I have been very lucky in the last couple years. I haven't suffered from any major bouts of writing anorexia (which is what I call writer's block), but I am dealing with a major major bout right now.
September 11 of last year, I saw Suzan-Lori Parks speak. She was an amazing speaker and hearing her speak brought me out of the doledrums of the last bout i dealt with. I did a modified version of her 365 project and I wrote a new scene for a new play everyday for five months. I would have continued much longer but i got cast in a play and that took up all my time after a while.
Roughly, i wrote 150 or more scenes. I gathered together the ones that were actually building a play and started editing them. I found I have the beginnings of 19 plays! I was amazed and writing every day for five months was great. It did wonders for me as a writer.
So I've been editing those works and I am hitting the 'everything sounds alike' wall. I hate it. Usually I just keep trying to write through it, and 99% of the time it works. This time, not so much.
And then, my neurosis kicks in. If I'm not writing, I'm not producing new work. If I'm not producing new work I can't send submissions out. If I'm not writing, I'm dying.
Like, metaphorically, you know. But i keep putting all this pressure on me to keep working through it, when maybe I don't.
All I know is that it's giving me an even larger complex than I already have.
So, uh, anyone else out there dealing with this? Or have advice for dealing with it? Thanks for reading my whining.
How often you write is not the only thing that defines you, or nurtures you, as a playwright.
Being in a play. meeting actors, designers, directors, staying involved with the people who make theater-art happen in your community -- is part of you nurturing your playwriting.
Reading new plays and interviews with playwrights and giong to talks like the one with Suzann-Lori -- is nurturing your playwriting.
Surfing the internet with search terms looking for theaters that are producing the work of playwrights that you respect and researching those theaters -- is nurturing your playwriting.
Of course, there also has to be some time that goes into writing -- whether notes, poetry, dialogue, lists, ideas -- its all writing.
Because you've read new (or classic) work that is inspiring, have targeted some theaters that might be interested in your new idea, can call upon group of actors and a performance space to workshop your own new play as a reading -- by the end of that year you can have a draft of your play ready to send out to your dream-list of theaters.
See? It's all part of what makes you an artist. Just because it isn't always sitting at a keyboard typing dialogue, doesn't mean it's not contributing to your growth as an artist.
I used to get so terrified of not being able to write a song. "What am I going to write about? I'm totally empty of ideas and inspiration." And then I realized after about five years of this terrible block that some of the time you have to be on 'input'. You just have to receive and then retransmit it and hope it comes out as something else.
I keep a notebook of interesting dialog I've overheard. I also go on a reading binge. There is nothing more inspiring for me than reading a good play or a novel. Also I try not to think that I should be doing something else, like a writing a play. Ever try to remember something and just can't figure out what it is until you stop trying and suddenly it comes to you? Relax and do a little living.
I've just gotten back to work on a play that, checking my records, I see I last worked on April 14. That was at the end of a very prolific period, starting Feb. 17, during which I wrote two full length plays, a good deal of poetry and flash, two one minute plays, and began this play and a screenplay. From April 14 to now I've done very little on any project, often thought about the play (Empty Bowl) but simply couldn't work out the architectonics (the way to make the action I saw in my mind's eye play out in the (imagined) real space of the stage). I don't much like fallow periods like that but by now I've accepted they're inevitable--and perhaps as much a part of the creative process as any other.
I am definitely doing all those things. I guess i'm more just feeling dissapointed that this has happened now after like two years of it not happening this badly. I usually do research and send out the plays I do have at the moment to theatres I find. I guess it's more of a trying to push myself too hard--i am a perfectionist--so you know...thank you for the feedback though. I'm sure tomorrow or the next day, i'll be like, what was THAT all about!
it's funny that you should mention going out and living a little. It's been hard for me in this town to actually make friends (going on a year now). I'll admit, it's hard. I've always had friends from work and school, but I don't have that here. I'm a supervisor and no one wants to be friends with your boss and hang out. I did get involved with theatre, but everyone was already so closely knit and involved with other things, it was hard to get going on friendships.
and i know, it's all just excuses. writing has been such a lifeline that without it, it's hard.
martin, you are totally right. I mean, i've been a writer my whole life and I stopped writing for five years before i came back to it. and those five years weren't wasted. they were so valuable. so i know i'll be ok. you know how it is when you're so close to something you can't seem to describe it well? i guess that's how it is right now.
No, it is not all just excuses. It's real. It doesn't feel good. And you're not alone. Allow me to tell you what I'd do. I'd think about how hard it's been and how hard it still is after a full year. Let yourself go and feel it. Then write it down. Not necessarily as a play. Just get it out. Take a long hard look at it. That what you're looking at is really you, isn't it? When you see it on paper you may be inspired to turn it into a play. An honest play. A play with guts and feelings. A play that could touch others who experience the same. And inform others who do not. Don't think for a moment that what you are experiencing is unique. What is unique is your point of view and your ability to get it down on paper. You already touched me with your honestly. I know of no greater criterion for the playwright.
After I published my first play, I worried about my second, and then my third.... I became overly concerned about what should I be doing. What should I write? How often should I write? I read my share of "how to" books and read about the writing habits of the great ones. Finally, I accepted the fact that I write when the inspiration hits me. Sometimes those inspirations pan out and sometimes not. If I go weeks or months without writing, that essentially means I have no stories I need to tell. If I never write another play, I guess that will mean I have nothing more to say. I am not a big fan of formulas and "how to books." Drive without direction and discipline without imagination won't produce a decent play. For me what produces a play is that idea that takes root and begs to be nurtured. I just don't worry about how everyone else does it.
everyone, thank you for the feedback. Things are going better now. I switched to working on a different play and it's been full steam ahead.
i'm lucky i switched plays when i did because a couple days after this post, my doctor put me on different meds and it completely fried my brain. If i couldn't have written during that time, i might have lost it.
but all the advice was good. i am going to have to go back to it now and again.