A lot of times, my writing process is driven by fear.
Fear of failure. Fear of not getting it right. Fear of embarrassing myself.
That, and coffee, of course.
My writing process is more comfortable when it’s not driven by that very primitive emotion, but the little adrenaline rush that it brings has something to it and there’s no doubt that a lot of my best work has been done with a pearl handled revolver pointed at my head.
The trouble is that right after you spend a week locked away in a room rewriting - fueled by little else - well, when you finally do cross the finish line, you really can’t be sure what you’ve got is any good.
Or isn’t bad, as the case may be.
Getting notes right after a reading of the thing you’ve been bashing your head against doesn’t necessarily make things any clearer either.
In fact, I don’t think it’s outrageous to say that the feeling of disorientation I have after a reading of my work is akin to pulling myself out of an overturned car with a perfect memory of the accident but still asking: What the fuck just happened?
Okay, maybe it's not really as traumatic as all that, but then maybe it is.
After the BEYOND THE OWING reading I had several immediate responses in addition to that. The first was relief: I got it done. This was followed closely by the need to profusely express my gratitude to those who’d come by to see and hear the piece.
I went a little overboard. I always do. But this “thanking response” is deeply connected to the fear that propelled me through the process in the first place: the fear of failure.
Somehow I hope that thanking people for being there will get them to overlook the problems of the work.
However, we all know that it doesn’t.
Generally this is why I try to remain impassive when I get notes directly after a reading (unless I’m doing a talk back, which is often less a discussion and more of a performance half the time).
See, despite my best intentions, I really have no perspective on what I just heard, let alone what I just worked on. And if I let myself go beyond thanking, I might start explaining myself.
Or worse, defend myself.
These are not good positions to be coming from when getting notes. For me, when I’m defending and explaining, I’m usually re-acting to the most literal surface meaning of the note. And if there’s any interpretation going on for me beyond that, it’s that I’m interpreting every note as another way of saying, “You suck.”
And, let’s face it, notes – especially when given by people you trust – are signs of respect as much as anything else. More importantly, sometimes a note isn’t even a suggestion for change but rather nothing more than an observation.
But listening to people tell you how they experienced the car accident you just had can be pretty instructional. Especially if you don’t dilute it with your version of events.
The best note I got was that I hadn’t gone far enough with the lie of omission created when one partner in a relationship hides something important from the other.
There were other notes, too, (one character appears only one once in the play, etc) but this particular note was especially resonant for me because I understood it as an opportunity to really harpoon my theme in much more muscular way.
Of course, it’s only been a week since the final presentation, so who really knows. I’m still a little fuzzy.
But I don't regret for a second getting in that vehicle and taking the curves at 120 mph. I might've slid off the road, but I'd do it again in a heartbeat. It's kinda exhilarating to watch the world come loose and turn upside down just before the airbag explodes and breaks your nose.
QUICK NOTE: I've gotten some feedback that some people think I didn't feel my play went over very well in the final presentation - please know that I felt quite to the contrary. It was simply a lot of work. And I tend to bring an intense amount of pressure on myself whatever the task. There was a lot of growth - and, as is often the case with quick growth - there were some aches and pains. But I'd do it all over again in a second.
Interestingly enough these last few entries have described my part in one theatre companies development process – a company devoted to developing and producing work by living American playwrights - just as the discussion over development heats up again on some of the blogs you'll find in the right sidebar.
While the debate about development’s value and place in American theatre will go on in the blogosphere and elsewhere for, well, probably ever, I hope my recounting of my experiences shows that development does not have to be some evil crime against a writer.
Jason Grote makes more sense of it than almost anyone else I've read so far.
If plays are to be about opening up difficult questions, well, nobody should expect the process of addressing those questions to be easy - and even less so because you're squeezing those questions into "art".
What's required for any of that be successful - if it's ever to be successfull - is some smart people, well placed trust, a willingness to run blind and a high tolerance for failure.
A high tolerance for failure.
Put more directly about what I'm reading elsewhere: Any general conclusion anyone draws up about how the development process is ruining everything - or really great for everything - is pure bullshit. They're only telling you how crappy or great their own experience has been working on plays with other people. They also are often revealing just how big their own egos are (writers who don't take notes; dramaturgs who believe their conclusions are always golden nuggets of wisdom; intellectuals and critics who'd rather be shaping culture than commenting on it from the sidelines.)
That's all I've actually done here, as well.
Nothing more may ever happen with my play.
But already a lot of shit happened with it that I never thought would.