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8 Ways to Rationalize Not Writing

I should be writing right now.

That’s something I find myself saying a lot. I say it way more often than I actually listen to myself and start to write. I’m an expert in procrastination and rationalizing my reasons not to write. Here’s some of my rationalization favorites:

1. I’m so tired/stressed/overwhelmed right now that if I tried to write, anything I wrote would just be total crap.
This is bullshit. Often it just takes the simple act of getting started and lines start to get written. It’s like magic… you sit down to write, and writing happens. Insane, I tell you! I spent basically all of undergrad feeling stressed, overwhelmed, and sleep deprived (hooray for double majors!), and I still got all my work done. And (usually) did well. And even if what I wrote that day WAS total crap, there’s a little thing called revision to fix it all later. “I’ll fix it later” really is a wonderful mantra.

2. I’m in the middle of [insert book title, or better yet, book series], and I should finish that off before I start a new writing project, because otherwise I’ll get distracted from the book and forget what’s been happening.
There’s probably a reason why I decided to finally pick up Harry Potter this past spring. On book six now! But yeah. It’s called “read a little after that night’s writing session.” Problem easily solved. And yet it’s one of my favorite excuses.

3. The cats like to climb all over my desk and my chair, so I can never get any work done.
Coffeeshop, anyone? Library, perhaps? Or even just “work from the couch”?

4. Updating my website or posting to twitter counts as being “writing related” because it’s part of the whole “self-marketing” thing.
Because it will do a LOT of good trying to get local theatre companies to learn more about me if I never have anything to actually send them. And as you can see, I’ve had trouble lately even feeling like I have something inetersting enough to blog about. Still, this is a particularly dangerous excuse, because techically I am doing something tangentially related to writing, which can easily be rationalized into feelings of productivity. Ohhh yes.

5. Watching this movie or tv show or reading this book is helping me research my next play.
This is something that totally CAN be true. Research is good and often necessary before diving into the writing stage. But there’s a point where it becomes a convenient way to put off starting the actual writing. I’m good at this one because it’s kind of related to #2 on this list, only it’s much easier to rationalize because the time-waster is at least somewhat writing related.

6. I don’t have to get this done for another three weeks because that’s when my writing group is meeting next.
This one is probably my biggest problem. I’m terrible at getting things done if I don’t have a deadline staring me in the face. Then I inevitably stress out and churn something together as it gets down to the wire. I have to stop working like this. Or at least get better at pacing myself.

7. I suddenly need to vacuum the living room rug, scrub out the bathroom sink, do the dishes, and organize my bookshelf by genre, author, and book size.
I think one speaks for itself.

8. I am suddenly obsessed with these videos of people playing 80s and 90s hits on Mario Paint and I need to watch them for an hour while Final Draft sits open in another window.
This almost killed me when I was working on the final paper for my Pulitzer Prize-Winning Plays class.

Does anyone else out there have any other favorite forms of rationalization? Or any tips on combatting them and just getting started?

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Do not want

My apologies, but I have to nerd out here for a minute. Real nerds probably heard about this already, but I just discovered it last night.

Let me start off by saying that one of my nerd-facets is that I love the original three Star Wars movies. Love them. And I hate the prequels with a passion. And I also hate all of the “enhancements” to the original movies that have been going on since 1997 when the “special editions” were released in the theaters. I have no problem with digital enhancement–I don’t mean the changes where he went in and changed the footage of the old movies to make them look all CGI-ified–I mean like the versions in the 1995 VHS release that were cleaned up and THX-ed and looked really good. If those had been released in widescreen format they would have been perfect. I don’t like CGI-ing the old technology, which was amazing in its day. I don’t like Jabba appearing in A New Hope. I don’t like Hayden Christensen being digitally inserted into the “ghost” scene at the end of Return of the Jedi instead of old-Annakin. And I definitely don’t like Greedo Shooting First.

