I'm off to the Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF) in a couple of days and so I thought I'd start sharing some thoughts about my movie, "The Parting Glass".
I've heard a lot of good advice about how to write. I My friend John Logan said he got up and started writing first thing, took a lunch break and then continued writing til evening. It was like a 9 -5 job. At the time, I thought that was odd. How you can write on demand? How can writing be like any other "job"?
Well, that was a long time ago. Back when I was not a hyphenate as I am now. Actor-writer. Back then, I was just an actor. Hmmm, not quite true. I was an actor-waiter, an actor-bartender, an actor-temp, even an actor-gardener. But I digress....
I don't get up everyday and write from 9 - 5 but I do spend most days writing. There are some days when I write out of a sense of inspiration but most days, it's just work. Hard work. Editing or tinkering or re-writing or finessing. Personally, I go for the 5 page rule. Don't know where I got it from or if it is even legit, but it works for me.
I've also learned that quantity is not synonymous with quality. In fact, if I'm writing a scene and it blathers on for 10 pages I get very, very worried. I can write monologues at the drop of a hat. But are they any good?
One of my big breakthroughs writing screenplays came from a note my friend Dante gave me. I won't do it justice so I'll just paraphrase badly: stage directions have to be sexy. In a screenplay, the folks reading the script, the folks you are trying to get money from need to feel and see the movie. You can't expect them to intuit it. And since a script is only a blueprint and not the real thing, you might as well make it a thrilling, interesting ride. It's an inspirational document - a pitch in print. Every "action" is a chance to thrill and chill.
So far, I feel very lucky that I've co-authored 2 plays with my friend Lisa Peterson. One of our plays, "An Iliad" has been produced scores of times and we have toured it around the world to Australia, New Zealand, Egypt, Chile, Abu Dhabi, New York, Arizona, Maryland, Louisiana and California. Our other play, "The Good Book" has been performed at the Court Theatre in Chicago and will have its West Coast premiere at Berkeley Rep in the spring of 2019. Both Lisa and I have been reluctant to call ourselves playwrights but since we are currently writing our 3rd play together and since I've joined the Dramatist's Guild, it might be time to reassess.
I think my reluctance to call myself a writer comes from the great respect I have for great writing. Every time I read a short story in the New Yorker I am both thrilled and depressed. I marvel at the choices the author makes and deflated at my own paltry talent. But I am never too old to learn and so I think about what made the story great and I think about structure and I think about word choice and voicing and I plunge back in and start to write.
Finally, the most important thing for me is that I like to write. I love the feeling of a character appearing and telling me who she is. I love when scenes meander away from my control. I love when I re-read something and it makes my spine tingle because it is alive.
So I can't promise that I'll write much and I can't promise that I'll be shy......I guess it depends on how much time I have on my hands and how angry/curious/passionate I am about a given topic on a given day.
Besides being a musician (hack) and an actor (not bad, not bad), I've always been a writer. I think my earliest writing attempts were all poems - scribbled down in little notebooks which I still have somewhere. I was a paperboy and would take forever to finish my route because I was daydreaming and would sometimes stop and jot down musings and obsessions. Sounds cute. But imagine if you were someone waiting on your Detroit News at 4:00, 4:30, 5:00, 5:30.....
I published my first novel in 5th grade. It was a slim volume entitled, The Crooks, The Crate and The Kids. It was a thriller, of course. The nuns at my school - St. Michael's of Southfield, Michigan - were actually amazing in terms of their pedagogy and the resources they used to educate us. Aside from being encouraged to write our own novels, over in history/social sciences Sr. Paulina would turn on the TV and we would watch the Watergate hearings for at least an hour a day. It was going on and they wanted us to know about it.
Science fiction and action paced books are definitely my go to but as a writer, I've always been drawn to personal drama and stories that are "real life". I have a good ear for dialogue and do find myself fascinated by everyday conversations on the subway, on the street, the table next to me at a restaurant. Well, not always fascinating. Some folks are not that interesting. Sorry.