Thursday, December 27, 2012


There's been radio silence for a bit because I'm still thunking my head against various applications. Here's the breakdown:

- School 1: submitted about forty minutes before the deadline, with much handwaving and blather about how terrible I felt the play was.  Their website and submission guidelines are kind of terse and made me all nervous.
- School 2: oh god want to go here so bad.  Submitted with eyes closed.
- School 3: would also be completely awesome; I probably have no chance but all my interaction with them was very sweet.  Submitted.
- School 4: think I can get in here, and that it would be pretty cool.  Have a few days left before the deadline.  Keep rewriting parts of Statement of Purpose.  They don't appear to be any better.
- School 5: prestige out the ass.  Few days left.  Have terrible drafts of various parts of the application.
- School 6: due same day as School 5.  Super expensive.  Have maybe one terrible draft.
- School 7: If you aren't improving fast enough for them, they spank you and ask you to leave.  At least according to the brochure.  A couple of weeks out.  No terrible drafts done yet.

If you're thinking "hm, I bet this post is a sad little excuse for not working on applications," that is not what is happening at all and you are very rude.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The perfectionism problem

I've heard a couple of things recently about how working artists have to learn to accept that they will make things that aren't perfect.  Mary Robinette Kowal, a sf/f author who has also worked in puppet theatre for a long time, said on the Writing Excuses podcast that as a young puppeteer she was taught to shoot for 100%, but to be happy with 80.  Dan Wells (another writer on the podcast) also said that writers need to be okay with writing a bad book -- there will always be another.

It's tough for me to give up on perfection, especially with Home Before Dark, which is very personal and emotionally challenging -- much more so than my previous plays.  I have a lot to say with this play, much of which I have never said before.  When writing and editing, I've definitely felt that I need to get it right, and if I don't, everything will be wrong.  As with many ridiculous beliefs, that feeling contains a speck of truth smothered in layers of bullshit.

My writing is pretty spare (at least in plays; I know I can get blathery here).  If a character says more than ten or twelve words at once, it's usually a very bad sign.  As I mentioned here, I admire Kazuo Ishiguro's minimalism, and I like it when characters refuse to talk about what's wrong.  The problem with writing like that (at least for me) is that subtext is fucking hard, and when it's not laid in correctly, a scene can end up worthless.  So construction is a delicate process, and I've got a lot of learning ahead of me, so it doesn't always work.  And then my brain goes IF ANY OF IT IS WRONG THEN ALL OF IT IS A FAILURE.

Which is, uh, complete nonsense, but man is it hard to remember.

I'm confronting this problem right now because of grad school applications and the immutability of their deadlines.  I know the play's not perfect, but I'm submitting it anyway, and while that's good for me, it feels kind of sticky and gross.  The thing I have to concentrate on is that if I could write a perfect play, then I wouldn't need grad school.  So shut up, brain.

In unrelated news, today the cat got into a pocket in my bag, retrieved a piece of pita bread wrapped in a napkin, and took several delicate bites out of it before we noticed.  Because she is a wang.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Editing is like falling in a hole with cough syrup at the bottom, and also you are drunk

So I worked all day and entered some kind of late-stage editing madness.  Here are some of the ridiculous things I have been squinting at over the past 16 hours:

1. "When I was at boarding school" -- is boarding too expository?  Is "When I was at school" better? What about "When I was away at school"? Need to ask a friend who has attended some kind of Fancy School for Fancy People.

2. If I say that somebody in a gay porn video has an Eastern bloc haircut, will people get what I mean? I am experiencing that thing where a word's on the tip of your tongue, except it is a joke about that weird fucking haircut where the bangs are long and straight and it makes me think about the USSR dear sweet fuck what is that joke.  

3. I am reluctant to use brand names in this play because of the subject matter.  I don't want to be all NINTENDO DS, PREFERRED BRIBE OF CHILD PREDATORS! Also, then things get all dated.  But using no brand names is weird.  Right now I am seriously using "handheld video game thing" in stage directions.

4. Discovered today that I need at least two new scenes.  What will be in them? It is a DELIGHTFUL SURPRISE, even to me.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Here we go

My first grad school deadline is on December 1.  Things left to do:

1. Figure out why my Statement of Purpose for this school sounds so idiotic.
I don’t get it at all.  It’s not that different from the other ones -- why do you want to study with us, what do you want out of grad school, why should we admit you -- and yet it keeps sounding like I was in some terrible Douche-Ray accident and now I have special Douche Powers.  I’ve probably written six completely different versions of this thing, and its current incarnation is still not good.

