(Discover the Inspiration)
At Spokane Playwrights Laboratory our singular focus is on the journey, growth and support for the playwright. Last week, Scott wrote about the process we go through with all of our playwrights as we embark on a life changing journey that exists in the halls of free creation. This week, I will share a story about my exploratory process and how I ultimately ditched the claims of being purely an “Inspiration Writer” for a new mindset.
A little backstory…
I have always been a nosey neighbor to the mainstream. Carefully watching but never engaging. Whether being a homeschooled kid making puppet shows with my family, or playing Tom Robinson in To Kill A Mockingbird at EWU, one thing was always certain with Dahveed: It will be a unique experience for the audience.
While most of my contemporaries dove deeply into the glorious lands of Wicked and found wells to pull from in the high belts of Defying Gravity, I poured my mind into the depths of the college programs library in the hopes that if I wished hard enough I could will a local production of Sleuth by Anthony Shaffer. As a writer though, I wanted to find voices that filled me with fire and set me to my laptop ablaze with a handful of matches posing as fingertips.
I read and read and read.
The value of reading others’ work is undeniable, but I was procrastinating, wasn’t I? Hoping that within the words of others I could be shot by the lightning bolt of Inspiration that keeps you making art for a lifetime. So, what could I do?
And so I did.
How many writers have fully finished productions renting space in their minds? Personally speaking, I had a lot of those. Early 2013 I bought this little laptop that only had enough power to be a writing machine. On this laptop resided about a dozen ten minute plays, half as many one acts and the bare bones for two full lengths. It was a two year explosion. When I was writing music, I had never experienced such a flurry of Inspiration before. I dubbed myself an “Inspiration Writer.”
A house of cards has an inevitable fall.
What did I mean by that though? In retrospect I’d say I meant that I was lazily leaving work unfinished in a trade off to simply feel capable. I had my very own illusion of completion that pushed me into unearned confidence.
I used to write on my breaks at my midday job. One day I went to the back room to splatter a scene I’d been dreaming about all morning and my laptop was gone. I searched the most ridiculous places (Yes, I mean the mop bucket) before giving up and accepting that it was gone. Whether I left it on the bus that morning, or the new guy (who swore it wasn’t him) stole it, the truth was knocking the doors in my head. My artistic expressions were gone. I was devastated and beyond discouraged.
How could I possibly be inspired to write it all again? I chased my plots like confetti in a windstorm. Begging God to help me reshape a tornado from memory.
I sat at the keyboard of an old, dusty desktop feeling uninspired. I slumped in the home I grew up in like a pouting child. The milk was spilled, and my negativity unleashed.
I’m useless without wind in my sails..
Nobody wants to read my words anyways.
This is a sign to quit.
You wouldn’t have lost your work if you weren’t stupid.
The self-talk was cruel and unfounded.
I took a breath and retreated into a place that exists only in my mind.
The Crystal Ballroom.
I’ll tell you specifics about this place later.
I imagined a studio apartment filled with everything you’d picture a bachelor to have. Boxes still unpacked with slurpee cups on top of them. The same 2 for $3.00 cans of malt liquor strewn around. A couch with a Star Wars blanket carefully laid over the motionless, breathing body of Frank. A knock on the door, and Luis entered the stage and said, “Wake up dude!”
Suddenly I began striking my fingers. Unsure of what the characters would say next. Pieces began to fall like leaves in November. Something happened after I wrote “Act 2” at the top of the page… I didn’t stop and take a break.
I was Inspired.
But how? I wasn’t when I began. What changed?
Through the choice to get over the hump (As George Clinton would advise in Parliament’s Endangered Species), I found the nuggets of Inspiration just by playing the universal techniques of “Yes And” from my improv background. The tennis match created scenes, which created Acts, which created a play.
The process of playwriting for me is so simple it’s almost frustrating.
A first draft has only one purpose: To exist.
So I’ve rambled, but what am I saying? I’m trying to encourage you as someone who has been, and at times still is, in that headspace. If you have even a small itch to write.. Do it. Give yourself a chance, put it down on paper. You may surprise yourself with how you find Inspiration after you’ve been in the dirt awhile.
And trust me, we at SPL love what comes out of the dirt.
Thanks for reading.