Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Next Chapter

my writing permission slip, 2003

Tomorrow I'm going to try something I haven't done since 2002. I'm going to write a short story. I've made a fuss over the past year about my choice of medium, loudly proclaiming that I was leaving playwriting, which I've pursued for nearly a decade. I guess I'm now doing it softly, but I'm appending the announcement with this: I may return again.

After that last short story I wrote, I wrangled for a year and a half with the idea of becoming a serious playwright (i.e., doing it and not just talking about it). The work of Harold Pinter, Samuel Beckett and Joe Orton had captured my 26-year-old imagination, and I took a write-by-mail course through the University of Iowa, spending months crafting a play that I ultimately never finished. Regardless, by Christmas 2003 I finally decided to go all in.

I began my new creative writing career in earnest, making an attempt to work on my laptop every evening — usually in the basement of the coach house where I was living at the time. I haven't always succeeded, and much of the first year was a battle with myself to stay in the seat, but I'm proud to say that I've never let a break go on too long, unless it was an allowable one for a finished draft (a week) or finished play (a month).

In 2007, I finished my first full-length and made a quiet promise that I would write 10 plays from age 30 to 40. Since then I've ground out five more, with drafts, workshops, readings and even a couple of awards following along the way. It's been an incredible experience — more than I ever expected. But I've had no productions, and that's started to make my mind wander.

We all want to find an audience, and I've largely found my way barred to that audience. I understand it's a big time and money investment to produce a play. I recognize more and more that I'll probably need to do it myself if I want to see my work onstage in its final form. But now is not the time for that, with two small kids at home. Maybe when they grow up. I don't know.

Trying to "sell" creativity can be depressing, but we shouldn't forget that art is almost always created with an audience in mind. We, as artists of all stripes, want it to get out there for others. This is the challenging last step, even in the seemingly glutted lit mag market.

To temper this reality, I remind myself that my best audience is forever one person: me. I love reading my old writing, and though it doesn't always sparkle years later, there's no line that doesn't contain a message in it. From me, to me.

But this isn't all about reception. I also want the challenge of something new. I'm proud to have built up my creative "habit" — one I now must sustain in order to feel normal. I'm proud of the hours I've put into learning a craft. In my school days I was often accused of having a lot of brains but not applying them. This is finally something I have fully, consistently applied myself to. And whether it leads anywhere or not, the fact that it is all my endeavor, built on solitary labor, cannot be taken from me.

Right before I started in December 2003, I gave myself a "permission slip" — a permission to write. I'd read that this was a method for people having trouble committing to let go and just write, not worry about quality or reception. On that slip I gave myself permission to write whatever I want, as long as I'm inspired to do it and stick to it. A reminder that the act is the most important thing over the course of a lifetime. 

I carried this piece of paper in my wallet for nearly nine years till I removed it this past summer, along with a photobooth sequence of Erika from the Rainbo that she gave me after we first started dating. I became paranoid that something would happen to them. To me both are now priceless — symbols of two great beginnings and two incredible gifts: a life partner and a creative direction.

Erika is also a creative writer, and someday I hope our kids will see that both of us tried. We tried to make the most of what we were given, to make sense of life in a particular way. And regardless of the reception, we formed something new. For ourselves.

1 comment:

Nikki said...

November is National Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), which encourages writers to tackle a 50,000 word story that month. You should participate. Dan sometimes does. I have before. It's fun, and you can find places to write with others during that month to keep you focused and motivated.