We gathered some advice from our 2014-15 Core Writers and fellows. Read; share; write your face off.
“Write. Just write. Keep writing. Write messy, write sincere, don't write with an eye toward what others want to hear but what you need to say. Then enlist the advice of the smartest people you know, and listen hard—not just to what they're saying but to the message behind what they're saying. Then revise. Ruthlessly revise. Walk away, write another play, circle back, and revise.”
—Core Writer Jenny Connell Davis
“1. Always write the play you'd actually go see.
2. It's okay to write in the style of your hero. After all, your hero ripped off his/her style from somebody else too. But don't tell the same stories as your hero. Yours are way better.
3. The week-long retreat in the woods culminating in the staged reading is great, but don't wait or rely on it to hear your play read. Call some actors, find a room, print some scripts, and get it going. Do this until you run out of favors or until the week-long retreat people finally invite you.”
—Core Writer Idris Goodwin
“Imagine, for a moment, that our national culture is contained within a giant sculpture. I like to think that playwriting is like carrying around a tiny hammer and clinking away at a small crack in that sculpture. Clink clink clink—there you go, just hammering away, masking your vandalism with charm. If your hammer hits the right spot, at the right time, something might combust—in the culture, or in someone's heart. In the meantime, you enjoy your days because you're also a craftsman, desperately in love with the sound the hammer makes.
Use playwriting as an excuse to lead an interesting life. Keep a journal or two—much good can come from fragments. Once you start a new play, don't stop and don't give a damn: Write with a devil-may-care attitude. Write under time constraints and with lots of caffeine. Listen to Fleetwood Mac; remember that you can go your own way.”
—Jerome Fellow Kate Tarker
“I've always wanted to be one of those writers who knows what they're writing right off the bat and gets it done in a couple drafts, but for better or worse, that's just not how my mind operates. I seem to need time to wander. I also am most successful when I allow myself to follow my impulses, even when I don't know where the writing is leading me.”
—Core Writer Lauren Yee
“People shouldn't write like me. They should write like my wife and fellow Playwrights' Center member, Melanie Marnich. She's up at six a.m. every day and writes (journaling at first, then segueing into her project) until at least noon. This leaves the latter part of the day for whatever else she needs to do. This regular schedule allows her to get a tremendous amount done and live a life at the same time. Remarkable.”
—Core Writer Lee Blessing
“I'm a big fan of the belief that the audience can only truly understand a character by seeing how that character reacts to a given situation. I'm not a big fan of internal rumination; if you want to show me who someone is, have them respond to something. In this sense, I'm a bigger believer in character revelation than character development.”
—Many Voices Mentee Max Delgado
“Act. Paint sets. Work in the box office. Bug the marketing department's meetings. Bug the women's restroom at the intermission of your plays (this advice from Sherry Kramer). Don't bother to bug the men's room. Men don't talk about plays in restrooms. Pretend you're the A.D. of the Guthrie and pick a season. How long would you survive in the job choosing the plays you say you'd choose? Read Act One. See Moon Over Broadway. Imagine yourself in a different profession.”
—Core Writer Jeffrey Hatcher
“I’ve always found it paralyzing to think too much about how my career is going—’career’ can be a very intimidating word for an artist. So I say: think about your next opening night. If you don’t have an opening night on the calendar, get out there and hustle, or produce it yourself. Think about your next reading, or your next draft. Hopefully, if you’re always focusing on your next project, years will pass and you’ll look back and say, ‘What an interesting career I had while I was distracted from worrying about it.’
When I’m writing, I try to force my own hand as often as possible. Before almost anything else—before I probably should—I’ll choose some dramatic ingredients and a structure, and I’ll commit to them. I feel more comfortable treating a play like a logic puzzle than a voyage into the unknown, because every puzzle asks the same question: Given this story and these characters, what’s personal or intimate here? What do I really think about all this? And how do I either escape from this corner I’ve painted myself into or decide that this is where I live now?”
—Jerome Fellow Steve Moulds
“Patience is key. I have to remind myself this all the time. I find most of the time, if I'm struggling with some aspect of playwriting—regardless of what it is—the answer is usually ‘Just be patient.’ I think ‘relax’ is some of the most difficult advice to receive, but, man, if you can just relax and take it all in, you've got it made.”
—Core Writer Philip Dawkins
“Write a lot. Read a lot. See a lot of theater, film, dance, opera—everything. Be curious, about the world and about the theater and what you can make it do. Get your head away from your phone and computer, and just let your brain go to those places of creation. Also, find the people who feed your process and your work and keep going back to them.”
—Core Writer Kathryn Walat
“I think writing is a lot of learning to play the right mental tricks on yourself. There’s a moment in The Last Crusade when Indiana Jones is at the edge of a cliff. He takes a step into air and a path appears that he hadn’t seen from the angle he was standing. I think that a career in the theater is a lot like that. Constantly. Every line you write, every time you send out a play, every day—is a leap of faith. But if you keep stepping forward, a path will appear.”
—Jerome Fellow Deborah Yarchun
“Listen. Listening requires more energy, more life force; it’s more than just hearing. Our ears are constantly trying to filter out what we want to hear versus what we have to hear. Listening is vulnerable, powerful, urgent—dangerous, but it forces us to be present with what or who is in front of us and inside of us. That’s why theater is such an intense experience for me, it makes me listen and it makes me respond truthfully.”
—Jerome Fellow Josh Wilder
“Resist comparison; focus on your relationship to the process of writing; put your heart into your work; and write your face off. Don’t be precious about it—some of the writing will be brilliant and some will be crap—but keep making more work. It's important to be thoughtful and patient, but the real learning happens in writing and making.”
—Core Writer Joe Waechter
“Don't wait on people to say yes. There's nothing more exhilarating than getting a call from someone out of the blue saying, ‘We want to produce your play.’ But until that day comes, continue to make theater with your best collaborators. Make theater in your living room. In elevators. In cars. Wherever. Just do it, and get people to come see it. You learn more through production and watching an audience than anything else. Also, don't complain too much, and leave your ego at the door.”
—Core Writer Gabriel Jason Dean
“I am new to playwriting, but what has helped me is being observant and curious about people and their realities as they exist everywhere. I always hear people say the craziest, most profound, and poignant things on the bus. It makes me think of certain kinds of characters and archetypes that surround us in our mundane living that speak to the tremendous universality of the human experience.”
—Many Voices Mentee Junauda Petrus
“I’ve realized that even trusted colleagues are good at identifying the flaws of a play but their solution is not necessarily correct, and their conflicting advice can be confusing. Stay open-minded enough to examine the section of the play that draws criticism, but trust yourself enough to solve the problems within your own play.
Find your collaborators. Too often playwrights are separate from the rest of the people involved in putting the play onstage. Meet designers. Be not only a writer, but a theater artist. Find your way into the room and teach people that you belong there.”
—Core Writer Susan Soon He Stanton
“Quit while you're ahead. OK… If you haven't… Seek like-minded artists and follow your own sense of meaning and joy. Don't wait to be sanctioned or to ‘arrive.’ Practice generosity to other artists. Be curious. Most important by 100x: if you're a writer—Write. Schedule your time and write every day.”
—Core Writer Christine Evans