Baby Steps

I’m a huge believer in breaking an overwhelming task down into manageable, easy, you-might-even-look-forward-to-doing-them chunks. Some tips:

  1. If you’re not in the habit of creative writing, write for only an hour per week. (Yup.) And if you’re not taking a workshop/class for solo shows, I recommend finding a writing buddy. You’ll each work on your own stuff, but you’ll agree to meet once per week at a coffeehouse or library or wherever—it doesn’t matter as long as it’s a place where you can concentrate.
    • When I started working on my first show, I was utterly out of the writing habit. So once per week I met with a friend who was working on a novel. We would spend the first 20-30 minutes catching up and then we would write for an hour. At the 59-minute mark my writing impulse/ability would shut down because I was so out of the habit. Then my friend and I would spend another 30-60 minutes talking about whatever. She was as out of practice with writing as I was so it worked out well.
    • Those hourlong writing sessions led to my completing an essay about writing my show. (The “excerpts” in the essay were the first pieces I wrote for the show.) After that, I kept working on the show itself and ultimately came to perform it…but I wouldn’t have a show at all if I hadn’t met with my friend to write for an hour a week in the very beginning.

2. Develop a 10-15-minute segment that you can take to storytelling venues. You can start even smaller and just perform it for friends in your own home, which is what I did. Before I had a (godawful) full-length first draft, I had 12 minutes that I showed to theatre friends in my living room. Thanks to their encouragement, I took those 12 minutes to two festivals. Then I wrote the rest of the show, then completely rewrote it, then kept tweaking it in rehearsal with my director’s help, and then premiered it. But the final version only exists because of those 12 minutes in my living room, which only existed because…you get the picture.

3. The bite-sized chunks need deadlines. (I’ll always urge you to work with deadlines.) For instance, my first show was created in these chunks with these deadlines in this order:

  • I had to complete the essay (with “excerpts from the show”) in time to submit for consideration for inclusion in an anthology. (It was accepted, which was wonderful, but it might just as easily not have been. I was gonna meet the deadline, regardless.)
  • I had to have 12 minutes of my show ready to perform at a festival.
  • I had to complete the (horrid) first full-length draft in time to submit to a playwriting competition. It didn’t even make it to the semi-finals (it really was terrible), but it led to my being offered a scholarship to a playwriting class.
  • I had to have 30-ish minutes of okay-to-good material ready for a staged reading at the end of that playwriting class.
  • I had to have a solid, performable full-length draft ready for a staged reading at the end of a six-month solo show master class.

4. Just concentrate on each chunk instead of worrying about the distance to your ultimate goal. Everybody works at different paces. I have a colleague who wrote a kick-ass solo show in six months. My show, on the other hand, took a few years. Please don’t worry about the time it takes compared to someone else. Worry about the chunks, each one of which will be an achievement worth celebrating. Each one will give you the courage to take the next step.

5. The chunks and their deadlines are determined by contests, festivals, workshops/classes, and calls for submissions. You can find them on listservs, Facebook Groups, even email messages that are serendipitously forwarded to you—all for writers or performers or “creative types”…or people who have a certain kind of story in common. Go for the ones that excite you. Many may scare you but the ones that make your heart beat a little faster in a good way (alongside the not-so-pleasant fear) are the ones to focus on.

  • Don’t rely on friends to set deadlines for you. You may come to resent them. Let your friends be your friends while the contests/festivals/ workshops/calls-for-submissions are the bona fide deadline setters.

BONUS: A link to one of my favorite books on overcoming resistance and creating your art: