I recently had an MFA student of mine email me about feeling overwhelmed as she was in the initial stages of developing a new idea for a play. She’s a brilliant wordsmith and has a wonderful ability to infuse her characters with beating hearts. But she sensed the immense journey ahead of her and how so much of the route before her was uncharted, full of potential pitfalls and misleading and seductive byways and crossroads with no directional signposts pointing the way to an eventual destination she wasn’t sure she’d even recognize when and if she ever got there. She as yet had no road map to guide her through the wilderness of a story as yet untold. And she confessed to me that she at times was succumbing to pushing the writer’s panic button labelled “who are you trying to kid?”
This is what I wrote back to her:
Hi– Writing a full-length script is a big thing. It’s easy to fall into the trap of feeling overwhelmed. I fight it all the time. But the thing to keep in mind constantly is that scripts are written baby step by baby step and one day at a time. It’s that wonderful word “process” that you have to keep before you always. Diligently working through pre-writing character explorations, diving into backstory scenes, slowly experimenting with plot elements and the order that potential scenes might be laid out. Trying things, rejecting things, trying other things. Sleeping on problems or roadblocks and letting the subconscious work on it. Playing into your obstinate side and not giving up when answers and solutions don’t automatically present themselves. I have often told my students not to be intimidated when reading a published play or seeing a professional production of a hit play or film and instead to constantly remind themselves that that writer went through the same step by step process that you’re going through, with the same struggles and doubts and frustrations and peeling off one layer at a time, and that only after a lot of work, false starts, and perhaps several rewrites did they finally arrive at the amazing work you’re reading or experiencing in the theatre.
So take a deep breath (or as many as you need) and keep at it.
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I’m the Program Director of the low-residency MFA in Writing for Stage and Screen being offered by the New Hampshire Institute of Art and we are currently accepting applications for entering the program at our June 2014 summer residency. I’m also a playwright and screenwriter, producing partner in my production company Either/Or Films (The Sensation of Sight and Only Daughter), and a professional script consultant.