I’ve often said that aspiring writers can learn a great deal when pros talk about what really happens when they sit down to write. So – in a nod to the “practice what you preach” principle – I’m going to talk about what’s been going on with me this week.
Right now I’m thinking about not one, not two, but three writing projects: revising an article, preparing a presentation for a drama conference, and researching a new book. Faced with all of this, I’m doing what any sane person would do: procrastinating. There’s no way all these projects are going to get done. Why even try?
Early this month I gave myself a special gift – a get-out-of-jail-free excuse for not writing while I watch the Olympics. I’ve already spent hours watching the figure skating coverage, and I’ve promised to stick with it until the final medals are awarded.
I know I sound facetious about all this, but there’s some common sense here as well. Serious writing involves (at least in my experience) going to live there. Two of my projects are about Shaw’s play Major Barbara, and that means every single person in that play is going to move into our house, drive back and forth to dance lessons with me, and talk to me in my sleep. No way I can retreat into my brain like that and still keep up with what Nathan Chen and the Shibutanis are doing on the ice. So the Olympics it is.
But then I made a fatal mistake – rereading a book that always sets my head spinning. Back in the 1980s, while I was writing my doctoral dissertation, Dick Dietrich (my advisor) recommended a book by Richard Poirier called The Performing Self.
Talk about a shock! I’d never heard anyone talk about literature the way Poirier does. (That’s still true.) The Performing Self fried my brain, and I still don’t understand most of it. It’s like being invited to a party, driving to the house, walking up the sidewalk, and not being able to open the door.
Every few years I take The Performing Self off the shelf and try reading it again. The margins are full of notes I’ve written to myself over the years as first one chunk and then another starts to make sense.
This time a couple of the marginal notes started turning into that a new article about Major Barbara (project #4 – sigh). My writing muscles have been twitching, and the big challenge now is finding time to write. I’ve started working out ideas in my head as I travel back and forth to ballroom lessons. (I can always hear my husband’s disapproving voice: “Keep your mind on your driving.”)
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If you’ve hung in this far (thank you! thank you!), you may be wondering what point I’m trying to make. OK, here it is: Do not think you’re crazy if all sorts of strange and wonderful things start happening in your gut and your brain when you’re writing.
People who don’t write sometimes think what we do is drudgery. Wouldn’t we rather spend our time at something we enjoy?
Answer: We’re already doing it. There’s nothing like watching ideas take shape as you’re tapping away at the keyboard. I often think that I can’t wait to see how the piece turns out! What’s especially exciting is coming up with a twist or a surprise and imagining how your audience will react. I know it doesn’t sound exhilarating – but it is.
If you love to write, be assured that wonderful adventures await you – challenges, thrills, victories. Please, please, hang in there. (And remember to have fun!)