Saturday, October 2, 2010

Dancing in the Dark

The frame of the story is clear.  The beginning flows like long-learned choreography. An exquisite tango of dialogue and action, tension and comedy, your play moves from scene to scene, driven by imagination and magnificent plot.

Then, like a flash of brilliance on a darkened stage, the great notion vanishes.

Without warning, the generous idea is gone and the writer feels like a naked fool, dancing in the dark.

Nothing exposes a fraud more than a poorly constructed stage play. Flopping in the middle of Act II is punishment, stepping onto the hardwood floor in great tap shoes with no dance step in our repertoire. 

How to avoid pain and failure?  Three things - prepare, proceed and pray.

Prepare

As with any other form of writing, every good play is first inspired. 

The first blush of art is always a brilliant flash, an insight to an eternal truth.

My best ideas come when I'm swimming.  Half-way through my twenty-minute routine, I feel my new story unfold. 

I feel it; I do.  I don't see it.  Deep in my bone marrow, hard in my stomach, I feel my story begin. 

My main character, damaged (of course) and hopeful; her odd companions eager to help her succeed.  Her children/dependents/pets spot-check the comic relief and her lover emerges at the close to make the story sexy and real.

But inspiration alone will not float a boat.    If I want my story to come alive I have to get out of  the pool and write.

One of my former students once told me her particular reason for her "writer's block."  True, she called herself a writer.  True, she had ideas and inspiration.

Her imagination, she said, was so vivid she couldn't focus on any one concept, story or plot. 

I assured her that an imagination that stifles creativity is all in her imagination.

If she were to give this vivid imagination an opportunity to find shape, she would discover the hard truth; writing is a craft.  It morphs into "art" after years of practice.  In the beginning, like all things, writing good prose is possible for all of us.

Like every other form of writing, a good play is planned. Message emerges from structure.  A strong beginning, a thoughtful and compelling plot line and a satisfying close are the building blocks upon which we construct our art form.  me

I know - I know.  I too wish I could stay in the pool and swim into a completed stage play - draw down the inspiration without effort.  I cannot - and neither can you. 

Our craft is enjoyable work.  It is, nonetheless, work.  Hard work.  That's why they pay us for it when we deliver its product.


Proceed

Nothing happens when nothing happens.

If you want to write  a stage play, you must write a stage play.

This seems simple.  For many people, however, it is not.  The secret is to do what you need to do.  And actually do it. 

Set a goal for each writing session.  Some of us like to assign a number of words or pages to each experience.  Others set a finite goal of completion; an outline, Act I, a completed scene.

Whatever goal you set, be true to your promise.  Meet your expectations.  Trust me - your first attempt will not be satisfying.  You will rewrite whatever you write.

I am on the fourth rewrite of my current project.  Each time I pick it up, I find flaws.

You too will learn the art of self-critique.  Learning to proceed is the hardest lesson the writer engages.

For over twenty years I lived in a small town full of people who called themselves "writers."  None of them - not a one - published a damn thing.  During that time, I joined several "writer's groups" for feedback on my work.  I found that the majority of the people in groups should have been in therapy.  They were not looking for an artistic community; they were looking for a place to heal from trauma or to hide from trouble.

If you want to hang out with people who want to talk about writing, please feel free to do so.  Writer wanna-bes are a dime-a-dozen.  So are the people who want to affiliate with writers.

If, however, you want to write - then you must pick up your pen and write. But you knew that - didn't you? 

Pray

I don't care if you believe or don't believe in a god.  It doesn't matter.  If you don't "pray" as you work, your work will be heartless.

I've read some of the nonsense that passes for theatre today.  Vampires in conversation with werewolf nurses at the pediatrician's office  - - - zombies chatting it up with closeted homosexuals desperately seeking  a vampire bite to get over their addiction to night meanderings. . . all nonsense.

I've been invited to playwright groups where this kind of stuff is read and reviewed.  I kid you not. In the same environment, theatre based on reality was denigrated; the playwrights humiliated for being too "realistic."

Envy, cowardice, naivete and ignorance abound in this business.

Trust me - if you have something to say, the will to say it, and the craft to begin the telling of your story, you will get little support.  If you have a story grounded in reality, you will need the power of your spirit to follow through in the telling. Our world is too superficial, too lazy to honor good, true, honest work. 

If you don't pray, you won't prevail. 

Let your spirit be nourished by the truth that upholds all inspiration and rewards all honesty.  Open yourself to prayer - ask for, seek, receive and celebrate guidance and support from the universe.  You won't be disappointed.

Step into the light

A great writer once wrote, "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness shall not overcome it."  So it is with the story you have to tell.

Drop your pretense.  Forget about the vampires, the demons, the werewolves you once believed were compelling.

Tell us your story.  Live in the frightening light of your own truth.

And fear not.  The dance will go on. 

The darkness shall not overcome it.

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