Everyone’s heard me say this, by now, but I’m writing it anyway.
The first time I ever wrote anything of size was a play in one act called “Divide by Zero”. Sam Dulmage helped me edit it: the first draft was practically a series of essays glued together with two goopy characters that said their lines like they were news headlines. The structure was interesting. That was about all you could say to recommend that first draft.
Sam did not treat me as a fool without a brain, nor a helpless case, although he could have. First thing he did was have a couple of actresses read it to us. That exercise quickly put paid to the essay: hearing actresses struggling to get the weight of words off their backs made me realize what I’d done.
But I didn’t have the fix, right away. I had essays with holes.
Sam helped me realize that my problem (still sometimes my problem) was pulling my punches. I was writing a play about friends, woven together privately and professionally, clinging together in graduate school. Then one of them had life happen to her, big stresses, and her perspective on life changed. She decided to drop out.
The conflict between the women was multi-layered and pulling several directions; I’d made the play mainly about the arithmetic of the situation. I’d set up a powerful set of emotional pushes and pulls, and then had them discuss the situation bloodlessly.
Sam called the need to follow through, emotionally, “Going to New York”. I don’t know why that metaphor, but it’s worked wonders for me. I’ve been catching myself stopping in Boston ever since.
I have trouble with New York specifically because I’m passionate and opinionated on one side and people pleasing and conflict avoidant on the other. But I’ve decided it’s not just a quirk of my personality type: I’ve really noted that “going to New York” is difficult for many of the writers I know that are trying for honesty. It is big and loud and you are bombarded with feelings. You and your characters are more vulnerable to judgment right where you’re most sensitive. Your characters will make mistakes and embarrass you.
These days, I almost always write in New York, but I’ll have the rest of the world drop away and it’ll just be emotions and dialogue. I’m working on making it concrete; being all-in present. There is nowhere to hide, really, in fiction. But I do have a greater resistance for the first draft because of it. I’m more likely to have – not writer’s block, exactly, but vicious procrastination.
I’ve been considering my blog, in relation: writing Rants has both helped and hindered my process in going to New York. I’ve been really honest and have made mistakes. I’ve been passionate & angry about things and had people disagree. I have told my life stories from my perspective. I have argued a point or three. It’s helped in that I’ve seen the spark in me roar heat; I’ve got no end of experience and emotion to take to New York. But it’s hindered because I’m aware of my own anxiety when putting forward opinions – I hoped it’d become easier, but it hasn’t, really.