“If you write, someone is going to try to make you feel bad about it.”
The next two quotes, by JRR Tolkien, appear in the foreword to “The Lord of the Rings,” and illustrate points I made earlier (I have added my own emphasis to the first quote).
“Some who have read the book, or at any rate have reviewed it, have found it boring, absurd, or contemptible; and I have no cause to complain, since I have similar opinions of their works, or of the kinds of writing that they evidently prefer.”
“It is perhaps not possible in a long tale to please everybody at all points; for I find from the letters that I have received that the passages or chapters that are to some a blemish are all by others especially approved.”
Barbara Kingsolver provides the final quote:
“This manuscript of yours that has just come back from another editor is a precious package. Don’t consider it rejected. Consider that you’ve addressed it ‘to the editor who can appreciate my work’ and it has simply come back stamped ‘Not at this address’. Just keep looking for the right address.”
First week of rehearsals down! Second week starting! "Sticks & Stones" opens at Evolution Theatre Company on June 8, 2016!
Rehearsals began this past Sunday for "Sticks & Stones." The play opens at Evolution Theatre Company on June 8, 2016!
Today is the first rehearsal for Sticks & Stones.
I'm very excited to meet and work with the talented group of performers who will be bringing my play to life!
Check out the Evolution Theatre Company Facebook page for more information!
For quite some time I’ve been anticipating the arrival of a particular month and a specific event. June 2016. The Playwrights Festival at Evolution Theatre Company. They’re almost here.
I was commissioned more than a year ago to write a short play for the Festival. I sat down, set to work, and what resulted was a farce that I titled “A Point of Diminishing Returns.”
Take an oblivious Ohio politician, put him in front of an unsympathetic group of constituents, and then have him depart from the remarks that his campaign manager has so carefully prepared for him. His stump speech has nowhere to go but down.
I turned in that script a long time ago. A few months later, I wrote another script, “Sticks & Stones.” In “Sticks & Stones” an art critic savages the work of a transgender artist. The artist uses her blog to out the critic as a closeted lesbian. The critic threatens to sue for defamation. As they talk with their attorneys, with ghosts from their pasts, and, eventually, with each other, the critic and the artist struggle to understand one another and their very different lives and identities.
I submitted the script to be considered for the 2014 Catco/Greater Columbus Arts Council Playwrights Fellowship. In the spring of 2015 I was informed that my script had won the Fellowship. What followed was a whirlwind of auditions and rehearsals all leading to a staged reading of the script in June 2015. More than one hundred people attended and the response from the audience was positive and affirming.
And after the reading, Evolution Theatre Company reached out to me and offered to produce “Sticks & Stones” during the second week of the Playwrights Festival. Which means that I have two plays being produced in Columbus this year.
“A Point of Diminishing Returns” will be one of the four short plays offered the first week of the Festival. “Sticks & Stones” will run the second week of the Festival.
Auditions were held two weeks ago. All of the actors for “A Point of Diminishing Returns” have been cast. All but one role is cast for “Sticks & Stones.” Rehearsals begin in a few weeks and I will be kept busy nearly every evening and several afternoons for the rest of May. A couple of nights I may be running from one rehearsal to the next. What a terrible problem to have, right?
I’ll be posting rehearsal photos and videos to this blog, to my Facebook page, and anywhere else that I can think of. What a dandy way to spend May 2016 – rehearsing and collaborating with actors and directors, shooting photos and videos and posting to social media – and all of it culminating in live performances of two of my plays in June.
June 1 - 5
WORLD PREMIERE - Sticks & Stones
Click the image above to read the article on the Dramatist Guild's blog and learn more about Evolution Theatre Company, the Playwrights Festival, and the plays being presented!
I’d suspected a problem for nearly a year. The computer was almost five years old. Applications opened and processed more slowly than they once had. Ever more dawdling and sluggish went the laptop despite my virus checking, system optimization, and plain old defragmenting and freeing up of hard disk space.
Thursday night I heard a buzzing noise from the front of the machine. Then the screen flashed the message “cannot find operating system.”
If that toxic combination of sound and that sight is not one that chills your soul and suspends your heartbeat, then you’re a stronger person than I am.
