Saturday, July 30, 2011

Animal, Vegetable, or Mineral?

I don't know what I'm writing.  But I am writing, it is pouring out of me, I can't seem to stop it, it just keeps flowing though I have no idea what it is.  Is it back story for a play?  A short story?  A TV show pilot?  A short film?  Or, if it keeps going like this, something longer?

A little background:  I am currently enrolled in a "short forms" class at ESPA, the Primary Stages theater school, with Sheri Wilner.  Sheri gave us a "subtext" exercise a few weeks ago, where each character in the scene had to have a secret.  She gave a list of possible secrets, one of which was very serious, the other was very silly.  I decided to challenge myself and pick two of the silly/absurd secrets, in the hopes of writing something out of my usual family-drama milieu.  After a couple of attempts - and some great input/advice from Sheri - I managed a scene that I actually felt pretty good about.  I knew it needed work, it needed to be deeper, but it was a start of something potentially interesting.

Then last week Sheri gave us another exercise, to help us discover the themes of our plays.  We had to first identify the questions our play is asking, then draw parallels between these questions and our own personal lives.  At first I thought I couldn't possibly apply this exercise to this silly little fantasy play, I would be better off picking the family drama piece I had written the week before.  But then I decided to keep stretching myself and just do it.  After all, isn't fantasy/sci-fi good when it is based on something very real, so we can look at it in this completely different context?  Lo and behold, I discovered that my play was indeed asking a very strong, real-life question that has complete relevance to my life, that is in fact one of the struggles that has been a constant one for me from a very young age.   I even got a little teary about it, all over this "silly" little play.

So I began to write about the character and what this question means to her.   Suddenly pages and pages - 6 full pages of single-spaced prose so far - of back story began to flow out.   I can't stop - I find myself delving deeper and deeper into her, writing details upon details about events that happen many months before my play is set to begin.  I feel like I am writing a book or a movie or I don't know what, but she is so alive in my mind and her experiences -- though completely fantastical -- are very visceral and real to me.

I don't know if I should (there is that word I try not to let myself use) stop writing this back story and get to the play, or just let it keep flowing and see where it goes.  It seems silly to stop a process that is so clearly having abundant creative flow - but I would eventually like to get to the actual writing of the play!  I think, though, that I have to work out the steps that brought her to the moment of the play -  a very intense life or death moment, despite the fantastical trappings of it - to really know where she is in that moment. I think then the scene may well write itself.

So back I go to writing this surprise tome -- this woman's history which probably no one will ever read or see, unless I suddenly turn into a fantasy fiction writer.... (as if I need another distraction...)

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Process over Product

I am deploying a new productivity strategy this week.  Inspired by my last post on effort plus the concept of time-management in weekly blocks from the book 168 Hours, I have decided to make a to-do list not of things I must accomplish, but rather of areas into which I want to be putting effort and how much time I will spend in each area.  For example, instead of saying "bike 100 miles this week", I am saying "bike 11 hours this week" (one longer ride and three shorter rides); instead of saying "transfer all automatic payments to new bank account" I am saying "banking: 2 hours".  I think sometimes I don't start a project when I don't think I can finish it, when even putting 30 minutes towards something would certainly be better than endlessly putting it off into the future.  I am hoping that by committing myself to time blocks, regardless of whether or not I finish the task at hand, I will end up accomplishing more overall.

I am hopeful for this new strategy particularly for my writing, as I realized today that it is more like what I used to do when I was pursing my singing career.  "Practicing" has no definable outcome (except perhaps learning the notes of a new piece or translating a new role) -- it is just something you do every day for a certain amount of time.  I would often just grab 30 minutes here or 30 minutes there to practice -- whatever I could fit in.  But with my writing, I have looked at it more like "I have to finish this scene" or "I have to finish this draft by x-date", instead of just spending a certain amount of time writing, regardless of how far I actually get.  So I have decided to start focusing on the process, rather than the product.  After all, the process really is the important part, because in the creative arts, often times the process is all you get.

I have blocked out a total of 10 hours this week for writing, including 2 for this blog, so you'll be seeing me again very soon!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

It's the effort that matters

I did a killer bike ride yesterday.  While only 46 miles (no longer a big distance for me), it was incredibly hilly, climbing over 4100 feet.  There is one particularly nasty hill that is a full mile long and very steep, as well as many other less-evil-but-still-tiring hills.  It is the only ride in my repertoire that actually scares me.  I have done it twice now -- I went 10 miles further this time than the last -- and neither time was entirely sure how I was going to make it.  But I did.

My boyfriend doesn't find this route nearly so challenging.  At one point in the latter part of the ride as I was huffing and puffing and struggling to barely go 6 miles an hour up a hill, I uttered something self-pitying and silly about how he must see me, how ridiculous I must look struggling so hard to do something that is so easy for him.  And he said: "I see someone trying very hard to do something.  And I think that's great.  It's the effort that matters.  Which do you respect more in your students?  Someone who is a natural at singing or someone who really works hard at it?"  Touche. 

I wish I knew why that is so easy for me to see and respect in other people, but not in myself.  I don't give myself credit for how hard I try at something unless I actually succeed at it.  Because if I don't succeed, then clearly I have not tried hard enough, right?  Well, maybe not.  There are so many other factors that come into play (not the least of which is how one actually defines success).  Maybe my body can only take me so far in cycling, maybe I just never quite got the lucky break as a singer. 

I am not currently succeeding at the goal I set for myself in June to write in this blog three times a week.  I seem to be in a mode right now where my priority is my body.  I am spending a lot of time on my cycling, I have added yoga into my routine as a counter balance to that (for which my muscles are very grateful), I have decided to lower my Weight Watchers goal weight by a few pounds.  All of that takes more hours in the week and more mental focus, which is leaving me less time and mental energy for writing.  But I haven't given it up entirely, I am still trying.

I can't hear the word "trying" and not think of yoda's "do or do not, there is no try".  Well, in this case, I'm going to count the trying as the doing.  I am writing, just not as much as I would like; I am riding, just not as fast or as far as I would like, yet.  I'm pretty confident I'll get there, but either way, I am putting in the effort.

See you again soon, I hope, even if not quite three times a week.