding on to something I heard elsewhere) where he told a group of acting students just that. “Have you ever tried to take your work as far wrong as possible? Have you ever tried to see the beauty of being wrong once you’re there? Have you ever tried to go wrong, enjoy the experience and then figure out the steps to make it right?”

These are all fabulous questions for all of us in the creative field. I tell students all day long – it’s ok to fail, we learn from our mistakes not from our successes, we have to fail – and yet it’s the hardest thing to do. We live in a world of right and wrong where right is good and wrong is bad. And it’s especially hard in that world where everything is recorded and broadcast to fail safely. How can a playwright try something out in front of an audience without the worry of being told they’re wrong?

And yet, I love the concept of “find the beauty in being wrong. Enjoy the experience of being wrong and then find your way back.”

Use this concept as an 2nd draft exercise.

If you’re working on a piece and it’s not going well stop trying to find the right answer.  Take a character in the absolute wrong direction. Have them do things you know this character would never do. Have this character steal something. Stalk someone. Take drugs. Have this character kill another character and deal with the after math. Stop trying to figure out the problems in the plot and throw more problems in. Make a mess and then step back.

You may find the answer you never knew you were looking for. You may find that being wrong is the exact right thing to do. And at the very least you’ll have a creative experience. We spend too much time trying to be right with our writing.

Spend some time being absolutely wrong.



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.

The Top Ten Rewrite Questions

When you’re working on rewrites questions are your greatest ally. They are practical and tangible. You can answer a question, you can realize the answer is already in the text, you can choose not to answer a question. Being mysterious is okay so long as it’s a conscious choice and not a missing plot point. When you’re asking people to give you feedback don’t ask for their opinion, get them to ask questions.

You can question many different parts of your work – the characters, the story, the structure – just to name a few. If you want your writing to be specific, effective and efficient it’s important to question.


The Top Ten Questions to Ask of Your Work

  1. Why is the first page a great introduction?
  2. Why is the last page a vivid ending?
  3. Why will an audience find the world of your play interesting?
  4. How does each scene move the play forward?
  5. Why do you leave each scene when you do?
  6. Does each character have a unique voice in their dialogue?
  7. Are your characters living the story or are they telling facts?
  8. Does each character have a want? How do they go after it?
  9. What is the main conflict of the play? What are the obstacles?
  10. Is there conflict in every scene?

The Writing Process

What’s my writing process? Let’s find out.

This is my first experience with a bloghop. The idea is to share the writing process of participating authors.  The Struggling Writer passed the baton to me and you can read his response to the questions here. You can also see which writer he got the questions from.

Here are my answers…..

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What are you working on?

I have a habit of doing too much and as I answer this question I feel a little overwhelmed just looking at the list. I have a middle school play in rehearsal and it opens next week so I’m at rehearsals making final tiny changes. I also have a full length play going into production next February but the theatre company is gearing up for a workshop at the end of September so that’s my deadline. I’m also doing a lot of educational writing – lesson plans, articles,  rubrics oh my! My writing life is really varied. I just would like to be doing less things. But there’s so much to write…

How does your work differ from others in your genre?

What a great question! My work resides squarely in the theatre in education genre and because of that I have a pretty specific focus on process over production. What I mean by that is the process that the students acting in the play go through is just as important (or more important) to the students watching the final production. Connecting to an audience is always key and you have to write with your audience in mind – but – I’m also thinking about the student actor experience: having enough good parts so that an entire class can put on the play, easy staging and costuming, creating a theatrical experience.

Why do you write what you do?

I love writing for the school market. I feel there’s no group more enthusiastic, open, daring, or energetic than the high school drama production. It’s a joy to watch them work. Further, I don’t know if I believe theatre in the adult world actually has any impact or influence. Does theatre change lives anymore? I do know theatre has impact and influence at the school level. Just being in a production can change a student’s life. And it doesn’t matter what the play is either. It could be intense and dramatic, it could be fluffy and total fun. It’s the act that matters.

How does your writing process work?

I always start with pen and paper. I haven’t got to a point where I can create on computer. Call me an old lady but the act of writing with a pen is just so utterly satisfying. I feel more creative with a pen and paper. When I start writing it’s all scrawl. There are notes, point form lists, snatches of dialogue, ideas, lines crossed out. There is no rules and there are no bad ideas. It’s a true honeymoon stage. It’s my favourite phase of writing.



Having said that I wouldn’t give up my lap top for the world. Because there always comes a time when I’m tired of writing things out and I want the structure of a formatted play. Once I transfer to the computer I focus on getting from the beginning to the end of a cobbled together first draft. I’m still  not worrying about plot holes or character questions but I do want to put together a first draft that makes some sense. This is my do draft. I just get’er done.

Then I move on to the why draft where I question everything. Why does this happen? Why does this character act in this way? This is the most painful stage because one question can derail the whole writing process. Once I get through the first why draft I’m ready to start showing my work to others.

I have a trusted reader who I show my work to and he’s the first person who sees anything I write. If I get the thumbs up from him then it’s time to start seeing the work on it’s feet. A play is not a play until it is produced. And that means first a reading and then a workshop and finally a fully staged production.

And then the process starts all over again….

The Next Step

I have passed the baton to Bradley Hayward a fellow playwright. When he answers the writing process questions you’ll be able to them on his blog. Enjoy!