Fiction, Monologues, Plays & More
It hits around December 17. You’re moving along like usual, maybe stressing out about various holiday to-do lists, over-indulging on the mounds of cookies and peppermints and peanut brittle that have materialized around the office, still believing that tomorrow you’ll start running three miles a day, tomorrow you’ll be more thrifty, tomorrow you’ll start meditating or do that juice cleanse or start/stop/start/stop eating eggs for breakfast, tomorrow you’ll get back to reading War & Peace rather than stupid lists on the internet…
But it’s December 17, you realize. The year is almost gone. All those things you had decided to accomplish back in January, all those new shiny habits you wanted to create, have been collecting dust on the shelf and there’s no time left to dust them off and polish them up, and present them to the world as your legitimate trophies.
So screw it, you say. And you eat a few more gingerbread cookies with crooked frosting buttons. And you forget about it.
Until December 30. When all that sugar goes to your head and you decide you’re going to try again. But this time, you’re going to succeed. This time.
So you make your resolutions.
If you’re a writer, you should read Chuck Wendig’s 25 Writer Resolutions. It’s from last year, but it works for every year. It should be read every day, in fact. Go read it right now.
Did you read it?
Well if you’re not completely overwhelmed by that, or if you’re not so inspired that you’re going to run to your notebook and start penning that Great American Novel right the hell NOW, then here are seven more. A lot of overlap with good ol’ Chuck, but I think most writing advice boils down to one thing anyway: JUST WRITE ALREADY.
1. Write more female characters. Now don’t start rolling your eyes just yet. There’s plenty of data showing that women characters are greatly underrepresented in films particularly, as well as theater (and there’s a lack of female writers being produced as well). This isn’t an accusation that male writers are deliberately attacking women or can’t write well-rounded female characters. This is simply a reflection of the society we have grown up in, a society that automatically puts men and women into particular categories and demonstrates their behaviors and acceptable roles through stories. We simply don’t think about it because it’s programmed in. And human beings learn through stories, and particularly about how we relate to each other, how we relate to the world, what we are capable of, and, most importantly, how to dream. Novels MATTER. Plays MATTER. Movies MATTER. So we, as writers, have to be aware of that. And we have to be aware of representing both women and men deliberately and meaningfully. This doesn’t mean you should only write female characters. This doesn’t mean your main characters all have to be female. Of course not. But as Gina Davis says, look at your characters and really think about it: could this character be female instead of male and would it not matter? What would change about it? If the police officer that shows up is a woman instead of a man, does anything change? Or could it be one more encouraging example to the world: look, [insert typically male figure/character/occupation here] is a woman and it’s not a big deal! Or, conversely: look, [insert typically female figure/character/occupation here] is a man and it’s not a big deal!
2. Write & read outside your comfort zone. We all know what we like. We have certain kinds of movies, certain kinds of books, certain foods, that make us comfortable. We know what to expect. We know we can be happy with this particular thing, or we know we can do something well because we’ve done it over and over. But this is very limiting, both as a person and as a writer. If you’re a science fiction writer, what would happen if you read Jane Austen? If you like romantic comedies, how about watching Pulp Fiction tonight instead? If you only write historical dramas, how about writing a modern farce instead? That doesn’t mean you’ll suddenly like Austen or Tarantino or broad comedy, but hell, it just might make you see things in a different way. Elements might merge together and create something completely new, something completely unique to you.
3. Engage in the writing community rather than simply self-promoting. Self-promoting is a word most of us hate. But with the nature of publishing and theater/film production these days, all artists have to work as their own PR team. But it’s much more than just blasting out facebook invites. It’s about engagement. It’s about connecting with people, having real discussion, and supporting other’s work with real feedback and conversation. So ENGAGE. Go to those readings. Comment in the forums. Take the time to read each other’s work. It’s worth it.
4. Find your writing routine. Seriously. If you don’t have one yet, start paying attention. When do you get the most work done? What excites you the most? What part of writing do you dread the most? Set it up in a way that will become part of your daily/weekly routine, like checking your email or doing laundry. And don’t think you need to function in the same way as another person.
5. Finish something. Even if it’s just a blog entry. Have a novel you’re writing? Finish it. That play in your desk drawer. FINISH it. A short story that stops in the middle of a sentence? GIVE IT A GODDAMN ENDING. That’s the only way you learn. By finishing. Make those critics shut up, the ones in your head that berate you and break you down before you reach the finish line. Whatever you finish will be terrible, I can guarantee that. So don’t worry about it. You’ll rewrite it and it will be better. Then better, and then hopefully great. But, SPOILER ALERT: it will be TERRIBLE at first. So now that that worry is out of the way, finish the damn project.
6. Throw yourself to the wolves. Put your work out there. Find a writers group. Get your play read or workshopped. Find an online forum where you get peer feedback. Just get it out there. It really doesn’t matter what people say. I went through a lot of talkbacks with audiences this year after readings of my plays, and really what I learned was how little what the audience was saying actually was important. What was important was what was underneath their comments, the questions beneath the questions. You’re making them think in certain ways. You’re making them wonder in certain ways. You’re making them try to fix certain things. THAT’S where you extract the meaning and the problems. And two other important things: how you feel and what you hear during a reading (your gut hardly ever lies); and the simple act of experiencing the terror of putting something new and raw in front of people and letting them eat it alive. You’ll fall completely apart and have to build yourself right back up in the span of an afternoon.
7. Believe in yourself. You’re doing this for a reason. You’ll never make everyone happy, so don’t try. If you write what interests you, if you put your passion and heart into it, if you tell the truth, in whatever way that may come out, then great. And it will be hard sometimes and it will seem like a waste of time, but STORIES ARE IMPORTANT, and if you don’t believe in yourself, then no one else will. We just don’t have the time, what with all the facebook invites to send out.
Happy New Year from everyone at Eclectic Voices!
Chelsea Sutton holds a BA in Literature from The College of Creative Studies at UC Santa Barbara. Her plays have had readings and productions in Santa Barbara, New York and Los Angeles and she is currently participating in workshops with the Skylight Theatre Playlab and The Vagrancy Writers Group, as well as spearheading ECT’s writers group, Eclectic Voices. Her play The Dead Woman, was recently named a Semifinalist in the Eugene O’Neill Playwrights Conference 2013. Her fiction has appeared in The Best of Farmhouse Magazine, The Catalyst, Spectrum, and Fictionade, and she was the 2011 Winner of NYC Midnight’s Flash Fiction Contest. Her story The Tick and the Tocking received Honorable Mention in Glimmer Train’s Short Story Award for New Writers. She is a member of the Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative. WithCoffeeSpoons.com