On Writing

Someone on a FB page geared towards playwrights was asking a lot of questions seeking advice about how he should go about writing a play, lots of questions concerning length and subject matter, and finally I got to a point with the guy and said look, never mind what we think, just write, and deal with technical questions after it’s done. I personally don’t ask for anyone’s advice about writing (or much of anything else for that matter), and I don’t give it, either. Advice is a dangerous thing, even from the wise to the wise, and all courses may run ill, said Gildor to Frodo, and that’s the philosophy I follow.

I will, however, talk about what I do when it comes to writing a play, for no other reason than to talk about myself, which I’m wont to do at great length anyway. Now it’s true my first two works have been derivative, and while I am working on some original ideas, I don’t mind writing plays based on other stories: some of Broadway’s greatest plays, after all, come from other sources. So it’s not like it’s a break with tradition or anything. I also don’t do “fan projects”. Fan projects, to me, are stories geared to a very specific group of people, I prefer to write stories that appeal to a much larger audience.

I tried to write a novel once, which is something I may still do at one point, but I found myself writing basically dialogue and what sounded like stage directions, so I switched to writing plays, and it seems to work for me. I tend to say the conversation out loud or in my head before putting it down on paper, and as the adage goes, if it sounds like writing, I discard it. I like my dialogue crisp and sharp, and I like to keep things as simple as possible. I also prefer small theater to these huge Broadway spectaculars, so I don’t waste time describing outlandish sets or costumes. However much I like a well-directed TV show or movie, and special effect-laden blockbusters, to me there is nothing better than talented actors doing their craft in front of a live audience.

I also don’t offer up my finished work for criticism: I offer it for submission, and if it gets produced that’s answer enough for me. That doesn’t mean to say I refuse to listen if someone suggests a better line, or if slight changes are made during production. I recognize that all plays are an evolution, and nothing is written in stone. But I only make those kind of changes during production, once a play is complete, for me, I don’t go back, I move on. I really dislike being anal, because I know once I get started making changes I won’t stop. And I’d rather have a slightly flawed play that’s finished on a decent schedule than seek perfection, I know too many people who never release projects, or took far too long to finish them, because they weren’t satisfied.

So anyway my best advice to anyone if they ask, is not to give advice. What works for me may not work for you, what I have to say may in fact make things worse. Have confidence in your own ability, and trust your own judgement, and don’t listen to anything I or anyone else has to say.


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