Alley @ Home: Help(on)Line

Families - Find the Oranges

Welcome to Texas Young Playwrights Exchange! Here in our lovely digital corner of the world, we can safely come together to play, to fail, and most importantly- to write.

Daily Practice: A Writing Grid

Let's start with a quick writing exercise we learned from playwright Octavio Solis.

How Do I Start?

Today we are tackling one of the hardest parts about creating a new play: getting started.

The infuriatingly obvious answer to “How do I start writing a play?” is just to say, “put pen to paper, or fingers to keys, and get started.” And if that’s all the prompting you need, that’s fabulous. Fly, you fools! Get to it. Don’t ignore the muse. But as anyone who’s ever written or created anything can tell you, it’s not always that simple. As the saying goes:

You don’t know when lightning is going to strike, so you have to go out into the field every day.

Enter: your writing process.

What exactly is a writing process? It's how you go about creating, or the routines you follow that help you create. Some writers will spend a lifetime revisiting and reshaping their process as they grow and their lives change. Some writers find something that works for them and they stick with it, their lives end up forming around how they work. Here are five things to consider about your own process.

#5 Make the time

There are early morning writers, like Ernest Hemingway. There are late night writers, like Kathryn Schulz. There are any time writers, who carry notebooks or have an app they swear by on their phone and are constantly jotting notes down as they go about their life. Find your window of opportunity that works for you. Carve it out if you have to, protect it as much as you can.

If you’re working on something new, literally staring at a blank page, you can start with a writing exercise like the one in this post. If you’ve already got a project working, you can do Future You a favor by stopping your work when you know what’s going to happen next. The bottom line: no amount of prompts, exercises, or favors from your past self are going to help you if you don’t make the time to actually write.

#4 Make your space

Longhand, typing, voice dictation- they all have different flows. Tony Kushner writes all of his plays longhand with fountain pens. You might find that you are more productive when you type directly into a document and save it to the cloud. I even know some writers who invest in old school typewriters- the reassuring clackity clack of old keys makes them feel connected to their work.

Imagine a place where you feel the most focused, the most at ease, the most in tune with your writing.

  • Do you have a notebook, or a laptop?

  • What does this place sound like? Is there music, rain, white noise, silence?

  • What is the lighting like in this magically perfect writing spot?

Creativity doesn’t die under fluorescent lights, but it may be harder to tap into. If you know how you best work, you can empower yourself to make changes when you can, and brace yourself to power through when you can’t.

#3: Turn off your inner editor(s)

  • Take a piece of paper.

  • Think of all the names of the people whose opinion matters to you, who you would want to approve of your work. Teachers. Friends. Colleagues. Dead authors of long ago whose work you admire. Your neighbor's dog.

  • Write them all down.

  • Fold the paper.

  • Put the paper in a trashcan.

  • Put the trashcan on the other side of a door from where you are writing. They can hang out there for a while.

"Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist’s true friend. What people somehow (inadvertently, I’m sure) forgot to mention when we were children was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here — and, by extension, what we’re supposed to be writing." -Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

It's hard. It takes practice. But the kindest, smartest thing you can do for your writing is set it free from expectations on that first go-round.

#2: Set goals when the muse is scarce

Setting goals for your daily writing comes in clutch when inspiration is on a vacation. This can be a word count or a number of pages. So what goal should you set?

Me making recommendations for how much you should write per day would be about as useful as me telling you what shoes you should wear to the dentist. Try out different ones, steal goals from other writers, and adjust them as you need to.

Ideally what you’re working towards is creating for yourself a level of challenge that it’s in that sweet spot between “so easy it’s boring” and “so hard it’s overwhelming.” -Brendan Bourque-Sheil, playwright

Some people can hold themselves to deadlines and some of us need a buddy, or a way to tie goals to the outside world. Be honest with yourself about which camp you belong to, and stay (reasonably) accountable to your goals.

#1: Make writing a habit

Make writing a habit by putting your process into practice. Otherwise it’s just a really nice theory.

"Your job is to make sure the muse knows where you’re going to be every day." -Stephen King, author

And if it isn’t perfect, don’t worry. No one is. Finding your process is a process in and of itself. We're all inching toward the creative selves we long to be. We just fake it till we make it, fam.

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