Meeting Challenges Head-On

IMG_3373One of the decisions I made for 2017 was to do things that are difficult. One night I was thinking that it had been too long since I did something that was really hard for me, where I really challenged myself.

I felt this was especially important because I have finished one major writing project (my screenplay) and have not started another yet. Well, the screenplay is not “finished,” exactly. But I like the draft I have, and I am taking a break from continuously nitpicking at it. I figured I could use some distance from it while I wait to hear from people who are looking at funding it.
Any decisions in that regard have been put on hold for a few months to wait and see what this Trump presidency will do to investments in entertainment, if anything. That’s fine. I get it.

But that means I really should be starting a new project. I have had an idea for a novel floating about my head since about ten years ago, when I furiously wrote twenty-five pages. However, for some reason, I’m just not “feeling” it. So I have done nothing with that for the time being.

Kelly Raymer, M street coffee shop
This is Kelly!

Then I had dinner with a writer friend, Kelly, a month or so ago. I had previously met him at a screenwriters’ networking event when I had first jumped into the challenge of writing a screenplay. We decided to meet at a restaurant where one of his playwright friends works as a manager. I had actually met Peter a few months prior when I gave him access to my house to
film a short that he had written.

 

 

Once the hostess showed us our seats, Peter spotted us and came over to greet us. After exchanging hugs and pleasantries, he asked me, eagerness spilling out, ”Did Kelly tell you about our project?”

No, he had not. But we had just sat down. There was plenty of time for that. Instead, we caught up on our writing and our families, and then it was time to order. As soon as we placed our order, Peter and the question came around again.

“Did he tell you about our project?

Nope, not yet.

Italian house
Yep, I could live here (this is Manarola, Italy).

Kelly and I shared stories of dogs, of travels, and of dreams to move from LA. We threw out possibilities that ranged from North Carolina to the Italian coast. Then the food came. And Peter returned.

“Did he tell you about our project yet?”

No, not yet.

“Come on! Tell her about our project,” came the reply.

So between bites of Cobb salad, I finally heard about their project. Both Kelly and Peter hail from Texas, and they have worked on a number of projects together. In Texas, they remembered a live theater production of ten plays that were ten-minutes each. They want to replicate such a production here in LA.

cheerleaderIt sounded ambitious and rewarding. And whenever I hear about someone with a dream, especially something creative and risky, my goal is to be the biggest cheerleader. There are enough naysayers in this world who will share all of the reasons why they should not do this (or anything else, for that matter!).

Then Kelly casually mentioned that I should consider writing a ten-minute play for the project.

Interesting. I’ll have to think about that.

“No, seriously,” he said. “You should write a play for this.”

I will definitely think about that.

Peter strolled by one more time to find out if I finally knew about the project. I did.

“Great!” he said. “So you’re going to write a ten-minute play,” he assumed.

Wait a minute. The plan was that I would think about this. I still had salad on my plate. I hadn’t done any thinking yet. I don’t just agree to do things… I have never… done before…without, you know, thinking about it!

“Done. I will put you down for submitting a play.” And with that, Peter was gone.

I looked at Kelly, a bit in shock, and declared, “I guess I am writing a play.”

When I went to bed that night, I lay there wondering what I had just gotten myself into. I don’t have any idea how to write a play. No, that’s not true. I could certainly learn how to write a play. After all, I had no idea how to write a screenplay for a full-length feature movie, and I figured that out. Why not this?

In fact, I was reminded of the time when I momentarily lost my mind and interviewed for a middle school teaching job. Yes, I not only interviewed, but I got the job and taught there for six years before rejoining the college ranks where I had taught previously for 16 years. But that is a whole other story that deserves its own screenplay. Actually, a coworker at that college promised to write a novel about the shenanigans (which is not the correct word – that is too light-hearted and playful and there was nothing light-hearted and playful about that place. He will probably write a satire though.) that went on there.

But when I interviewed for a position teaching 6th through 8th grade English, I was faced with the problem that the school only had a part time position available. But the principal really wanted to hire me. So he said he would see what he could find for me. Maybe there was a keyboarding class or some other elective he could give me.

I got the call the very next day.

“Could you teach 8th grade algebra?”

quadratic-formula
I can do this!

“Of course I can!”

“Great. We can give you two math classes so that you can be full time.”

I hung up the phone, laughed, and wondered out loud, “How the hell am I going to teach 8th grade algebra??”

And guess what? I taught 8th grade algebra. And I did a damn good job at it too! No one knew that I was always just a page or two ahead of the students that first semester.

The point? If I could come in as a college English teacher and teach algebra cold, I could certainly write a ten-minute play. And hadn’t I decided to challenge myself? And as someone who hopes to make a lifestyle switch to writing full time, I realized that I had better grab every opportunity that popped up. It isn’t often that someone comes to you with a project, right?

So I naturally turned to the Internet and Googled ten-minute plays (“Googled” has been accepted as a verb, hasn’t it?). And immediately I found dozens of videos of actual performances of ten-minute plays. I commenced watching ten-minute plays, having never actually seen one before.

I learned a couple of things. One, these plays seem to be all dialogue. They contain virtually no action. Mostly, they take place in one spot and consist of two or three people talking. Ok. I can do that.

Two, I decided that if some of these plays actually got produced, I can certainly write a play worthy of being produced. There is nothing like that realization to serve as motivation.

Now, I just needed an idea. That’s always the hard part. Always.

Then what can only be called a surreal conversation took place in my life. And I knew I had my idea. I won’t give it away here – you’ll have to wait until it is produced. But I knew I had a powerful idea. And it’s funny how once I have a solid idea, the writing truly comes easily.

And so I wrote. And wrote, and wrote. Oh, and rewrote too. Until I thought I nailed it.

I first sent it to Kelly for some feedback. Mostly, I wanted to know whether or not I was in the realm of what could be considered an actual play. He loved it, he analyzed it in ways I had not even realized I had written it (that was kind of fun), and he provided a couple of suggestions.

“Yes!” was all I thought. I actually just wrote a play!

I took his advice and tweaked a couple of things. Then I prepared myself to send it to Peter – the real expert at playwriting.

As a writer, I understand the vulnerability that my students feel when they have to turn in their writing. And I always share with them the anxiety I feel when I too have to turn over my writing to someone. And, of course, I felt the same anxiety on the Monday when I hit send on the email with my play attached.

And I think most writers can relate to the inevitable wait that then follows. Monday came and went. Tuesday came and went. I was certain that Peter was trying to figure out how to salvage this mess or how to break the bad news to me without crushing my spirit.

Wednesday came, and I got a text. From Peter.

“Wow. I thought your play was incredible.”

Ahhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!

No, I did not reply with that. I relied with “Seriously?!?!?!” Probably not the most confident-sounding, self-assured text I could have sent.

He did have two slight suggestions for me (I expected many more!). One, it turns out, I had strong feelings about. That surprised me. But I argued my case and convinced him I should leave it. The other was a simple clarification that would help with audience understanding. Easy.

His last text stated simply, “I can’t wait to produce it.” And I replied, “Me too!”

To be continued…

EMPTY-STAGE-2

 

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