Write What You Know...But Don't Post It

So, as many of you know, I've joined the 31 Plays in 31 Days group, which is basically NaNoWriMo for playwriting.

And as many of you also know, I think I can safely brag that I'm no slouch when it comes to writing new plays.

So imagine my surprise, then, when on the first day of writing...I found myself completely out of ideas.

Ladies and gentlemen, This. Simply. Does. Not. Happen.

Terry Pratchett, one of my favourite authors of All Time, writes several times in his novels (such as in Wyrd Sisters) that he believes the universe is full of ideas that just sleet down through the sky.  Most people may only be hit a few times in their lives - while there are some other (un)fortunate few who, like specially tuned magnets, are pummeled with this ideological sleet nearly every moment of their lives.

He then goes on to make fun of William Shakespeare and the musical Cats, which can only be to the good, but the idea of ideas sleeting from the sky has always seemed an apt metaphor.

Most authors lament that the first question anyone wants to ask them is: "How did you come up with that idea?!?"  Much like the actor's dreaded, "How did you memorize all those lines?!?!?" this question is both impractical and infuriating to answer.  How did I come up with that idea?  Why the idea has been there all along.  It lodged itself in me, and I've been trying to exorcise it from me ever since!  (Actors in this regard have it considerably easier, since they "merely" have to memorize someone else's ideas, which they can then keep or more usually discard as pleases them.  Lucky actors.)

So, again, imagine my surprise when on day one of writing, I sit down to my computer...and have nothing to say.

What surprised me, more, is that all the usual suspects bobbed to the surface, only to disappear soon after.  They were all too long; too involved for a day's worth of writing.  Too much for a page or five.

I stared at the screen.

It stared at me.

I waited for the universe to sleet down ideas.

The universe was silent.

And so I was forced to go to that well within me, and lo and behold, I ended up writing a very personal play.  That was followed by a completely useless Mr. Bean-lite, and another David Ivesian pursuit of verbal futility...and then another dangerously personal play.  And one more - a musical, this time, naturally.

As a result, I've absolutely nothing I'm going to show anyone right now!

What surprised me about the need to move inward was that I have long been a proponent of "Write What is True and Mask It."  Being a fan of fantasy, I enjoy a distancing device - be it poetry, or dance, or another country, or another time.  I enjoy style.  I find it stylish.  Nor do I think that there's dishonesty in those pieces I've written stylistically.  As Stephen Sondheim wrote, "Content Dictates Form."

But what style also allows for is presentation.  Should I post at least three of the five plays I've written so far, there are those who would recognize themselves (and myself) right away.  I was interested to see, as well, how much those three plays were done in silence (always saving the musical, where one can sing what one feels).

I feel like it's been a while since I've really had a good silent scene (a la Hamlet about 6 min in, or Romeo and Juliet about 16 minutes in, or my most recent Macbeth in the silence after we killed all the Macduffs) - and silence is always more revealing.

We'll see what comes in the remainder of the month!  But what about you?  Do you draw primarily from within or are you pelted from without?  Sound off in the comments!  And if you have time, make sure you join up for this great playwriting adventure!


  1. Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane in "Gaudy Night" are echoing through my mind again:

    Harriet: I'm afraid to try that, Peter. It might go too near the bone.

    Peter: It might be the wisest thing you could do.

    Harriet: Write it out and get rid of it?

    Peter: Yes.

    Harriet: I'll think about that. It would hurt like hell.

    Peter: What would that matter, if it made a good book?

    All right, so you have to substitute "play" for "book", but you get the idea. But what's really almost bellowing in my head is this quote:

    "You haven't yet," he went on, "written the book you could write if you tried. Probably you couldn't write it when you were too close to things. But you could do it now..."

    I frequently find Lord Peter and Harriet in that particular book of Dorothy L. Sayers' coming to mind for things like this, and it has yet again. Probably because she wrote an awful lot of Truth into it. And to be honest, I'm not entirely sure those quotes were solely for you. But if you find any use in them, as always, have at them.


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