How Writers Write 

Nancy Kim 
2/20/2008 

Once for Halloween, I showed up to my junior high school in costume. I wore an oversized cardigan sweater, button down white shirt, and fuchsia colored denim (don't laugh; this was in the 80s!) while clutching a clipboard and pencil. Any guesses as to what I was supposed to be? Anyone?

I was dressed as what I imagined a successful working screenwriter would look like (didn't the oversized cardigan sweater and clipboard give it away?) because in seventh grade, my passion was to be a screenwriter. Truth be told, I spent more time telling my classmates that I would write parts especially for them than I did actually writing. Nonetheless, there was a time when being a writer was definitely a part of my identity.

These days my writing mainly consists of business writing, some grantwriting, and the occasional email bon mots. However, one of the things I hope to accomplish in 2008 is to finally write and perform a one-person show based on an idea that has been batting around my head for over a year. When faced with a blank page, though, hoping to pour out these creative ideas, I instantly freeze up, start perspiring around the forehead area, and slowly step away from the mocking blank page.

For inspiration and instruction (i.e. while procrastinating), I've been looking through writing and playwriting books and asking various writers how they manage not to run away in terror from writing. Nearly all of them say that you just have to do it. It seems like pretty simple advice, but I follow up with questions that I hope might illuminate how they are able to "just do it." Because although I might know how to dress like one, I'm a lot less confident about what it means to BE a writer. I want to know: where do you write? how much do you write in a day? when do you know it's done? how do you know it's good? The answers, I figure, will show me what I should be doing and how I should be doing it.

What I've discovered in these answers are the different rituals, philosophies, and work attitudes about writing. I love hearing these very unique motivations and ways of working. Truman Capote, for example, wrote daily in 3 hour sessions starting at the age of 11! He also spoke about his preference for writing while in a horizontal position sipping coffee in the morning and martinis in the afternoon. Playwright David Hare follows the prescription of eating alone at restaurants so he can think about his play all day, while also revealing the luxury of going away to really focus. Dramatist David Ives sets a rather intimidating standard: "For me, there's only one rule of playwriting. Don't bore the audience." In more practical terms, my playwright friend stated to me simply: "I give myself a 2-page quota per day. It's non-negotiable: 2 pages." I also asked 2007 Innovative Theatre Award Recipients for Outstanding Original Short Script and Full Length Script a few of these questions. Daniel Reitz and Saviana Stanescu were good sports for answering.

DANIEL REITZ

Recipient for Outstanding Original Short Script (Rules of the Universe, prod. Rising Phoenix Repertory)

1. What is the title of the play you are working on right now?

The title of my current play is a temporary, working title: STUDIES FOR A PORTRAIT.

2. Where do you do most of your writing?

I write at home, New Dramatists (where I'm a member), and any handy, not-too-crowded Starbucks.

3. Do you write daily? For how long? How many pages? How long does it take to write a play?

I try to write every morning, all morning. Number of pages varies. It takes me anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 years to write a full-length play.

4. What is the title of the last play you read?

Currently, I'm rereading Sarah Kane's "Crave."

5. How do you know when your play is "finished"?

I know when my play is finished when there's nothing more I can think to do to it, or want to. It's finished either way.

6. What is the best writing advice you have received?

I've gotten more from the experience of writing and watching the good plays of others than any advice that immediately comes to mind.

SAVIANA STANESCU

Recipient for Outstanding Original Full Length Script (Waxing West, prod. East Coast Artists)

1. What is the title of the play you are working on right now?

I'm working on two plays: ALIENS (with extraordinary skills) - a NYSCA commission for Women's Project FOR A BARBARIAN WOMAN - a commission from myself for myself :)

2. Where do you do most of your writing?

At home, sometimes on my laptop in my bed, other times on my laptop at my desk

3. Do you write daily? For how long? How many pages? How long does it take to write a play?

I don't write daily but I think daily about the projects I'm working on. I write when something that I've been thinking about needs to be put on page. And the word "needs" means an internal need or an external one: commission, deadline, workshop

4. What is the title of the last play you read?

"The Pillowman" by Martin McDonagh

5. How do you know when your play is "finished"?

"Finished" is a tricky word, you can work on the same play for ever and never "finish" it, but there is a moment when the play needs to jump onto the stage and leave the page. So probably a play is finished when it is produced.

6. What is the best writing advice you have received?

Find your own voice and stick to it!

But at the end of the day, no matter how they get it done, thank god for writers. They're out there alone in a universe of their own making. And they encounter characters and stories so wild and yet so like us. And what they bring back is in written form for the rest of us -- the directors, actors, designers, and audience -- to recreate in our own image. Like God using an instruction manual to create the world in seven days. Really, it's awesome what writers do.

You know, I think I really should get started on writing my one person show. Start with the blank page. Breathe. Just do it. Write.

 

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