11×11: Three Complaining

March was a bit of a win and bit of a loss, but overall I’m leaning to calling it a success.

The month started off a bit crazy at Alexander Upstairs and got progressively more crazy as it went on. In addition to the regular work I got a number of design jobs for people’s National Arts Festival productions. Then there was the BASA/British Council fellowship, which included workshops and a conference in Joburg where I spoke on a panel and pitched for funding.

All of which is to say I have many excuses and they’re not completely unreasonable. Sort of the point of an excuse isn’t it? But I don’t buy them either. I don’t buy that me taking on more than I can handle is a reason not do the thing that I promised myself. Being there for other people is important. So is being there for yourself. Finding the balance is the most important.

This month my writing was a short play for Anthology, opening on Tuesday the 7th (this evening). It’s called Bullet Points and is a classic con story: two characters manipulating each other with layers of tricky deception. The dialogue is full of detours as they chase down the quirky reasoning and get distracted by little things. They’re not very good cons. Or are they?

I also added a lot of new material and substantially rewrote parts of Every Beautiful Thing, my January play. A lot of writing got done in March; enough that I could call it 3 down, not enough that I feel like I deserve a high five.

Lessons:

  • Regularity breeds creativity. Don’t try to squeeze all the juice in snatched moments and odd places; that’s notebook time.
  • Rewriting is an art unto itself, fear and respect it.
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11×11 – Boom! That’s Two Down

The second play of my 2015 writing challenge 11×11 is done. The Underground Library was an idea I’ve been kicking around since the National Arts Festival in 2013. It was going to be building the style of Get Kraken. Set in Jozi of the near-future, the Underground Library is about education and inspired by Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, and the thread of pro-autodidacticism that runs through the work of black intellectuals from Carter Woodson to Steve Biko. It’s an adventure story with spies, hackers, shady interests, and samurai (you know you like samurai).

The biggest challenge for this was that it was a radio play. My first ever. My preference is to write whatever pops into my head and let the director and designer work out how to make it happen on stage (in Get Kraken a stage direction reads, “The submarine rises up from beneath the little boat, stranding the panicked pair”). But in radio it’s all on the writer to figure out how to convey the info. None of it is visual, and since it was for a competition (SAfm radio playwrights) I also couldn’t leave it up to a sound designer – I needed to show that I understood the medium. It being a competition added more pressure. This one had to be good. Every Beautiful was written to be performed, but I will be doing further drafts, I’ll be revising. The Underground Library I had one shot at, and it kept me up late this last week.

Lessons this month:

• If writing is the most important thing to you, then you have to make finishing the most important thing. Prioritise finishing. Life will make you choose. Choose finishing.

• I’m useless at night. Rather take it off and recharge.

11×11 – One Down

The first month of my 11×11 project has come to an end and I have done one play. Sort of. The rules I laid out put the page target at 30, but I finished at 26. Apart from a two page prelude, the play is a single continuous scene without entrances or exits. Two characters having a conversation.

So what did I learn? Firstly, finishing is the most important thing and how that may be defined is a not hard and fast. 30 pages is a good goal, but a piece that’s shorter but with a continuous spine and a real ending is also good. Secondly, to be careful of excuses. The one above makes sense but other excuses I made to not write were lame self-sabotage. Among them:

  • I can make up the page count tomorrow (no, you won’t)
  • I don’t have an idea what to do next (not writing is the opposite of solving this)
  • I’d rather answer this email (that’s a damn lie)
  • OK, but I have to answer this email (you know you don’t really)
  • I’ll write better after a power nap (you won’t get back up)
  • What’s happening on Facebook/Twitter/News24 comments section? (What is wrong with you?!)

And Finally, I confirmed it’s possible. For me. (So probably for you too)

The result of January’s labour is Every Beautiful Thing, promised to Briony Horwitz last year and finally delivered. It’s an emotional drama and comes from the same place as A Girl Called Owl – a spiritual sequel. To keep the 11×11 challenge interesting I’m going to pick very different projects each month, so February’s play is going to be The Underground Library. This is more in the Get Kraken! mould, multiple scenes and locations, an action adventure aimed at teenagers. Conveniently there’s an SAfm radio play competition and the submission deadline is the end of the month. Whenever possible I’m going to try incorporate opportunities like this into the challenge (because I like money).