No amount of restarts or rebooting improved the situation. The machine buzzed. The screen remained blank. And that’s when I began to reflect upon my rather haphazard efforts to back up my files.
I’m just happy that I didn’t begin to sob at that point.
I passed the computer on to a friend who is more skilled with technology. He gave it the old college try. Sadly the drive refused to reveal or release my precious data.
The next step was a local computer store with even more expertise and experience. The technician took the drive and offered me some lukewarm assurances. A few hours later he called me to report disappointing results: what was locked inside the drive was not coming out without a fight.
The fight then progressed to the only remaining option. The store sent the drive to a company in a far off state. Apparently, said company is possessed of astounding tools and astonishing knowledge. They ought to be considering that their restoration and recovery fee is the same as the purchase price of new mid-range computer. Which I’ll be buying as well as paying their fee should they have some success.
What those technicians are doing as they try to coax data from the crypt of my hard drive is a mystery to me. I imagine them donning peaked hats, waving wands, chanting incantations, and swaying to unearthly melodies audible only to them. I give not a damn. Whatever works. I want my writing back.
While smarter people than me practice technological legerdemain in Colorado, I’ve been assessing the status of my files. It’s appalling how slapdash I’ve been. I have two portable backup drives. I have Dropbox. I have e-mail with attachments. I have a few paper copies. Nothing is as well organized or systematized as it could have been.
I believe that between the portable hard drives, which I backed up to a few months ago, the email attachments, and those stray paper copies laying around, that I may be able to piece together most of my writing. Most, but not all. So far, one story that I’d just finished in December and which I thought was particularly well done is nowhere to be found.
Perhaps the Colorado conjurors will have mostly success. I certainly hope so. If they can return to me at least some of my files, I’ll be grateful (and poorer). If they have limited success or none at all, I’ll just have to suck it up and accept that a few of my stories are simply gone.
What have I learned from this calamity? Back up your files. Back up your files. Back up your files.
The spring of 2016 will be a long slog for me. I will be finding all my files in all their formats and versions in all their locations. I will be organizing those files and backing them up to the Cloud. I may also have to rewrite some things from scratch.
At least I won’t be idle.
Blogging must be an art similar to sculpting, portraiture, and playwriting because I stink at the first two, and I have no desire to pursue either. I feel the same about blogging. It does not come naturally; it proceeds in fits and starts, and I’m never sure what the point of it is.
Blogging is a slog.
Is blogging similar to keeping a diary or journaling? I never did either of those things, not on a regular basis; neither interested me. I did try a few diary entries when I was a pre-teen. That experiment lasted a few days. I tried keeping a journal once or twice, but making entries was something that just kept slipping my mind.
Why am I so resistant to the form – diary, journal, blog? A diary and a journal both seem to me private dialogues; ones you have only with yourself. You share what passes for your deepest thoughts and feelings and out of that comes purpose, resolution, or resolve. My first objection – the effort seems self-indulgent and solipsistic. My second objection - I can never decide whether I am writing for me, or for an audience, and, if I am writing for an audience, then it seems to me I’m not being authentic or true – I’m performing, putting on a show, trying to please someone else.
Blogging seems to call for introspection and self-analysis, but what I write seems self-absorbed rather than analytical, and it resembles introspection less than it does tedious naval-gazing. And when I begin a blog post I know that I’ll be publishing my broodings online for the world to see. If I begin writing the blog post knowing that others will read and critique what I publish, am I performing? Am I editing my thoughts and myself to be more palatable, more pleasing, and more marketable?
I’ve concluded a few things:
The content may not be all that I could hope for, but the workout was beneficial.
Well, December 2015 was a bit of a bust.
In November 2015 (my last blog posting), I was all hot to trot and crowing about how I was going to use the last month of the year to achieve good and great things.
And what did I accomplish?
In terms of submitting works for consideration, not a thing. I got overwhelmed and discouraged, and I did not send out any plays. Then I spent most of December beating myself up over that. Such a good use of time.
What did I get done? In terms of writing, a fair bit.
First, I finished another short story. A story I had been working on for a few months. A story that I believe is written pretty well. That felt good.
Second, I shared three short stories with two friends, both of whom have written or do write, and both of whom I respect. My friends read the stories and gave me feedback that I read and evaluated. Their feedback led me to make a few edits and revisions which I think will make the three stories stronger.
