“It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write.” – Steven Pressfield
“I write only when struck by inspiration. Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.” – Somerset Maugham
I was intending to speak further about generating ideas or how to structure your content, but given all this talk on doing your work, I thought I’d talk about the process of creation. Notice I didn’t say ‘Creative Process’. I want to talk about how you approach the generation of content for performance; whether it be with a pen, laptop, brush, chisel or improvisation.
Disclaimer: Writing / Writing through Improvisation
I both write scenes down for future performance, and record myself improvising which I then develop for future performance. And I wouldn’t recommend one over the other. What I will say is that my path for both is the same as what I describe below. Feel free to exchange the word ‘write’ in this article for whatever form your creation takes.
A Creative Lifestyle
Jack Smith shared the following approach for creating content (in his case, for stand-up), which he said was given to him by someone else, and now I’m sharing it with you. I have since seen this in other books:
- In the morning, take an hour. Whatever you have. And write. Just generate stuff. Do not edit! Do not correct spelling even. Just let it pour out of you.
- In the afternoon, edit what you wrote the day before.
This might be a tough schedule, but there are a lot of good principles baked into this. Let’s break it down:
- Having a schedule is a good things! We know that doing something regularly helps us. Rhythm is a natural part of the human experience, so why not use it to drive your creativity.
- Do not Write and Edit at the same time. These two processes are at war with each other.
- Writing is an expression of what is in your mind. Trying to edit and shape that as you make it is impossible. You’re too close to it.
- If you have ever written something, and then thought “wow, too obvious” and then scribbled it out, you know what I’m talking about. Of course it’s obvious to you… you just wrote it!
- Editing requires some distance from the work.
- Here’s an example: My favourite part of Please Stay was a character called Rico who worked at NASA and was obsessed with danger. This character came from a line I wrote in my notepad: “Welcome to the Danger Zone.” I remember writing it and thinking “You’ve just written a song lyric. You dingus!” But when I read it 24 hours later, I knew the character instantly. Distance makes your edits stronger!
- Generate material with absolute freedom from your own judgement.
- Doesn’t that sound a bit like a really good definition for the act of creative expression? Yeah, I think so.
- Generate material with the knowledge that you will edit it later.
Ideally you have set aside times to edit, and times to write. I work full time so while developing Big Strong Boy, I would write Monday, Wednesday, Friday mornings for one hour, and edit a couple of afternoons through the week (with at least a days distance from the writing of what I was about to edit) and occasionally do some editing on a Saturday. After I locked in a Director (Marcus Willis), we would meet on the Sunday, so this rhythm meant I had fresh material for him each Sunday.
Alright, let’s do it
Pick one of the items from your list of “Things I might want to do in my next show”, set a period of time. Let’s say 5 or 10 minutes depending on the idea, and write until your time runs out. Write in whatever form you want, you can write it as a script, as a note, in a google doc, whatever. All you’re doing is getting pushing stuff out of you and onto the page. Keep repeating this process until your time is up.
As your ten minute period runs out, what you’re writing might change, or shift topics. Keep going with it. Let your editor worry about that. Just keep pushing things out.
Here’s how I do it:
- Pick something you wrote and read it. (Honestly, if I’m feeling a bit bummed, I pick something that I am excited about, otherwise I try to use a FIFO method (First-In-First-Out: I edit items in the order I wrote them, i.e. the oldest item first).
- In some cases I will read out-loud, just to get a sense of the performance aspect.
- While reading I take notes of what I like, and anything else that comes to mind, a funny thought, a separate idea etc.
- If I notice any grammatical or logical errors, I correct them. Logical corrections, I take note of, as these are often alternate paths for the piece that might be inspiring for rewrites.
- A piece might contain multiple ideas/stories. If they are variations or options for where this piece might go, I break them up and address them when I’m finished. If they are different ideas, I split them out for later editing.
After that’s done, I start to address the notes I took down.
When rewriting/editing, I am really only have one thing in mind:
Clarity is King.
If something is confusing (in not a cool way), let’s clear it up. If something is funny/dramatic, let’s explore specificity. If something isn’t working, I take it out, or develop a replacement (often I’ll use lists of ten to come up with options.). If the overall message/journey is unclear, I’ll look at the structure, and make adjustments. Sometimes, there’s content missing that is necessary to complete the piece, in that case I will write that. In some cases, there are multiple ideas mixed together making the whole thing complex, I’ll pick the most compelling aspect and develop that.
After an editing session, I take the pieces laying on the floor (or that fell out), and add them to my “Things I might want to do in my next show” list. If they inspire me during a writing session, they will be developed, otherwise they’ll be lost to the ages; and that is okay too.
Would love to hear about books that have inspired the way you approach the job of creating! Here are two that inspired me greatly:
Other articles in this series:
How To: Create A Solo Show (Part 1) – Post-mortem of Please Stay.
How To: Create A Solo Show (Part 2) – Post-mortem of Big Strong Boy.
How To: Create A Solo Show (Part 3) – Getting Started.
How To: Create A Solo Show (Part 4) – Creating As A Process.
How To: Create A Solo Show (Part 5) – Writing True Stories.