Following the Unknown
I believe every new play, every writing project, emerges in its own way. Just because the last play I wrote worked ABC, the next one could work XYZ, 123 or #&@. The one I'm working on right now stymies me. I'm used to having some idea of what happens next scene-by-scene. Usually I'm an avid outliner, or create a synopsis that works like a map.
This time, I started typing Scene One knowing the beginning image, where the main character might end up, and an extremely loose premise. More like a blurb, really. I didn't do a ton of character development beforehand. I did minimal research. I tried, but whenever I started, I got bored enough that plunging into page one seemed a better start. A January deadline when I had nothing typed out in early December was an influencing factor, I admit.
Now, each scene I write, I'm not sure what's going to happen next. I'm following a little thread Stephen King sometimes talks about that leads me further into the basement of discovery. I'm getting toward the end and I keep getting surprised. I hope this works well for the play, but even if not, it's interesting to submit to a new way of doing things.
Where did this new way originate? Maybe my Natalie Goldberg inspired daily writing practice is affecting my dramatic writing process. Maybe I'm easing up on the control I've always taken when plotting out scripts -- which is different from the more organic way I write poems, stories, and essays. Maybe I'm learning from my experimenting students (the fourth graders, high schoolers, the 60+ year olds who have never written a play).
I feel the dramatist's rules I learned early on clogged up my creative brain for a time. When I started my first playwriting class, I had no idea what I was doing. I regularly feel I don't know what I'm doing even still -- whether I'm creating a scene or having an everyday conversation with somebody. With that not knowing, I leaned hard into learning all the rules, to the work's benefit and detriment.
Perhaps now I'm giving up fear of the unknown. I'm having fun with that. Not knowing is okay.
I recently reread Stephen King's On Writing. This time I paid more attention to his metaphor of the writing process as archaological dig. Paying attention to each moment, word by word, following the images that unfold like a brush sweeping dust away to reveal an ancient artifact. There's something improvisational about that way of writing.
Like the physical improvisation I practice in Viewpoings training, this writing isn't so much about what I'm creating. It's about what I'm finding. Every day, I'm working on letting go, in all areas of my life. The writing and art as much as every day's tension, fear and insecurities.
I'm curious what you think about this, and about what your process is now, for whatever you're making.
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Process notes on a work in progress (me). This mostly contains raw rough content pulled out of practice notebooks. Occasional posts also invite you into the way I work, with intermittent notes on the hows and whys on the whats I make. Less often you may also find prompts and processes I've brought to workshops, as well as surveys that help me gather material for projects. Similar earlier posts from years ago can be found on: