This is one of those things that came up in my Facebook feed yesterday - and I thought I'd post it here.
This list is composed by Andrew Hinderaker, and it's a solid assessment.
ADVICE TO AN ASPIRING PLAYWRIGHT/THEATER ARTIST:
My friend [...] recently wrote me, saying he was interested in writing a play and asking how he should begin.
I had no idea how the hell to respond... and then I just had the most inspiring conversation with Anne Garcia-Romero, and here's what I've got for you, Sean... and anyone who might be interested:
1. Read and see as much theater as you can. Most public libraries let you check out 30 books at a time. Many theaters let you in for free if you usher. Bring a pad and pen to every play you attend. Make notes about what you love, what you hate, what bores you to shit and moves you to tears. Worry less about things like character, conflict, and rising action. This is craft, and craft can be learned. This is less about learning HOW to write plays, and more about learning WHY you write plays, and this will fuel your inspiration again, and again, and again.
2. Experience as much 'theater' as you can. If it's got an audience and unfolds in real time, it's theater. This means dance. And music. And sports, and magic, and performance art. Reach out to collaborators across disciplines. This will broaden the boundaries of your work. It's fine if your play has a naturalistic set and a hero's journey, but this should be a choice rather than an assumption.
3. Be a human being in the world. I don't fully subscribe to the notion of 'write what you know,' but I believe that the YOU is hugely important. Write what you hope to know. What you're afraid/embarrassed/ashamed that you don't know. Write what you hope for, what you yearn for, what troubles you on a profound, personal level, and what gives you silly amounts of glee. The key word is YOU.
4. Along those lines, write/journal/reflect, and face the fear of working in isolation. Yes, theater is absolutely a collaborative art, but as shy and awkward as I am, I've never found it (all that) difficult to get in a room with brilliant actors, directors, designers, and artists of all stripes. That's the fun part. Much harder is waking up at 5 AM, while the rest of the world is asleep, and facing the blank page. But know this: you are enough to begin. (By the way, I'd argue that this is true regardless of how the work is made: devised, scripted, etc.) The most daunting (and sometimes most rewarding) work is done in isolation.
5. Compassion is even more compelling than conflict on stage.
6. Say YES way more often than you say no. The theater artists who inspire me - Suzan Zeder, Kirk Lynn, Michael Patrick Thornton, Jonathan Berry, Will Davis, Polly Carl, Philip Kan Gotanda, Gregg Henry (And a Bahzillion other people I'm ashamed to leave off) dared to say yes to me, when they had every reason to say no. They said yes to plays with twenty cast members and a drumline; they said yes to plays with two intermissions, with the word "Suicide" in the title; they've said yes to plays that are starting to look a little less like "plays." There is *always* a viable reason to say 'no' in the theater. But every meaningful experience I've had in the theater was infused with a resounding spirit of YES.
7. Accept that making good, resonant theater is really, really hard... and that most of the stuff you churn out at first won't be very good. There was actually an interesting NPR article about this - Google it. The first plays you write are generally (but not always) crap, and guess what? As you get better, it gets harder (a brilliant piece of wisdom from Steven Dietz). Take JOY in this. You will never, ever make a perfect theater piece. Sarah Kane came close, but even she didn't get there. What a beautiful thing... to strive toward a bar you will never reach.
8. Write, write, write, write... and write. I have never once thought, "Gosh, I wish I hadn't spent so much time writing." Don't always wait for inspiration... more often than not, the work is the inspiration. More often than not, the work isn't very good. But if you devote a ton of time to writing, the good work will accrue. Kirk Lynn is busier than anyone I know, and he gets up at 5 (or earlier) almost every day and writes for an hour before his children wake up. And guess what? Kirk Lynn is a very good writer.
9. Find your artistic homes. I have been so, so, SO very lucky to find homes at the Gift Theatre, the University of Texas at Austin, the Roundabout, the Goodman, Chicago Dramatists, the entire city of Chicago (and other places). But this kind of started when I stopped worrying about whether I'd ever get produced at Steppenwolf.
10. Get in the room, and make something. With people. Work in different models. If you write a play, have actors over to your house, make them dinner and drinks, and hear the play. And remember: dialogue is (almost always) SPOKEN, not read. Your play is seen, heard, and experienced, not read. Please join me in rescuing theater from the English Department.
11. When you finish a play, take joy and pride in knowing that the play would not exist if you hadn't written it.
12. Finish the play.
13. Unless the play helped launch you into a different play. In which case... finish THAT play.
14. Be grateful most of the time, pragmatic part of the time, and cynical almost never. True, there's rarely money, and all too often our field marginalizes and misrepresents. But be a part of that conversation. Be an advocate. An artist. Especially if you're a straight, white, able-bodied dude like me and Sean, and the beneficiary of all kinds of advantages that we never fully appreciate. Join the conversation, and recognize that joining the conversation means listening more often than talking. I'm not particularly good at this. I'm working on getting better.
15. Hold me accountable to points 1-14.
16. Sherry Kramer once told me, "It all boils down to working on a project that matters to you deeply, and working with artists you genuinely admire and enjoy." And I'm pretty sure she's right.
