The Thrill of the Deadline

I’m about 80 pages into the first draft of a 2-act play—cobbled together over months of writing on Saturdays and holidays. Seeing what I still have left to do with it, that feels about right. I just mapped out what generally needs to happen over the rest of the play. There are some mysteries to uncover—and lots of rewriting to be done—but my characters have had a strong Saturday, taking me on a tour of their world with an unusual amount of clarity today, and I feel good, even with my deadline looming (March 6).

So why have I stopped? To start this play, I found it necessary to start writing a different play—its prequel—to figure out who the mother and father characters were before they were a mother and father. I recommend this little trick. Not only was it ridiculously helpful, but now I have another play that awaits my return. Unfortunately (perhaps) I have to go back to it now, because I have to figure out another huge piece of the father’s history, and it won’t service this play to gloss over it. It’s got to be exact. And working through it in the context of the prequel will actually be the fast way to deal with it. Presumably.

There is a certain thrill in the detour. My playwriting professor told us that the best plays are the ones you write to avoid writing the play you are supposed to be writing. And there is always a bit of joy when you can find an honest reason to procrastinate. Procrastinating is like readying a catapult: you turn the wheel and turn the wheel and turn the wheel, letting the tension build, and then you release at just the right moment.

I was telling our dramaturg this week that the institutional support of a playwright is great, but what playwrights need more than anything is a deadline. As that deadline gets closer, it gets harder not to write. As I’ve said, there is nothing easier in the world to do than not write a play. Anything that makes it harder not to write is a wonderful gift. As a deadline approaches, fear of failure takes over. Not that you’re play will fail (you’re pretty sure it will), but that you will fail to finish it. It’s like those reality television shows when the contestants just want to send something down the runway, put something in front of the judges. Anything. Decisions you’ve agonized over have to be made now! Scenes you’ve written and rewritten in your head have to make it onto the page now! There’s no time to be sentimental. There’s no time to let your words be precious. There’s no time to stop and write a blog about it. Oh. Whoops!

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