Thursday, June 17, 2010

Write Every Day?

Well, if you're a writer, why not?

365 Sketches seems to have inspired debate amongst writers about the value of writing every day.


Some interesting reactions. Took me by surprise because "write every day" wasn't the point of me doing "365 Sketches." I don't believe in writer's block. There is simply writing or not writing. Got writer's block? Write something. No more writer's block. I also believe writing can be an act of improvisation. All you need is to start with something - a location, a relationship, a title - and begin writing. Discover the scene as you write. "365 Sketches" is my demonstration that writer's block is a load of hooey.

Does writing every day make you a better writer? I think it does. It develops your writing muscles and allows you to handle and process any ideas that come your way. It trains your brain to write and orient towards the writing process. There seems to be some misconception that this also takes a lot of time. It doesn't. Just writing ten-to-thirty minutes a day will do this for you. And even if you're just writing a sketch-a-week, that's plenty of time to develop and polish a first draft. During 365, I would typically spend an hour to an hour-and-a-half on a first draft and then leave it alone until it was time to post the scene before going to bed. Then I would format the scene and do whatever tweaking or editing I wanted.

But just like doing push-ups every day, there's a benefit, but you'll end up looking like Stretch Armstrong. There's other things to do to round out your development.

- Challenge yourself to write different things. 365 is a variety of scenes, songs, dada/absurdism, poetry, audio bits and monologues. Learn new things and use them. Take classes to learn new things, read books and magazines you wouldn't normally pick up. Be curious about the people you encounter. Readers of "365 Sketches" will get some education about Shakespeare, coffee, Viagra, morning after abortion pills, Robinson Crusoe and different genres. They'll also learn about things that happened to me and friends of mine. And write stuff you'll have fun writing. That's why you'll find 365 loaded with zombies, vampires, aliens from space and unicorns. Shut up about the unicorns.

- Get feedback. I posted my scenes live everyday and invited feedback in the comments section. Here's the thing about feedback - listen to it all and do what you want. Make changes because they resonate with you.

- Seek out feedback from people you trust and respect. In addition allowing myself to receive feedback from anyone, I also sought out feedback from Robot vs. Dinosaur. These are my peeps. They'll give it to me straight and make useful suggestions.

- Don't write every day. That's crazy! Be consistent. Write regularly. Treat it like a part-time job. But only write five days a week and give yourself breaks. Only write every day if you're trying to prove a point. Writing every day can lead to burnout. I did not write a scene on day 366. I took a month off before writing another scene and going back in to the archive to see if I wanted to rewrite any of the 365.

At the end of the day, did writing 365 sketches make me a better writer? Yes. When we put up all 365 sketches live at Strawdog, I was worried that the shows would simply diminish in quality. We did 26 shows, each one featuring two weeks of material. Happy to report that show 26 was one of the best of the lot.

But, Joe, you allowed yourself to rewrite. Any suck ass scenes you posted you made better during the rewrite process. Well, check it out for yourself. The originals can be found on-line and you can compare them to the book. Most of what I did in the rewrite stage is fix typos and trim or add a line here or there. Anything that received a significant revision is noted under the title in the book. So, what does that say? That I'm just damn good? Well, yes. But it's more a testament of the training and experience I have received in writing and improvisation (Second City, iO, WNEP, Robot vs. Dinosaur, Improvised Shakespeare, Chicago Dramatists, Columbia College). I know how to write scenes with interesting characters that have a beginning, middle and end.

Anyone can write a sketch a day for a year. Anyone. What made the difference for me was painting myself in a corner. I gathered support from my friends before starting it. I posted live on-line every day. I had the intention that they would all be performed live and got directors on board during the process. If I had just declared I was going to do it and then wrote them all on my own, I likely would not have finished. Or I would have cheated and crammed writing five scenes into a weekend most weekends. And most of them would have sucked. Posting every day and knowing people were reading them and that they would be produced gave me the drive to make them the best I could and to strive to not repeat myself.