This is terrific and a wonderful gift to our beloved Forum, Kato! Thanks.
I imagine you as busy working on a new play and wrangling cats. I am trying my hand at writing a novel. After a gazillion rewrites, I am finally pleased with what I've done so far.
I bought Final Draft 9, so, as you can guess, a screenplay is next. I'm almost 70 and want to try every medium of writing. Even an epic poem is on one of the many back burners. What happens to it all after I write them. I have never written for money, except for commissions, which leaves us poor and angers my husband. I do get productions from folks who stumble upon my website.
Edd - thanks so much for your note. Right now I'm waiting to hear about a summer-fest where one of my plays in the semi-finals. I should know in a week one way or the other. I'm also preparing to direct a workshop of a new musical in Connecticut.
I've been thinking about getting a new web site up. What host do you use? Maybe I'll turn my attention to getting that done in the next several weeks.
I'm plowing thru some rewrites on a piece that has had a couple of good workshops recently. It's almost a good play, but not quite hitting the sweet spot yet. Last week I sat myself down and did some old-school character study pages. We'll see if it helps.
What are some thoughts or philosophies you use about rewriting. I'm good at cutting out the boring things and killing the darlings. Right now I'm stymied on the re-build part of this one after the big cutting and chopping.
I use yola. No HTMLing which I love. I find it totally fits my needs. You can get a site for free, but it has their logo, and limits the templates. If you like it (and I bet you do)d it's $10 a month. I love it! Best of all, you can get it done in a matter of days.
After the editing and cutting and rewrites-- I do a lot of cutting and rewrites-- I usually go to the green grocers and smoke a joint and it it gets a lot easier. The test is: Is it any good the next day? It usually is along with more inspiration. They have strains in CO that are hybrids specifically for writers. Jack Herra and Cindy 99 are the best.
THE MOST IMPORTANT TOOL IN A CREATIVE PERSON'S LIFE…
Do you want to be a writer? A musician? An artist? A maker of any sort or variety whatsoever?
Do you long to express yourself, to create, to innovate, to (as Kurt Vonnegut taught us yesterday) "experience becoming"?
Well, then. Today I introduce you to the most important tool in your arsenal: The humble kitchen timer.
Do you own one of these? If you don't own one, can you afford to go out and buy one? Do you maybe have a more modern interpretation of this device already on your smartphone?
Now here is what you do. At some point today, you sit down and set that timer for 30 minutes. Work on your craft or your project without interruption or distraction. Doesn't have to be major work — just has to be focused work. Don't get up from your seat until the timer dings. Then do the same thing tomorrow. And the next day. And the next day. And the next day...
The immortal John Updike once said, "Some of the best books in the world were written in an hour a day."
I disagree. You can do it in 30 minutes.
And I'm telling you — you HAVE 30 minutes a day. For some reason, an hour seems impossible to most of us, but 30 minutes is in reach.
You don't need to quit your job to be an artist. You don't need to take out a heart-stopping loan in order to get an advance degree in creativity. You don't need to move to Paris. You don't need to change your life.
You just need to bow down before the humble kitchen timer, every single day.
I bring this up because this week somebody asked me how to learn discipline, and I remembered the way my mom taught it to me. My whole life as a child was determined by her little white kitchen timer. And I seem to remember that it was always set to 30 minutes.
30 minutes for piano practice. 30 minutes for math homework. 30 minutes to study French verbs. 30 minutes to write thank you notes after Christmas. 30 minutes to finish that goddamn diorama for 5th grade social studies class of Hannibal crossing the alps in a shoebox. 30 minutes to practice hitting balls around in the backyard in preparation for softball season. 30 minutes to clean your bedroom.
Do you have any idea how much you can get done when you focus your attention on something for 30 minutes a day?
Can you imagine the shape you would be in, if you exercised seriously for 30 minutes a day? Can you imagine the languages you could learn in that little block of time, if you kept it up? How much your drawing would improve? How much better your garden would be? Your guitar playing? How much ANYTHING improves, in 30 minutes a day, honored consistently?
Is it glamorous? Nope. Is it dramatic? Nope. Is it effective? THE MOST.
I am 44 years old and I am working on my seventh book right now. I am busy with other things. I don't have the hours I long for to devote myself completely to researching and writing this story. I may have those hours at some point in 2015, but I don't have them now. My inbox is filled with emails. My desk is covered with mail. I am behind on a hundred promises. I have not unpacked my suitcase this whole year. But fuck it. I'm not waiting around for life to be perfect before I work on my vocation. And 30 minutes isn't going to make or break anything.
So I set the timer on my iPhone for a half hour every single day and I work on that novel. I've been doing this for months now. I do it in airports, in hotel rooms, in taxis, between interviews, backstage at the TED conference, whenever I can find that little humble block of time. It is not the ideal working environment. It is not the ideal block of time. And you know what? It doesn't matter. My new book is GROWING LIKE A WEED.
Don't wait for the world to clear out time and space for your dreams and your art. It doesn't happen that way. The world rushes in, and always will. Wait for things to be perfect and you'll die waiting. Push back a bit. You go get yourself a kitchen timer and clear out your own little space. You'll be amazed what happens.