Thoughts “On Writing”

“I believe plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren’t compatible. It’s best that I be as clear about this as I can–I want you to understand that my basic belief about the making of stories is that they pretty much make themselves. The job of the writer is to give them a place to grow (and to transcribe them, of course).” (Stephen King, On Writing)

Stephen King signature.

Stephen King signature. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have spent the past few days reading Stephen King’s On Writing at the recommendation of my instructor/guide through this book journey that I have begun. On Writing  has been on my list, but I never really pursued it because I don’t always love King’s writing. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve read several of his books and been drawn in and terrified, but he also has written a few that I’ve started and just cannot finish (and  for a while I was the person who had to finish every book I ever started).  However, based on my instructor’s recommendation, I plunged into this book which is combination memoir and writing guide only to discover a kindred spirit in terms of King’s approach to writing.

He has opened the door to possibilities for me.

When I signed up for this writing course I was hesitant, because I knew from the outset that there would be a heavy emphasis on plotting and outlining. Not that I am against those things, exactly, but I struggle with working on any piece of writing based off of an outline. Much of my best writing comes when I sit at the keyboard and just write, letting the characters or the subject guide me. I’m not saying that my writing is perfect, and this method often requires multiple edits, but for me the initial burst of language gets me further than careful plotting and planning. Sometimes, when I plot and plan, I find myself stuck trying to get from point A to point B to point Z in an organic way.  Please understand that I am not criticizing writers who approach material this way, because every writer needs to find the method that works best for him/her, but I struggle sometimes maybe because I am not completely sure where my story is heading.

After reading King, I feel much better about allowing my characters to tell me the story as they live it, rather than forcing the story into some sort of manufactured shape.How this will play out in the coming months while I work my way through this course is yet to be seen, but I feel like I have been given permission to follow my own instincts as an artist, and that is a gift.

As a theatre director, I work very organically, by coming up with a general concept for a production (and having an end goal in mind) but allowing and trusting my actors and designers to find the natural way to the end point. In many ways, it seems, my approach to writing and to theatre reflect on each other.  I can only create the way instinct tells me to create.

Opening scene from the production of Caryl Churchill's Cloud 9 directed by me at Castleton State College

I feel like I’ve been given permission to . . .

  • close the door and write a “shitty first draft” (I know that is not from King. King advocates that the first draft be for the writer, and the second draft be for the reader).
  • allow the story to tell itself
  • provide only enough description to spark the reader’s imagination
  • write with honesty, even characters who scare me because they are so different from me
  • write the story first, and then figure out its meaning
  • write the story I want to and need to write, and not worry about whether or not it will ever be published.
  • and to relish the journey of writing magic

“Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink.
Drink and be filled up.”  (Stephen King, On Writing)

What words do you need to read/hear to inspire you to just write? What is your approach to writing? 

Love of Literature, Fear of Failure

I have been reading forever, and writing since I knew how to form letters. Books have been my best friends, and sometimes my worst enemies. Writing essays and stories became my escape, and represented a climb to glory that only a few could achieve. Some of my fondest memories of childhood come from my own words–when the school published a poem I wrote, or a teacher read a story I wrote to the class. I relished reports written by me and then presented orally. I still remember doing the research on Basenjis because my dog, Tammy, was part Basenji.

Tammy had the coloring, the face, and the size, but she had a lab chest.

This love of reading and writing lasted throughout school, as I blasted ahead of fellow classmates absorbing literature like food. At Smith, I skipped the Introductory Course in English and went straight into the Sophomore Level. (That only became an issue years later when I started to teach Freshman Comp, and realized I didn’t know how).  I believe I declared a major in English Language and Literature as soon as I was allowed to declare my major.

But wait, you are thinking, isn’t your field theater?

Well, at the time English Language and Literature was one of the HARDEST majors at Smith College. What used to be an easy A for me, became a hard-earned B (with the occasional A). The lowest grade I ever got in college was from my Chaucer class (although I have to say that was not completely a fair grade–but that’s another story).  I tended to excel in the dramatic literature classes more than in the classes about novels or poetry. As much as I loved reading and writing, I started to doubt myself. I had one professor who truly supported me, and allowed me to do a special studies project during my senior year (“The Roles of Women in Shakespeare”). I had one professor who chose favorites, and he happened to be the one who taught Short Story writing. When I graduated, I only had a B+ average in my major.

I grew doubts.

Meanwhile, I had always intended to do a minor in theater. I participated in everything I could, and took more classes than the minor required. (On a side note, I always made sure to take at least one class a semester outside of English or Theater to broaden my horizons–Smith didn’t have any core requirements). So, when senior year rolled around and I met with my minor advisor, she and I realized that I was only three credits shy of the theater major, and that I had an A- (?) average in all those courses. Three production credits. I had done numerous productions for no credit. So, we traipsed over to the chairs office and asked if there was any way I could still be a major, without those credits. He waived them.

So I graduated from Smith College with a double major in English Language and Literature and Theatre.

Little did I know how intricate a role each would come to play in my life.

The theater part is pretty obvious if you have been reading my blog for any length of time. Sorry if this is a little repetitive. I did an internship in electrics and stage management, eventually went back to school for an MFA in directing, and then continued my masochistic pursuit of education to get my PhD in Theatre for Youth. So now I am technically, a theater director/educator with an expertise in theatre for and with children as well as theatre for social change.

Now to English. Between my internship and my MFA I taught English conversation classes in Japan for three years. And of course, I kept reading and writing.

After I got my PhD and moved to Vermont where my husband taught at Castleton State College, I felt like I needed more than teaching adjunct courses for the theater department in the college and directing  one show a year.

So yes, crazy me, signed up for a distance learning class with the Institute for Children’s Literature. That one class led to three, and the book that is gathering dust without a home.

We then moved onto Fort Lewis College where, due to circumstances which I choose not to discuss here, my opportunities to teach in the theatre department were limited and then ultimately disappeared (although I did teach Non Western Theater that was part of the General Education program, as well as Children’s Theater for the Education Department). I got to direct one show (eventually) and had lots of projects in the community, as well as some children’s classes. But again, that wasn’t enough, especially financially. So, the first classes I taught at the college were 1 credit Library Research classes, introducing appropriate use of resources. It was a horrible class  because it was being phased out, but still a requirement. But, it was a foot in the door, and I got to do it because I had a PhD. After that, the Writing Program advertised for a full-time faculty position. I knew I wasn’t qualified, but I applied anyway. I didn’t get that job, but late in the summer (about two weeks before the semester started)  I got a call from the Head of the Writing Program saying “Would you like to pick up a couple of classes? We really need someone.” So I found myself teaching a 100 level and a 200 level course in Composition–without having a clue.

You know what I learned? Give me a challenge and I live up to it. Both those classes were successful, and I learned from my mistakes. I eventually picked up more classes, got on a part-time contract (that included benefits) and taught courses throughout the school in Honors, Comp, Gen Ed, Writing, and the occasional theater class.

Move forward to now. I am at a community college (another long story). I teach Theater Appreciation and Stage Makeup, which are basically the only Theater classes available to me at the moment. It’s a small program. I direct. This past semester, the person in charge of adjuncts asked if I would be willing to teach a Comp I class. No problem, I’m experienced now (although this one was very different).  He asked me if I’d teach one on-line as well. Slight problem, but I was up for the challenge (and that class was better than the live one).

I didn’t expect any classes over the summer, but I said I was willing to teach some on-line courses. (Live ones would be too complicated for the summer). At first nothing, and then I was offered two classes. Slight problem, instead of Comp I he wanted me to do Comp II. Okay, I’ve done that before as well, just a matter of figuring the technology again.

However, the second class leads me to here and now. To this present moment. I am teaching an Introduction to Literature Class. American Literature. (Did I mention that my degree at Smith mostly focused on Brit Lit).

I’M FREAKING OUT!

There, vent over. Luckily I have a wonderful blogging buddy who has sent me a gracious gift.  So, here’s a shout out to Amanda at A.Hab’s View who is a goddess in disguise.

Now, I must stop procrastinating and face the beast.

L is for Late Nights and Legends

I begin writing this post at 11:30 pm Wednesday evening. I probably won’t publish it until after a I sleep a little (so I can check more clearly for flow and such) but I cannot help but write. My head is full of music and song. My dreams are full of possibility. Despite the fact that I probably got about a cumulative 3 hours of sleep on Tuesday night, I cannot lie down yet. I also won’t be able to completely rest until Nathan gets home, and he will probably be working until at least midnight after starting at 7:30 am.

Why such crazy hours? Why the mind full of chaos?

Wednesday was the beginning of the William Inge Theatre Festival here in Independence, KS.

William Inge

 

What is that you ask? Well, it is one of the main reasons that we made the move here. William Inge was an American Playwright who was born here in Independence. The festival that grew to honor his memory focuses on playwrights, each year handing out awards for new plays as well as honoring one specific playwright for his/her entire body of work and commitment to the field. For better descriptions of this event, visit the blog called Postcards from the Inge.

Sheldon Harnick

I spent the evening watching a the premiere staged reading of a new musical by Sheldon Harnick (who wrote Fiddler on the Roof) called A Docter in Spite of Himself that was based on a Moliere play. It was fun, fabulous, and truly entertaining. The cast, who flew in for this reading and the festival, included Tony Award winner Cady Huffman (The Producers) and Anthony (Rapp). (By the way, excuse the name dropping, but it will help you get a bigger picture of the whole event.)

Marsha Norman

This year the honoree happens to be one of my favorite female playwrights, Marsha Norman, who won the Pulitzer Prize for ‘Night Mother and as well as a Tony Award for the book of Secret Garden. She also wrote a play that I directed years ago called Getting Out and it was one of the best directing experiences I’ve ever had. The following slide show contains shots from that production presented at Castleton State College in Vermont.

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I’m nervous about meeting this talented woman.

As part of the festival which includes workshops and other play readings, I am directing a scene to be presented at William Inge’s boyhood home. The scene is from ‘Night Mother and Marsha Norman might actually come see it.

What if she hates it? What if she loves it? What if she says nothing at all?

My actresses are fabulous and we worked really hard. It is a heart-wrenching scene, and I think we have all done good work.

So I think it will hurt the most if she says nothing at all.

I’m also doing a Panel about Theater for Young Audiences, but I don’t really know what we are discussing. I could make a complete fool of myself, or I could say some intelligent thing.

This could be the week that I collapse before legends, or it could be the week that I shoot for the stars.  Let’s hope for the latter.

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