The lovely Gillian Cosgriff was kind enough to contribute to the How To: Create A Solo Show series with this entry inspired by her many experiences writing and performing around Australia and beyond.
You can also find a great article written by her, just below. Yep – down there. 🙂
Almost definitely over a year ago, the excellent Dan Pavatich asked me to write something for his blog. I said yes. Then he sent me a reminder and I said, “Oh yes! Of course, I forgot, would still love to!” Then a few months later he reminded me again. That was over a month ago. I’m writing it now. You know why I’m writing it now? Because right now I’m supposed to be writing songs and jokes and pieces of a new show and (aside from doing my taxes) THIS is what’s left on my to-do list.
I’m a musical comedian living and working in Melbourne and performing is pretty much my full-time job. I’ve written four one-hour solo shows and I spend most of my year touring them to festivals around Australia. In case you haven’t already figured it out, I am an incredible procrastinator. About five years ago I came up with a project to combat this, and I’m about to embark on it for the fourth time. It’s called 8 Songs in 8 Weeks.
(This is my new 8 Songs in 8 Weeks poster in my study. I avoided a lot important things to spend time cutting out all the shapes. WORTH IT.)
It works like this. To escape my procrastination I force myself to write one song a week for eight weeks. For most people that would be enough, but I’ve sadly discovered that unless I’m accountable I will not do the work. I just won’t. So each week I have to post photo evidence in the form of that week’s song lyrics, on the internet by midnight on Sunday of each week. It turns out that public accountability is my best motivator. At the end of the eight weeks I mash all the songs into an hour-long show and in between I talk about how the songs came to be, what they’re about, and what I think about them. I cannot BEGIN to tell you how liberating it is to stand onstage, play your song, and then say, “I hate this song. I think it’s childish and it only has one joke and unless I really go back to work on it I may never play it again. NEXT.”
The eight-week period always has some natural shape to it that connects everything. The first time I did it I had an entire relationship over the course of the project. I met the guy in week one, we started dating and in week six I found out he’d been cheating on me the whole time. At the time I was pretty sad about it but it turned out to provide an EXCELLENT shape for the whole thing so I guess what I’m saying is, thanks Steve, you dickhead.
(This was a finished 8 Songs in 8 Weeks: Volume 2. The relief at seeing all eight filled in provides a rush of endorphins no exercise will ever give me.)
Because the 8 Songs project is such an intense period of forcing myself to be creative, I always do a LOT of homework in the lead up to writing. This has fed into my writing process for making a one-hour show as well and maybe some of these things will work for YOU, internet friend.
How I Write A Solo Show
- Procrastinate. Clean my whole house. Get the car serviced. Take long baths. Paint my nails. Watch TV. Take up knitting. Give up knitting. Call every member of my family. Eventually do my taxes. Drink so much tea that I cannot begin to write because I need to pee ALL the time.
I spent a lot of time making myself feel bad for procrastinating but one of these superfluous activities invariably ends up contributing some crucial part of the show, so now I consider this a crucial part of the process. Also, I cannot fix it.
- Spend time on the internet. READ. Read EVERYTHING. Save any article or image of any interest at all. For my most recent comedy festival show I created a Pinterest board. Every time I saw anything at all that I thought could maybe be part of the show I just pinned it to the board. Pictures, songs, videos, articles, anything. It was a great way to keep all my resources in one place.
- Keep a notebook on you always. My notebooks are a mess – full of to-do lists, phone numbers for people I have invariably forgotten to call, and set lists for old gigs. But in between all of that are scribbled sentences, half-thought out ideas, and lists of things that might work in a song.
- Start to write songs. This is more specific to the kind of work I make, which is musical comedy. For my most recent show I had a playlist of songs that I thought the show might sound like that I just kept adding to over the course of writing. Eventually I used it as my pre-show playlist. If I’ve done 8 Songs in 8 Weeks before writing a new show I’ll often use those songs. Otherwise I make dot points for what I think the songs in the show should be about.
- Improvise. Not everybody does this. I’m not great at sitting down and writing a script or coming up with jokes. What I do instead is make a list of the songs in the rough order I want them, with dot points for what might happen in between. Then I talk/sing for an hour through that, improvising my way through how it might work, and I film/record the whole thing. (This is best done when none of your housemates are home to hear you talking EMPHATICALLY to yourself.)
- Write. I watch back that recording and then I write out what works, what doesn’t, and what could be developed to work. I rewrite my dot points. Then I film myself stumbling through it again. Then I rinse and repeat. Watch that back, take notes, do it again.
- Café/Bar. Once I have a version that I’m mostly happy with (or once the show is a week away, whichever comes first) I go to a café or a bar with my laptop, get a coffee/wine and actually type out the script as I’m going to do it.
- Embellish. My show never stays 100% the same. Every night that I perform the show I’m open to improvising little bits and pieces, changing lines slightly, talking to the audience etc. Sometimes I just change things because a festival run is really long and I don’t want my tech to get bored. The show is always solid enough in its form that I know how it’s going to work, but in flux enough that there’s room to move.
Resources – things that have helped me or interested me along the way
- Wait But Why on Procrastination: http://waitbutwhy.com/2013/10/why-procrastinators-procrastinate.html
- My MUST read for all artists/writers/performers is Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon. You can read it in about an hour and also a lot of it is accessible here: http://austinkleon.com/steal/ (He also has a great second book called Show Your Work.)
- Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert is another great book on creativity. (She also has a blog called Magic Lessons, which is pretty great.)
- The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp is swell, but especially the questionnaire that she has in it for artists which you can find here: http://writeroutine.blogspot.com.au/2012/12/creative-habit-3-your-creative-dna.html
- This BRILLIANT quote from Martha Graham to Agnes de Mille: https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/10/02/martha-graham-creativity-divine-dissatisfaction/
- For ideas and inspiration I just love Brainpickings.org in general
- For songwriting tips I like: http://nicholastozier.com/
More About Gillian Cosgriff
You can see Gillian live at the Perth Fringe World Festival between Feb 7 – 19 (2017) and the Melbourne International Comedy Festival between March 28 – April 9 (2017).
To stay up-to-date on Gillian Cosgriff, follow her here: