How does a writer, well, write? Having an idea is relatively easy, but putting pen to paper and seeing an idea through is a different story, and the whole process of writing itself can seem daunting, even mysterious. In this blog post, we pull back the curtain on process, as 9 playwrights share what their creative process is like—how often they like to write, where they like to write, how they find their inspiration.
I write in spurts. When I’m in a spurt I’m writing most every day, ideally a chunk in the morning and then another chunk later though I also kind of enjoy getting myself into situations where I have to write continuously, for days, cursing the whole time. I like to write at home, in the morning, because I like to go straight to the desk, unwashed, hair pulled back into a snarl, and then I like to have the obligation to make breakfast and shower as a distraction. If I write in the afternoon I usually go to The Brooklyn Writer’s Space. I have a hard time writing in cafes; I need to be able to jitter away from my desk and snack on something at random intervals.
I write almost daily, and usually in a public place like a café or writers’ room. I’ve been trying to write from home more often, though, but the background hum of public places helps me focus.
—A. Rey Pamatmat
I’ll be honest and admit that I don’t write as often as I would like. I probably shouldn’t cop to that, but look, life is hectic. I teach, and I take that responsibility seriously. My students are very important to me, and I’m dedicated to giving them each the time they require in order to learn the tools to help them tell their own stories in their own ways. That takes a large chunk of my creative real estate. I think something a lot of playwrights have to grapple with is whether to take a job that has nothing to do with our art (which uses up our time and tires us out), or to take a job that has something to do with our art (which takes up our time and uses up our creative energy). Sadly, it’s incredibly rare (translation: nonexistent) that a playwright just writes as a sole means of income. The sad fact of overemployment for every professional artist in this country is one that I think we all need to be talking about. How do we continue doing what we’re doing without having to take on so much that we can’t do it well? It’s a challenge. I don’t have the answer, yet.
So….when do I write? Whenever I can. On the bus. Sometimes I shove my phone between my helmet and my face while I’m biking to and from wherever, and then I call my own phone and dictate scenes into my answering machine. Honestly, I find myself doing that more and more often. I write a lot on sticky notes, and then arrange them all on my floor where I put them in order, and then my cat rearranges them. She’s very opinionated about the work I do on the floor. I write in the margins of books that I’m reading for research, or for tone or style. I write on playbills and napkins and coasters. It’s been forever since I’ve actually written on a ruled piece of notebook paper.
The nice thing about living in such a linked-in world is that now I can write out loud in public and people just assume I’m talking to someone on the phone. So I do a lot of that. If you see me out and about, and it looks like I’m talking to myself….I probably am.
I get up early, exercise, breakfast, and am at my desk usually by 9. I work until 12 or 1 and then eat lunch. Take a short nap. Pick up where I left off and work until 5.
I need to leave my house to write and I prefer to write in the company of other writers. I write at the Brooklyn Writer’s Space, at New Dramatists, at the MacDowell Colony, on silent retreats and with the writer’s army, which is a modified silent retreat in NYC run by Anne Washburn, Gordon Dahlquist and Madeleine George. I find it hard to write through a block. I would rather wash a dish, walk around the block or peruse Facebook. When in the company of other writers, I feel positive peer pressure to continue when a challenge presents itself.
When I’m stuck? Walking’s good. Sunshine. Sandwiches. Coke Zero. Calling an old friend. Calling a new friend. Watching a movie that’s similar to what you’re working on, but just different enough.
Although, y’know, it’s funny to hear the word “writer’s block,” because to me that’s sort of a misnomer. A bogeyman. I find that what’s called a “block” is natural, that it’s just a part of the whole thing. Sure, there are those magical moments when writing is a breeze, when I’m jamming along and I’ve achieved maximum flow and the words fly out like lightning bolts and I am a God among men and the world SHALL KNEEL DOWN BEFORE ME… but, in reality, those moments are rare.
So, what you call “writer’s block,” I call “process.” Maybe I’m in the minority, but it makes me feel better to know that on every project, I’m guaranteed to encounter some monumental, unscalable, booby-trapped roadblock protected by a conniving troll. If I can trick myself into accepting that this “block” is just part of writing, I can (almost) always find some path over, under or through.
[My writing process is] Painful, sporadic, and in a desk crammed into a corner of my apartment.
—E. S. Follen
Writing for me is a joy because I’ve developed, I think, a very good set of work habits which makes the process fairly effortless. But the truth is, I believe, we create nothing. It all comes from the Almighty and we are the vessel through which all that is transmitted and our job as writers is to maintain that vessel in good working order, perfect our craft to be able to transmit that God given inspiration in the most compelling manner, and to be worthy of whatever gift, with which, by the grace of God, we’ve been blessed.
While creating the play [Selma ’65], I did many rewrites. Marietta Hedges would read the play for a small group in a closed reading. I would ask questions. It was surprising how hard it is to balance action and clarity. I don’t want to “explain” when I write, I want to create a prism in which the play casts different lights for different people. I strive for poetry, storytelling, theatricality and economy. It’s always an unexpected discovery to see how that can be achieved.