Tuesday, April 17, 2007

My Own Version of the Same Story

*While there is so little to be said about the tragic events at Virginia Tech, my heartfelt prayers and wishes go out to the families and friends of the victims, and the entire VT community.*

(And since there's no way to not awkwardly transition...)

Hey Cake Man, nice title on your last post. Really...gripping.

I would like to give my own take on some of the themes that Cake Man brought up in his last post, namely motivation and discipline. Having been out of school for almost a year and a half more than him, I think I can offer a slightly different perspective and a bit of (probably meaningless) advice.

I double majored at NYU. I came in as a theater (acting, specifically) major, and after the first two years of the program, I suspected that I needed some kind of change seeing as I a). hit the largest wall in the history of man, b). was really, really sick of actors, and c). was really, really sick of acting. I'd taken a playwriting class with Daniel Goldfarb the spring of my second year, and, go figure, I really enjoyed it. I'd never written before that, but I found that I had moderate talent, and when I did the math, it didn't make a whole lot of sense to be paying as much money as I was for a degree with only one major. I took a shot and applied to double major, and I got it. Wee!

Deciding that graduating on time was a high priority, I loaded up in the summers and completed the dramatic writing program in two years. I waver in deciding if this was the best choice. I only skimmed the surface of what the department had to offer (Cake Man, for example, and everyone else in The League at the moment, did the program in the ideal four years), and the truth is that all that work in such a short amount of time left me horribly, horribly burnt out.

While Cake Man mentions that he hasn't written for months, it took me over a year to start writing again following graduation. I was half-heartedly pursuing acting during that time, but I wasn't even remotely motivated to write a thing. Was it just burn out? Did I seriously just need a break? Did I need time to forget everything the department taught me? Had I lost all my confidence?

Yes, yes, yes, and yes. Because of all of these factors and an overwhelming desire to just experience life for a while instead of trying to create it, I had no stories to tell. This can't be emphasized enough: laziness never came into play. There was just never a moment when I cared to write. It wasn't writer's block because there was nothing to be blocked. The well was dry. The jar was empty. The metaphors were used up.

But by late May of last year, a friend of mine sent me the first bit of a story he wanted to take turns writing, and so I wrote the next few paragraphs...then the next few, then the next few. Before it was all over, he wrote one more tiny paragraph of a story that ended up being almost sixty-five pages long. The story itself was simply awful, but it sparked the creative urge that led me to start writing again.

I don't suspect there was any rhyme or reason to it. The first bit he sent me did play to a lot of themes that were present in all my previous endeavors , so I found it easy to get lost in, but I think that writers have an innate inner clock that will eventually release an urge that can't be ignored.

If one believes this, however, then it's hard to call that motivation. Is it motivation when you're being forced to do something, even if only by some mystical force? Motivation itself is something incredibly personal. The reasons people write, create, make art, tell stories, shoot films are all different and vary from the tangible (money) to the mysterious (an odd mix of love and obligation). I'm no scholar of philosophy or anything, but it would seem that motivation, especially in the context of creating works of art, is closely connected to the ever-changing circumstances in one's life. Sitting on the couch playing video games will probably not beget motivation; however, my Saturday afternoons are not the issue here. On the other hand, my self-mockery seems to have illustrated my point fittingly.

If we piggy-back off the action-begets-motivation corollary, then stimulating those mystic urges to write would, in theory, be closely linked to actually writing. In other words, it demands a sense of discipline. A teacher of mine once said that if you do nothing else, write a page a day. If you do that (assuming you stay on one project), you can finish three screenplays, three plays, or a novel. In a year. It's a trap, too, because there are going to be days when you write more than one page. There will be days when you write 20. The key is forcing yourself to do it, and the key to that is to set the time aside.

In order to snap out of my current state of brain-fog, I've found that setting aside a specific 30 minutes every day to write - no matter how awful the pages turn out - has helped tremendously. It's hard working on computers because they're all connected to the internet and there is SO MUCH GARBAGE out there that seems so interesting, but once the web browser is closed and you actually begin writing, knowing that there is nothing you have to do for that half-hour, suddenly you're turning out half-decent pages that don't make you want to vomit, and suddenly 30 minutes turns to 45, turns into an hour.

And like magic, motivation just happens. As I've lamented, I've become very frustrated with my current script, but after setting aside this time for a week, I've found my motivation. I actually want to write.

The bottom line is that it's all deeply personal. If you feel like you need the time off, then you have to take it. But if you want to avoid it, but can't seem to find yourself to be motivated, set the time aside, and make yourself work. Remove your distractions. If the internet is too appealing, use pen and paper. If people are driving you nuts, go outside and be alone. Once the discipline begets the motivation, the distractions will go away on their own because, frankly, you won't care about anything else.

(So, with a great deal of sincerity...)

Write on...

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