2. Re-scan transcript so the file size isn’t gigantic. 
This shouldn’t be too much of a problem.  Oh god, why did I say that, now it’s going to blow up the scanner. 

3. Finish the play.

Okay, more specifically, I’m just burned out on it.  I’m trying to make a big push today, but I look at it and I want to hit my laptop with a bat.  I feel like it has so many problems and that it needs about six more months of work, but that’s probably bullshit, and the deadline is going to be good for me.  I hope to have it acceptable for submission by Wednesday, and in a state where I don't want to keep editing it after I turn it in (because I have six more places to submit it to).  

(Don't tell my brain, but after I finish this play, I have to write another one by mid-January, for a school that requires two plays with its application.  I've written other plays, but Home Before Dark has demanded a lot of me and I'm better than I was when I wrote them.  So I don't want to turn in something that's not indicative of what I now do.

The saving grace is that the new play can be a one-act.  We'll pretend that makes it half as hard as a full-length play.)

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Is it more better yet?

I'm at a coffeeshop today, and have innumerable things to get done.  I say innumerable because I'm at the uncomfortable stage of the writing process where there are a bunch of things to do, but not many clear steps.  The play is on the right track (finally!), but there are a few continuity errors that have created big smelly problems, and there are several parts where things just need to be More Better.  How much More Better? I have no idea.  More Better enough that I don't get aggravated when I read it over.  That amorphous feeling of not-done-yet is a really unpleasant place to be, because it's easy to feel like it's going to be like this forever.  

One helpful thing, though, is that it's Arthur Week this week.  Arthur is the only adult character in Home Before Dark and (since the play is about child sexual abuse) has some pretty huge flaws as a human being.  I don't like him, and so I haven't been focusing on him, but it's time to do so.  Arthur Week involves going through the play just working on what's happening with Arthur emotionally and logistically, making sure his wants are clearly defined, all that stuff.  

At the reading, several people pointed out that I hadn't spent enough time on Arthur and he wasn't fully realized, but they also really responded to one of his lines in particular:

Do you want to [hit me in the face]? 
It's just not something I'm interested in.  Do you want me to? 
I don't know.
I like your face, is the thing.  

So I looked at that line, and what leads up to it -- which, really, is Arthur not wanting to hurt Sean.  He does, in many other ways, but that's not how he thinks about it.  And I grabbed onto that, and I've been stretching it backwards through the play, until this emerged in a much earlier scene:

[My mom] hates it when I yell.
Well, it’s loud.
                                    (Sean puts his head down on the table.)
                                    (Sean looks up.)
Anybody who doesn’t appreciate you is a fuckhead.

Monday, November 5, 2012

So people read my shit out loud last week

I was pretty nervous about the reading (I was agitatedly rewriting at 2am the night before), but it went wonderfully, in no small part because of the people who were there.  They were interested and smart and thoughtful, and they didn't pretend that the wonky parts were fine, but they had great suggestions and some very nice things to say about the parts that work.

The thing surprised me the most, though, was that most of the funny bits actually landed.  I tend to think of myself as a funny person in conversation and a pretty unfunny person on the page.  In the past, if I was writing a scene and a funny bit seemed to arise naturally, then I'd throw it in, but most of the time trying to write a joke was just a disaster.  I'd really like to write a comedy at some point, but so far my plays are often pretty sad.

My current play is about child sexual abuse, which is a serious and horrible subject, and one which I wanted to depict as serious and horrible.  And it became increasingly clear that, to prevent mass audience rebellion, I was going to have to figure out where to be funny.  And that's been kind of a great challenge, especially because two-thirds of the cast is fifteen years old.  There are certainly fifteen-year-olds who are genuinely witty (I definitely thought I was one of them when I was fifteen), but I think quippiness in fictional kids tends to create Buffy-speak stylization.  And I like to stay more realistic and plainspoken than that.  So I like the kids' senses of humor to be a little goofier, a little weirder -- see that discussion about the nipples a few entries down.  Or this:

Also, people are dicks about [my name] sometimes.  Fat Kristi was like “What kind of name is that?” and I was like “at least nobody calls me Fat Kristi.”
Did she...used to be fat?
I heard she just used to call everybody else fat, and then Latrice called her “Fat Kristi” one time and it stuck forever.

I don't know how funny that is to you -- maybe it's not and you kind of hate me now -- but I submit that spelling Fat Kristi with two i's is way funnier than spelling it "Fat Kristy."  On that point I will not be budged.