How to begin.

Why do we avoid sitting down and writing?

It’s so strange isn’t it.

There is a lot written about how fear is the enemy.

It’s more than fear.

Writing is difficult.

It is not easy to build a well made stage play–or a work of fiction.

It takes work and courage and a thick skin.

It also takes knowledge of craft–

which is something that we acquire by committing to a rigorous practice.

To write requires a deep understanding of ourselves and the world around us–

along with a willingness to admit that we don’t actually know all that much about either.

and therefore must continually keep learning about both.

Right now I am working on a character that I am worried I can’t write.

Because he is a man and has lived in ways that I have never lived and

I don’t know much about him. Not from the inside anyway.

I don’t know that I can authentically speak in his voice.

This is difficult. But I need to write this character.

My recent response to the difficulty is to do nothing and distract myself

and fiddle about with other things more instantly gratifying.

Oh well. I suppose I am not alone in this.

But I am determined to break this particular slump and enliven my character


How to begin I ask myself?

Begin at the beginning or begin anywhere I answer.


Just begin?


Louis enters. He stands in a pool of light. Stage Right.
He is wearing jeans and a peacoat with the collar up.
He carries a guitar case.
He wears a wooly cap.
He is about fifty.
He sets down the guitar case and opens it–
Straps on his guitar–
Throws a loonie and a five dollar bill in the open case
He begins to sing

Ok it’s a start

Just start.

When it comes to the commitments we make to ourselves– things like I will write for three hours a day on my novel, play, screen play, short-story—-some of us inevitably break the promise as soon as possible because some part of us is trembling with fear and doing it’s best to protect us from the cruel possibility that maybe we can’t write.  Some of us prepare to write, by researching ourselves to utter exhaustion and end up with more information than we could ever need,  and others simply decide cleaning a closet and having lunch with a friend is more important. The secret to all this is to start with what you know and get it down on the page even if it is rough and weak and scant and inconsequential.  Abstract Painters know that they have to splash some paint on the canvas or make some marks or shapes or lines that may actually never be part of the painting but that lead to the painting.  I sometimes begin with writing words in a water colour crayon randomly or pick a colour and a brush and apply some painterly scribbles and doodles that lead me to whatever is next in the painting. My mind will respond to the marks and a conversation with colour and line and shape and texture begins. Sometimes an argument occurs and a choice is made and it’s the wrong choice– but it can be scraped off and painted over. Same with writing. Get thee to your computer is my advice– and start writing a few things you know about the character, the setting, the plot. Start.  Be random. Be a beginner. Be awkward. Write badly. You just have to start. And be willing to make a mess–that’s all. Because the part of you that wants to write will rise up and figure it out. Maybe not immediately but it will. So start with what you know and then you will have kept your promise for another day and pretty soon something in your brain will shift and a door will open. Just start and don’t quit.


My writer’s process

Sometimes writers will talk about process.

They will describe their process very specifically sometimes.

Here are some random things I have heard writers say:

“I always create an outline”
“I never create an outline”
“I write the last scene first I have to know where I am going”
“I never know where I am going, I just start writing and see where it takes me.
“I start writing about myself and then gradually get farther and farther away from myself.
“I start with imaginary characters and then gradually get closer and closer to myself”

Ok. So what’s my process?

I usually say that my approach to writing is organic,and intuitive.

But lately I have been thinking that this might be just another way of saying–

I have no process that I am aware of and actually–

I am totally and completely haphazard unfocused and undisciplined.

Maybe it’s time I get more specific about my own process.

A process should lead to something right?

That’s why it’s a process.

My so called intuitive and organic writing process

doesn’t seem to lead to much writing.

I know that I want to write. I love to write. I need to write.

But often I don’t write.

The only way I actually write is when I have a deadline or some other kind of

external structure that snaps me to attention.

More than anything deadlines and commitments keep me on task.

Maybe a looming deadline that terrifies me into doing the work is my process.

I know that fear stops me from working–maybe it kicks my ass too.

Late last fall I was invited to be in a group with other playwrights

who were writing and producing their own plays in the The Fringe Festival.

For three months I wrote every day and came up with a finished draft.

Then for another three months I wrote another draft.

THen for two months I tweaked and trimmed and tweazed until I had a draft

that the director liked. THen we went in rehearsal and then the play was performed.

Deadlines and external structure made me do the work.

The desire to get my work done made me confront my fear but the fear of looming deadlines

and being ready with a play on time kept me going and maybe this is what fear is for.

I might put in an application to the Fringe just to kick my butt into writing another play.

Or perhaps it’s another kind of deadline that I have to find for myself now that I have

done that I might need a new adventure. I am not sure.

I wish I didn’t have to scare myself to be motivated.

Anyway at least I am thinking about this and hey I am writing about it so

there you go. The fact that I created this damn blog and then had trouble posting in it

kind of forced me to put something in it just because it was there waiting for me.

Maybe I just have to accept that my process is to scare the shit out of myself.

My art thrives on a little adrenaline and the possibility of humiliation.


To be continued.

First steps in a new direction.

Today I went to the first meeting of a writer’s group.

Five of us gathered on this dismal cold and rainy Saturday morning for the very first time.

Everyone was excited and confessed their fears.

We spent the first hour discussing what we wanted to achieve in the group.

We all agreed that being accountable to each other was important

to our own creative process.

We discovered that we are all the kind of writers who need deadlines.

Left to our own devices we would just do other things.

I have never been part of a serious writer’s group before–

and I am so happy to have this opportunity.

I want to allow myself to be encouraged and to expose myself to hard and honest critical feedback from the other writers.

But maybe I can’t write plays

. Maybe I am just full of myself and my ego is telling me lies about all the plays I am dying to get down on the page.

I find that people are not comfortable giving or receiving truthful feedback–

especially the tough kind–and so this is going to be part of our adventure together.

I hope we will be learning to expose ourselves to both encouragement, and  criticism without dying on the vine.

Maybe that metaphor is a little precious but–

I want to learn how to both accept and reject critical feed back.

Both are necessary. Sometimes advice or direction can be damaging and confusing.

You have to know when to say thank you but ignore what ever was said– I hope I can do this.

And You have to know when to accept the criticism because it is useful and reveals something to you.

I think all artists are fearful of perceived judgement. I am anyway.

We fear the thoughts of others.

What someone thinks of us really has no real weight in our lives.

Yet  we cringe at the thought of it. We hide from the possibility that we wont be acceptable to someone.

We often interpret criticism to mean we are not good enough.

The actual judging is something we are doing to ourselves.

Criticism given in the right spirit is not judgement at all,

but a kind of collaboration in the forward movement of the work.

At least it can be.

I also want to constantly remind myself that the desire to write comes

from a deep love of the written word.

It’s a joy that we experience.

We see how the world is illuminated and made to shine

because of the way someone has written about it.

And we want to do that same thing.

We don’t realize the extent of the effort and struggle that is involved.

We aren’t prepared for the loss of faith in ourselves or the challenges that arise.

I think we worry too much about our ability and our talent or the lack thereof.

I have decided to be unconcerned about whether I have talent

and just focus on the work.

I want to fuel the work with my passion for the work.

And to constantly remind myself about my love for it despite the pain.

I want to keep writing–

even badly if necessary–

to get to where I can write well.

I am here for the long haul.

Now, on to staring down the blank screen.

On to the task of defeating my self-doubt one more day.