From Defeat to Celebration

I did it. I finished the first draft of my next show.

Such relief. So much more oxygen. Deep breath, and EXhale….

I did it by blending the second and third shows that I was working on. I just couldn’t crack the nut of the second show, even after feeling galvanized and recommitting to it, as I described in my third blog post. I restarted on a high note that steadily devolved into a broken croak.  Soon I was dreading working on the show.

Despondency followed. (Again.)

Finally it dawned on me: I don’t think I’m supposed to feel miserable every time I touch this (or any) creative project. Of course the creative process can be frustrating and daunting—especially when you’re working “on spec” (not getting paid to do it)—but I don’t believe I’m supposed to feel depressed and vanquished by it, when creative expression is so paramount for me and the life I’ve chosen.

So I gave myself permission to work exclusively on the third show, the quirky one, the one that makes me squirm with embarrassment while giggling helplessly. I always looked forward to working on it. I tackled it for at least an hour, Monday through Friday, for a few weeks.

While I was working on it, I realized that some of the themes in my second show were emerging in this third one—but in fictional-and-therefore-at-a-remove, rather than personally painful, ways. If I could find a way to tie the two shows together, I could finally complete the second show with excitement rather than dread.

It took some doing, but every time I got stymied, I’d just write another scene with the type of fictional dialogue that was originally exclusive to the third show. And then I’d take a painful piece on the same theme from the second show and put them side by side. So now, scenes from the third show are like an entertaining guide and introduction to the more intense, real scenes from the second show. Whether or not this will work for an audience remains to be seen—I’m not at that point in the creative process yet. But this tactic helped me to complete the first draft of the second show—this and my tried-and-true tactic of setting a hard deadline. Between my enthusiasm and the deadline, I was both inspired and galvanized to devote more hours to working on the show each day, and I completed the task. As I mentioned in my last post, that is cause for celebration!

Before I go into the celebratory details, I’ll delineate what comes next in the process of creating this show. As I said in my second post, this blog is not a step-by-step guide on how to create a solo show, but I do want to give you a sense of how the editing process works for me:

  1. Print hard copy of first draft and read in one sitting
    • Make notes/revisions on printout during and after reading
  2. Incorporate edits into digital version
    • Also make any spontaneous revisions during this process
    • Print it out. (It’s now the second draft.)
  3. Read it aloud on my feet and follow any physical and/or editorial impulses while video recording myself
  4. Watch video while making notes on hard copy
  5. Incorporate edits into digital version and transcribe any impulses that were followed
    • Also make any spontaneous revisions based on what I now think needs to be cut, expanded, moved, rewritten entirely, added
    • Print it out. (It’s now the third draft.)
  6. Repeat #3 through #5. (It’s now the fourth draft.)
  7. Create outline of script, including every scene
  8. IMPROVISE THE WHOLE THING, never reading script, just glancing at outline while video recording myself
  9. Watch video and transcribe all newly worded sections—which may be 90% of the script. THAT’S OKAY. The way I spontaneously verbalize in real life is more immediate and effective than any nicely written wordy scene that sounds like an essay being delivered aloud. My brain will be able to memorize those improvised lines more easily than the essay-ish ones. Also, the audience will be able to grasp my meaning more easily because it will be more conversational vs. intellectual. As Terrie Silverman says: the improvised version is the true edit. (She’s right. It made all the difference to my first show.)
    • Print it out. (It’s now the fifth draft.)
  10. Present a staged reading of the fifth draft for theatre-professional friends in my living room.
    • Serve them food beforehand and wine after.
    • Ask them specific questions for applicable feedback—never “Did you like it?” More like: “Did the structure work or would you order scenes differently?” “Any scenes too long/short?” “Any scene unnecessary?” “Was there anything you wanted to know more about?”

This is just my process. Yours might be different—you might improvise everything from the start and transcribe several iterations. Regardless, what comes next in my process is not what I’m going to concentrate on now.

Right now, I’m going to celebrate my achievement. Will it be by pampering myself with a professional manicure? Watching a movie I’ve been dying to see? Starting to read a book I’m excited about? Binge-watching five episodes of a TV show?  Buying myself a new fancy wallet? (My current one is bedraggled.) Taking my husband and me out to our favorite taco joint? The possibilities are endless. The only rule I will follow is this: I will do something that feels like a real and kind reward. I earned it.

We all earn it—every time we finish a draft, meet a deadline, take a step toward the creative goal. Every single time. And that celebration, of course, is part of the process.

BONUS: One of my favorite inspirations, as well as a lovely way to celebrate an achievement, large or small:

  • Poetry by Mary Oliver (I especially love “Wild Geese,” “The Swan,” and “Where Does the Dance Begin, Where Does It End?”)

Thank you for reading my sixth post! I would love to know what attracted you to this blog. If you would like to leave a comment, but don’t see a “Leave a Reply” box below, scroll to the top and click on “Leave a Comment” or “# Comments” under the post title.