First of all, welcome to my blog. I often have longer thoughts about theatre, writing, storytelling and the world in general which I want to put out there, so, you know, blog.
This is the first of a likely series of posts about what goes on with me pscyhologically during the story making process – what motivates, or demotivates me, when I’m trying to get a story from my head to the page to the submission pile to full production/publication. These posts are meant to be observations of how I work, no more , no less. Here goes:
Good books are not written – they’re rewritten.
–attributed to Michael Crichton
I’ve noticed that a significant part of my motivation for writing something is sapped when I feel like it will be hard to get it seriously considered for production or publication. (Sidenote: I work in both plays and prose fiction and have dabbled in other genres, but to keep this simple, I’ll just talk about everything from a playwriting perspective from now on; but everything I say applies also to fiction, screenwriting, etc.)
We all know it’s very hard to write a play. It’s even harder when it seems like your efforts will be for naught, unless you’re one of those enviable people who can just write for themselves. I am plenty aware of the faults in the things I’ve written and in my writing in general; I work very hard on trying to improve on them. However, there’s only so much improving and revising I can do when I’m sitting alone at my laptop. To progress, I need staged readings, dramaturgy, discussion with peers, audience response, collaboration. But it feels, often, to me, like a Catch-22: in order to get access to a lot of these opportunities, I need to submit something which convinces the gatekeepers that my play is worth working on. And the quality of what I submit is not up to par because I haven’t developed it through the opportunities which the gatekeepers keep.
It goes further than that. Theatremakers know that the quality of a draft work is not the same as a finished work; I’ve been a submission reader for the Inkwell, who exhorts their readers to remember that these are works in progress. But someone checking a submission for development-worthiness can only do so much to guess at the potential in an imperfect work. Unless something jumps off the page and says “There is potential in this!”, they’re stuck.
Let’s say a reader gets a script which has some promise in it, nothing page-leaping, but is pretty rough in its current shape. They can tell, reading it, that if the author is a good reviser, someone who really can grow a play in development, that this work could be something quite good if developed. The problem is they don’t know whether the author is one of those types that are blind to their own faults and unable to reach and improve, or whether they are truly capable of deep transformation. All they have to go on, for reliably determining this, is the author’s production history.
I know all this. So, sitting there at my computer, staring at a script that I know to be flawed, but don’t feel I can improve on much more without getting it off the page, my motivation to submit it deflates. I know that I have no proof, for the gatekeepers, that I am capable of turning this mediocre-but-maybe-promising script into something great; so how will they ever pick it out to develop over a hundred others? That’d be quite a gamble.
Of course, just going ahead and submitting it isn’t that hard – just send it away and let them judge, maybe I’ll get lucky. The problem is that this same demotivation sinks back to the beginning of the process. I have lots of ideas for things to write, some of which are more experimental, frivolous or outside my comfort zone. But there seems little reason to even sit down and start on any of them, when it seems the end result will just be for it to wallow on my hard drive. There’s a certain psychological toll to be paid, writing something and then having it go nowhere. In the end, this has an extremely narrowing effect on which of my ideas I pursue all the way through the first draft stage.
This is already pretty long, so I’ll sum up: since I’m a basically unknown playwright*, even a reader who knows me personally has no sure way of knowing if I’m someone who can take a mediocre draft and revise it into quality; thus, I feel a lot of pressure to put out something “perfect” or “page-leaping” in order to get my first notice; and thus thus, I’m trapped, because I can’t write something that good in draft form, especially without the greater experience of having been really developed before.
Next post in this series, I’ll likely talk more about how feeling like an unproven writer influences what genres and styles of plays I decide to write. (Commercially viable? Edgy and attention-grabbing? Campy musical?) Thanks for reading!
*Currently, I am a beginning-career writer with next to no real credits to my name. I’ve self-produced a little bit, earned some small accolades for short plays, but that’s it. I have no delusions about this and I blame no one for it – it’s just that I’m really only getting started, and just plain haven’t written that much yet. I write from that perspective.