The Wondrous Gift of a Great Writing Group

I got to meet “baby” no. 3 last night. That is, my third full-length play. I got to sit in a room, surrounded by 8 other brilliant theater minds and listen to 6 gifted actors bring this fledgling script to life. I got to hear laughter, and gasps, and murmurs of recognition in response to words I wrote and a world I created. All in the back room of a little bar on the LES drinking $3 drinks.

An experience like this is a heady one, to be sure. The value of it is hard to overstate. As a playwright, you never truly know what you have until you hear it in other people’s mouths, and until there are people in the room to react to it. Especially that very first time — oh, it is so scary and so delicious! And so rare, as it isn’t like you can write a whole new full-length play every month. I have had this privilege three times now — a fact I feel pretty good about since I have only been writing plays for 5 years. I can guarantee you I would not have had the experience I had last night without my writing group.

I think most any playwright — or novelist or writer of any ilk, I would imagine — will tell you that the greatest obstacle is actually sitting down to write. With no looming deadline, no boss over your shoulder demanding that work be done or you won’t get paid, it is easy to let plays languish for months and years unfinished.

Classes can help, for sure. Though in classes you only get to hear little chunks — 10 pages, maybe 20 if you’re lucky — at a time, so it is really difficult to know if what you are writing is working. I was in a class this fall, and over 10 weeks I did eek out my pages every week, and I did kinda sorta get through half to two-thirds of a draft of this play. It definitely got me rolling, but it didn’t get me to the finish.

What got me to the finish was knowing that on February 4th, I was committed to bringing in a full work to my writing group. That this play would be in the mouths of professional actors and in the ears of writers — all of whom’s talent and opinions I respect enough to not want to make an ass out of myself in front of them. My priorities really had to shift the last 6 weeks to take this piece from a vague blob of ideas to a coherent, cohesive draft with a logical beginning, middle and end (and did I mention it is half in French? mon dieu!). I thought I would manage to get it done on my vacation — surely the 12 hours locked in place on a plane would get me at least an act, right? — but found myself the last week having to forsake sleep, exercise, laundry, grocery shopping, husband, friends and work in order to complete this new beast. It was exhausting, it was frustrating, it was exhilarating, it was deeply, deeply satisfying.

And it never would have happened without Lather Rinse Repeat.

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