But this newest change, made for the blu-ray release of the Star Wars movies, has hit a new low. There’s a key scene at the end of Return of the Jedi where the Emperor is electrocuting Luke, and then Darth Vader silently watches before getting up and using all of his strength to pick up the Emperor and throw him over the ledge. When you’re a kid and you’re watching that for the first time, you have this moment of “what’s he going to do?” when he stands up that is just so powerful (shut up, it is). And you can even sense some of his pain behind his mask. And it’s just awesome. If I have kids someday I want them to have that experience. What I don’t want them to see is this:

Yes. George Lucas, in his infinite wisdom, has seen it fit to add dialogue to Darth Vader in this scene, so that he now cries, “Noo… nooooo!” before saving his son. WHY??? I do not understand this. No doubt his is trying to parallel this scene from Revenge of the Sith, when Annakin has just transformed into Darth Vader only to be told that his wife has died:

And I can totally hear George Lucas in my head saying, “See, it flashes back to that the scene where Padme died, only this time he can change things” and thinking that he’s being SO DEEP. Why doesn’t he employ a staff of people who will slap him upside the head and tell him when something is a stupid idea? That scene from Revenge of the Sith is laughably embarrassing, but the prequels are just awful as a whole so it’s not as egregious. But when he messes with the classics, it just makes me so angry. STOP RUINING MY CHILDHOOD. STOP RUINING CLASSIC FILMS THAT HAVE HISTORICAL VALUE. HOW ARE YOU THE SAME PERSON WHO MADE STAR WARS AND AMERICAN GRAFITTI AND INDIANA JONES??? NOOOOOOO!

I didn’t buy the 2004 dvd releases when word came out that they would be further cleanups of the “Special Edition” versions from the late-90s. I refused to buy them until the original theatrical releases came out, which George Lucas said would never happen because they allegedly don’t exist anymore. But a few years ago he DID release them on dvd, though they were included as “bonus material” on what was marketed as “your chance to purchase each movie as an individual dvd rather than in a box set.” And Best Buy sold them in a collector’s tin, so it feels like a box set, so fuck you George Lucas. But the originals were taken from the laserdisc version, so while you do get the entire picture rather than the pan-and-scan fullscreen of the 1995 VHS tapes, it’s not dvd quality. But it’s the best I can do right now. I keep hoping that this is just a phase, kind of like how for awhile there was a phase of colorizing old black-and-white films before people realized that the original black-and-white has value and is better. But I seriously think George Lucas has lost his mind. Hire a writer, you dumbass.

*For those who may not understand where the title for this blog comes from, see the origin of the “do not want” meme, from a Chinese bootleg copy of Revenge of the Sith:

donotwant-thumb-490x268

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Freedom Art: A summary of epic proportions

A couple weeks ago, I had the privilege of traveling up to North Conway, NH, with ten other theatre artists on Playwrights’ Commons’ Freedom Art Retreat. The experience was nothing short of amazing. I’ve already blogged and twittered about it during that week, but it totally deserves a full-out blog review–with pictures! (Pictures are courtesy of Ilana Brownstein unless otherwise noted… hooray for not having a decent camera!)

We went up to the woods for a week with the intention of spending a week on collaborative theatre projects–brainstorming, creating, and sharing. And also having a dance party. The natural surroundings were inspiring.

Frogs! And the food was wonderful because Ilana is an awesome cook. She even invented The Playwright–the new signature cocktail of Playwrights’ Commons. yum.

Heading into the retreat, I basically only knew Emily from my playwriting class at BU. And Ilana, who organized the retreat, taught my dramaturgy course last year. But I went into it not knowing most of the fellow participants. In simple terms, there were three designers, three dramaturgs, and three playwrights, but everyone had such a wide range of skills–designers who were equally as strong playwrights, playwrights who could also act and direct, dramaturgs who write fiction–basically everyone was multitalented. It made me think about what else I had to bring to the plate besides playwriting, so I started thinking a lot about my dance background, which I’ve always wanted to try to weave into my writing more.

Our first night there, we each showcased about ten minutes of our own personal work, as a way of introducing ourselves and our styles to each other. The next morning we broke into our first collaboration groups and were given five hours to go off with our groups and just see what we could create. It felt overwhelming at first. My group, fight choreographer/writer Meron and dramaturg Corianna, together with the awesomeness that is Phil the intern, walked down to the beach, talking about how when we were little we would have been in the woods looking for fairies and wishing to play with baby foxes. We began at the beach by taking a look at the fun stage weapons that Meron had brought with him, including a katana. We talked about the possibility of doing some sort of movement piece and highlighting the juxtaposition of violence and peace. We continued to brainstorm–what did we have with us that was not a violent instrument?–and came up with a bottle of bubbles. This led to attempting to pop bubbles with a katana, which is pretty difficult. We let the whole group share in this exercise that night:

This little experiment led us to crafting the idea for a children’s fairytale play in which the hero is given a magical sword that at first appears unbeatable, until he is confronted with a problem that the sword is completely unsuited for. We played off the saying that “if your only tool is a hammer, all of your problems look like nails.” We talked more about the fairies and baby foxes. And we presented the outline of our story to the group that night.

The wonderful duo of Phil and Corianna also worked out a song that our Bard will sing to our hero about the legend of Hammer, the magical sword. Video is from this Playwrights’ Commons blog post, which I also mentioned in a previous post. It’s worth posting again because the song is awesome.

The next morning, we continued working with these same groups for a couple more hours to expand on what we’d started. We wrote one of the scenes, in which our hero, feeling a bit arrogant with his new powerful sword, mistakenly attacks his little fox friend and then admonishes the fox for getting in his way, much to the horror of the fox and the Bard.

That afternoon, it was time for new groups! This time, instead of three groups of three with Phil floating among all of them, we broke into two groups of five with the mission to explore our surroundings, find a place to be inspired by, and craft a five- to ten-minute piece of site-specific theatre. I worked with Phil, dramaturg Tyler, playwright Nina, and designer Allie. Maybe it was the rain that had fallen that morning, the woods, or just something about New Hampshire, but both groups separately conceived of ghost stories. Our group found a boulder next to a water supply shed reading “No Trespassing” that we thought it might be fun to explore. We talked about things ranging from hobbit residences to coming-of-age stories. Then we noticed the broken headlight glass on the road near our site, a broken Yield sign on the ground, and a crutch tied to a tree branch. We team-wrote a piece about a group of teenagers who had died in a car accident and their friend who survived it. The survivor revisits the site of the crash, where the spirits of his friends, unseen to him, are discussing their lives that could have been.

Acting at its finest by me right there. 😛 At the end, the friend lifts his bottle to the memory of his friends and walks away, while his friends return the gesture.

The next day was field trip day! We went up to Wildcat Mountain, which I’ve blogged briefly about before. There was a zipline ride:

A gondolda ride up to the summit (photo by Nina Morrison):

Some hiking around the summit:

And of course, because we were a bunch of theatre nerds, pretending we were in The Sound of Music:

We also hiked a (small) portion of the Appalachian Trail:

Which led to this amazing lookout tower:

All in all, a great field trip day. Ilana had told the designers in advance to use our field trip as inspiration for our next group project, in which the designers would serve as generative artists. Our designer had been inspired by the juxtaposition of all this man-made stuff (gondolas, ziplines, hiking trails) in a place of nature. We devised a movement/sound piece that would address the subversion of nature by technology and how that reflects on interpersonal relationships. I sadly have no pictures of this piece. If anyone posts any later I will add them. We had a crazy six-minute soundscape piece created by our phenomenal designer Jason, while dramaturg Tyler and I crafted the “script,” which consisted of only four spoken words. It was so amazing to work on something like this. I had never written any sort of movement piece before, and this type of collaborative environment was the perfect way to try one for the first time. It felt safe to experiment with things. Jason’s sound piece really felt like it scripted the entire show because it defined the emotional beats that Tyler and I worked out, so we knew how long to flesh out each moment for. Jason also made this really cool video backdrop that we played on the tv. It was so interesting to see how simply (and inexpensively) a multimedia piece could be done.

Our final full day there saw us working with groups of our choice–and everybody agreed that we wanted to split into groups of people we had not worked with (or worked closely with) yet, so I broke off with Allie and our dramaturg Amanda (which, coincidentally, makes Emily, the only person I really knew heading into the retreat, the only person I never shared a group with). We began discussing things we hadn’t gotten to work on yet–Allie, who works on puppetry design, had done a puppet piece the previous day and was eager to try something new. We somehow got onto the topic of the elusive games closet that apparently existed on the second floor but hadn’t been explored. This led to talking about board games and taglines from games (“Sorry!” “Go directly to jail.” etc.). I mentioned how I have always hated the Game of Life because it is so unlike real life. We talked about how sad it is that the purpose of the game is to make the most money. Our dramaturg got to work on researching the history of the game, and we were shocked to learn that it originated as a parlor game in the 1860s and was called “The Checkered Game of Life” because the board was laid out like a checkerboard. The object of this version of the game was to collect 100 points by landing on “good deed” spaces, culminating in “Happy Old Age” at the top, which was worth 50 points. It had some elements similar to the modern game Chutes and Ladders, where landing on a “good” quality like “Honesty” would move you forward to the “Happiness” space but landing on “bad” qualities like “Intemperance” would lead you back to spaces like “Poverty.” And there was also a “Suicide” spot on the board. We borrowed some of these elements from the historical game, coupled them with the modern game, and created a ten-minute play about one man’s journey through the Game of Life. We played with a lot of the conventions of the game.

Because we had to perform the piece with lots of paper signs to keep track of, we had some of our fellow retreaters read the script for us as we sort of pantomimed it out. It was so weird because this style of presentation arose out of necessity, but in the discussion afterward, the group thought that that style actually worked for the piece and that it could easily be adapted into a larger-than-life puppet-type show. Which is hilarious considering that Allie specifically said that she had had her fill of puppet shows for the retreat. It’s always really interesting for me when a choice that is made out of necessity ends up opening up a whole new well of ideas.

And that’s what a lot of this entire week was about. Working with who we had, what we had, and the resources all of us could bring to the table and seeing what we could make out of it. I learned a lot about my own process, and I learned that I love collaborative projects even more than I’d realized before the retreat. I love working with other people and getting to create something even better than I could have made on my own. I went into grad school not knowing anyone else who wrote plays. After I finished school, I knew a nice group of amazing writers, but I didn’t know many other theatre artists working in different disciplines. I now have a group that consists of not only writers but dramaturgs, sound designers, puppet designers, and fight directors who I feel I could call on when a project needed it. It made me want to work collaboratively so much more often. Too much of playwriting seems to take place alone at your computer, trying not to cry or rip your hair out with frustration (well, maybe that’s just my own personal process). I also hadn’t created any new work since my dad died. The support that this group offered helped me feel strong enough to dive into new projects again and to once again feel excited about my work. It made me feel like I could really belong in the greater theatre/artistic community and reaffirmed that this is what I want to be doing with my life.

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Wildcat Mountain photos and video!

Everyone should check out a photo slideshow and zipline videos on the Playwrights’ Commons blog.

As I said before, I forgot my camera, so this is great to see. In the “view from the ride” video, I am said “playwright waving in the distance.”

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Like the theatre camp I never got to go to

It’s the weekend before I head out into the woods for a week on the Freedom Art Retreat! I’ll be joining a small group of playwrights, designers, and dramaturgs for a week of collaboration and creating. And also swimming. It’s like how when I was younger and I had friends who were going to theatre camp, only this time I actually get to go with them.

I got to meet everyone on Thursday night, which was really cool. I already knew Emily from school, and I’d briefly met a couple others at the Playwright Nights Out that I’ve gone to, but there were some people I hadn’t met before. It’s a really great group. I’m still nervous though. Like first-day-of-school nervous. What if they all become super-best friends and I am on the outside? haha. I didn’t have trouble making friends with my BU MFA class (unless they’re all just humoring me? ;)). But I still get nervous. The group is awesome though and I know I’ll be fine. I’m sort of half-joking about being afraid of them all going off and making friends without me. 😛 It will be fun. Want to see pictures of where we’re staying? Check out this post from the Playwrights’ Commons blog. ooh, pretty! yay!

I also got to go to the July Playwright Night Out meetup last week. It was good that I went because I missed the June one. I got to meet John Shea, another (far more established) Somerville playwright. That was pretty cool. He knew my mother’s Recreation friends, reinforcing the stereotype that everyone from Somerville somehow knows everyone else. And I met my brother’s playwriting professor from Stonehill. That was random and funny. Saw some people I recognized from the May meetup and met some new people who had been there in June who I’d missed out on meeting last time. I feel like I’ve been in super-social mode lately. It’s weird. I also got to see Matt & Ben at the Central Square Theatre last night. That was fun. Really funny. AND it technically took place in Somerville even though it’s all inside Ben’s apartment. It’s up for another week–you should all go if you haven’t! hehe. The only thing I’m sad about is that I’ll probably have to miss 1001 at Company One. This week coming up is the final week, and I’ll be away. And with all the picking up prescriptions and packing and doing laundry to do before Monday morning, I just don’t think I’ll have time. I’ve heard great things about that show and I really wanted to try to make it.

So yes, just a couple more days and then it’s off to “theatre camp.” I’m really excited about it. Hopefully I will get some really cool collaborative-y ideas and work done. I love the idea of collaborating on a project from the start. I think a lot of interesting new theatre is being created that way. Because Cooperation Makes It Happen. Why do I remember that song from almost 30 years ago? There’s something wrong with me.

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Barking cat

The best part is when he notices the camera and is like, “umm… I mean… meow! ..Nothing to see here.”

Sometimes you need things like this to get you through the day.

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