What I found interesting about their assessments is how personal they were. Personal to the individual who read the story and provided the critique, I mean. Everyone brings his or her own baggage to the piece. My two friends are from different generations and different sexual orientations. Each of them saw things in the stories that the other did not. Each of them had emotional reactions peculiar to their own lives and experiences. After reading a specific passage, one said “X,” while the other said “Y.” One remarked that a particular line was true and funny, while the other suggested the line could be cut. I think this is the general rule with criticism – opinions are often all over the board and rarely in agreement.
But, in at least two cases, my two friends were in agreement. Each of them stated that he did not understand what I was saying and that the point I was making was not clear. So I re-read those passages, which made me question the clarity of my writing, and that led me to rethink, revise, and rewrite.
What’s my point here? In December 2015, I finished one new story and I got helpful critical comment on three others. This is no small thing. I need to keep telling myself that. I also need to stop my internal reprimanding – “you said you were going to send plays out and what did you do instead?” Because I kept at it, I kept going, and I did do something.
Here I am in January 2016. I have revised my three stories. I have two other stories ready for critiquing. I have the books and lists and spreadsheets I need to start reviewing and culling the submission possibilities. And I have two plays being produced here in Columbus in June. Those are good things. Those are encouraging things.
Discouraging as December was, I’m not giving up. It’s January. Time to get back to work.
November has not been a month of the industry and productivity I had imagined.
The past few weeks were to be the ones in which a great deal would happen.
The past few weeks were to be the ones in which I would apply myself with vigor and enthusiasm to a long planned for undertaking.
The past few weeks were to be the ones in which I would send my work speeding across state and nation to playwriting competitions and theater companies galore.
The past couple weeks were to be the ones … well; I’ve made my point… so much for good intentions.
In my defense, as far as submitting my plays for consideration, I did manage to accomplish the following things:
Dismayed by the need to decipher rules and regulations, by the crafting of cover letters, by the massaging of my plays to ensure that they met the requirements of each specific competition and theatre company, I reeled back from the business end of writing and returned to the creative part of writing.
First, I set to work again on a story I’d started some months ago.
The story had been progressing. I’d written half a dozen pages. For some reason I had stopped working on it. Perhaps I’d set the story aside because I’d hit a creative roadblock similar to the business roadblock I was dealing with now.
True, I’d set aside the story. But, I had written other pieces. And I had created my website, my Facebook page, and my LinkedIn profile. I’d also started blogging. And I’d met with folks from the Columbus theatre community and begun working out details for having two of my plays produced in 2016.
I hadn’t been idle. I’d simply redirected my energy. And now I was directing my energy back to the unfinished short story.
I read the piece again. I began to edit and revise the existing paragraphs. When I reached the part of the story where I had left off I took up with original writing. One paragraph appeared. That paragraph led to another. The second led to a third, which led to a fourth, and on and on. Before long, I’d doubled the length of the story.
And then, as I always do, I circled back and began to edit and revise once more, beginning with the older text and moving forward into the new writing. And the story grew and the story improved.
No, it is not finished yet, but I am nearer to completing it than I was, and I actually put in the work and accomplished something.
No, I have not followed through with submitting my plays to competitions, but I carried on and I crafted much more of a short story.
I’m happy with that.
And the writing of the short story was just the first bit of redirected energy and accomplishment. Daunted as I was by trying to sift and parse the many playwriting competitions, I suddenly thought, “well, you’ve got a short story done and you know exactly where you want to send it, so why not do something about that right now?”
I opened the web browser. I entered the URL. I pulled up the website of the magazine. I located the submission rules and read through them. I realized that my story already met most of the requirements. It took me all of ten minutes to make two minor changes to the story, to save the piece in the required format, to complete the online submission form, to attach the story, and to click the send button. Wham! Bam! Accomplishment!
It’s true that November has not gone as planned, but how much in life ever really does? No, I did not submit my plays, but I wrote my way closer to the end of a short story, and I submitted a completed short story to a magazine.
I smacked into a roadblock. But I did not halt, hunker down, and give up. I refocused and rerouted and I set off down a different path. And I got something done. I’m going to let myself feel good about that.
And December will be here before you know it. Watch out, playwriting competitions!