A real playwright weighs in on National Playwrighting Month

As mentioned previously, I am not a playwright. But I have been doing this theatre thing for awhile now — professionally, about 5 years, but I started taking it seriously about 20 years ago (I was very young). Participating in NaPlWriMo has forced me to delve into an aspect of the craft that I haven’t touched on before. I’ve also inspired a playwright friend of mine, B. Michael Peterson, to spend this month focusing on a play he’s writing.

Because I’ve been immersed in the NaPlWriMo culture, I’ve been scanning the hash tag Twitter updates, and I found an interesting one from a professional playwright, Gwydion Suilebhan (very cool name, btw). He describes his process, which seems to, overall, take about a year — we’re talking research, plotting, character sketches, actual writing, vacation time, weekends, workshopping, and rewrites. The entire process of actually wrighting a play, instead of just writing one. And although he ends his blog post, “Write a Play in HOW Long?” on a positive note, he is overwhelmingly skeptical of the values the NaPlWriMo process teaches.

The good folks over at NaPlWriMo have pointed out that the month should really be called “Really Crappy First Draft Month,” and honestly, that’s exactly what I’m going for. Gwydion talks a lot about focusing on quality, which is why he only writes a page or two a day, and I have great respect for that. I don’t know what most NaPlWriMo participants are thinking, but for me, it can’t be about quality. For me, NaPlWriMo is a combination of discipline and exorcism. I’ve had the idea for my script — tentatively titled “Jazzhands Lesbians” — for years now. But I have had no discipline to sit down and write it. I had some discipline to start scripting characters while I was unemployed, but then I fell into a deep depression after several job interviews for positions I actually wanted didn’t pan out, and I ended up focusing on beating Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. I have since lost those notes to a move, several jobs, a failed relationship, and lots of rehearsals, so I’ve had to re-script the whole show. And I’m not wild about what I’ve come up with, but November snuck up on me, and I had decided back in August that I wanted to take part of NaPlWriMo this year. I’m going to pour this idea into a Word document, even if it kills me. And it might — I got behind my 5-page-a-day goal a couple of times already, and we’re only one week into November.

My point is that I don’t think anyone who is serious about producing a good script expects to do it in a month. But those of us who have a really hard time disciplining ourselves into a timeline to write need events like this. What I hope for, in an ideal world, is to finish all required 75 pages of this script, and then probably pare it down in the coming months — it is a musical, afterall, I’m just not filling in lyrics where there are musical numbers. So the script will probably end up far longer than it should be once we actually get the music in there, and that’s fine. I’m writing scenes that feel far too long right now, but I’m getting some decent dialogue out, and I’m getting a sort of plot-ish order to things going, and I’m getting some intrigue in there. It’s forcing me to think creatively about scenes I hadn’t planned out in advance, and I’m getting some good stuff there, too. Most of all, it’s making me feel better about the writing process as a whole. I know I’m a pretty good editor, and I’m definitely a good dramaturge, so the problem really arises for me in the creative process. Revision is simple. If I can just have the discipline to pound out a rough script, I feel great about my chances of polishing it.

That’s my perspective, though. It’s an idea that’s been plaguing me for long enough that I have to force myself into a brutal process to finally give birth to it. I imagine the process is a bit like having a demon baby — most of the time, it’s so painful and embarrassing you want to give up and die. I definitely felt that last night when I pounded out 13 pages in 4 hours. But I did it. I feel good about doing it. I feel good about some of the dialogue that happened there.

Once the exorcism is over, I will feel whole again. But it has to happen, and I’m glad there’s a website with a stats counter and a Twitter hash tag with fellow demon-baby-mamas. And I hope to feel a sense of accomplishment at the end. You’re doin’ it wrong if you are not exhausted and happy on December 1st.

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