When the ‘Something’ becomes Obvious: A Writing Revelation

Nearly two years ago, as I was meeting with my drama troupe to brainstorm some ideas for out Christmas show, someone said, “Hey, why don’t we do something with the twelve days of Christmas.” I said okay, opened my laptop, started WORD, and named a document “Something of the Twelve Days of Christmas.”

The document was completely empty except for the title.

And so it sat for the past one and half years.

Until yesterday.

I was working on a musical piece for Christmas 2017, yes I work ahead, and when I finished revising some lyrics, I saved the piece and cruised quickly through the document folder. I came across some “unfinished ideas” and I saw the title “Something of the Twelve Days of Christmas.” And as I read that document title, I suddenly know what the ‘something’ was. It was obvious, plain, easy, right within sight. All I had to do was start writing.

I did.

Thirty minutes later I had fleshed out my idea and then today I nearly finished the first draft of this new piece called “The Twelve Days of Christmas Revisited.”

It’s going to be a really funny and fun piece to produce. I just find it strange that for a year and a half I didn’t know what the ‘something’ was, but yet yesterday, it was as plain as a blinking beacon on top of the Eifel Tower.

Why? Why did I know what to write yesterday but I didn’t have a clue what to write a year and a half ago when I was first presented with this idea?

I have no idea.

That’s the mystery of creativity. It rears its head unexpectedly. It cannot be summoned or ordered into the court of creativity. It bursts through the doors as it sees fit, in its own timing, at its own pace, with its own ideas.

I love that.

I don’t always love that. Sometimes I want the inspiration to rest heavily on my shoulders like Milton—a divine light from the heavens revealing its truth—but creativity is the most finicky of hobbies. The only thing a creative person can do is:

  • Attempt when the inspiration hasn’t hit.
  • Write down ideas, even vague ones.
  • Be patient.
  • Press forward with inferior ideas, hoping that one poor idea will lead to one better idea.
  • Wait some more.

If you do that, the ‘something’ will come back around. It will define itself and you’ll be in the position to write or create something meaningful. That’s all you can hope for.

Now get waiting!

 

 

 

Are you satisfied? I never am.

Writing becomes addictive. Almost compulsive. The worst kind of compulsive behavior. It stalks you in the middle of the night, when out driving your car, when embroiled in the minutia of your work. Writing doesn’t stop. It possesses your mind and forces you to make decisions that you never wanted to make. Such as, do I do my job or do I follow the rabbit down the hole?

Writing is a 24-hour cable news network. It shouts and screams its biases and its commands that you pay attention to it. If you don’t, it sneaks into your psyche in other ways, often unnoticed as a slight and sly trick of the mind.

Writing demands its authority to be recognized. I’m not talking about the whims of a person who one day wakes up and wants to write her memoirs. Or I’m not talking about the person who has a great idea for a story and struggles to see if he can fulfill its promise. Each of those people should attempt it. Why not? Creativity should be embraced and encouraged. Go for it. Strive to write that book.

But no. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m well beyond that. I’m well past the time that I want to see if I can do it. I want to see if I can improve. Build. Create. Attempt something that hasn’t been done. Use language in ways that give the reader pause, enjoyment for sure, but pause also. To think, to feel, to experience, to live. Life abundant. Ideas free. Flowing. Beyond what I could imagine. I want to reach and grasp far above what I commanded a few years ago. This is not about the story. This is about the story commanding its attention, taking over my life, pushing me in directions I never thought I’d go. This is about being immersed in its flow, its pageantry, its tradition, its all encompassing … what is the word? That is what I want to know. All encompassing …

It’s discovery.

It’s progress.

It’s life.

It’s writing.

That’s where I am. Life and writing. One and the same.

I Wrote This Last Night

I wrote this last night. No particular reason, and I’m not even sure what it means. But I kind of like it. I’m thinking folk-rock.

Vagabonds of Mercy   by  Mark W. Sasse

Ghostly kin collared high and smart, rolling out till we hit the dawn,

Pardoned souls with sing-song hearts, Hit the road until they reach the dawn

And the shadows cover field and vale, where it spreads it’s really hard to tell

As we brace for impact from the eastern gale, remember truth is the hardest sell

 

A girl in jeans and a ragged smile, waves a knife at the quarter mile

I duck my head from her pensive sight, but the battered soul gives up the fight

Proffered dreams, deferred hearts, testing limits with spare parts,

But the mileage wanes around the bend, when you’re headed home and then back again

 

Chorus:

And the vagabonds always know where they’re going,

Cause the road welcomes everyone who floats on the wings of the sun

And the vagabonds always know who they’re traveling with

Cause they understand more than most the feeling of Judas’ kiss

 

 

Part of the reason I joined this quest, was to get something off my chest.

I understand your hesitation, but I really need your participation.

Mercy ends in the empty void when shattered dreams lay half-destroyed

But walking men and talking girls, know the dance of the underworld

 

And those who dare to reach inside, might find release on the other side

But those who laugh at the high employed …

 

May find the lost key

May say a quick prayer

May join the party

Of the unaware

 

Chorus:

And the vagabonds always know where they’re going,

Cause the road welcomes everyone who floats on the wings of the sun

And the vagabonds always know who they’re traveling with

Cause they understand more than most the feeling of Judas’ kiss

 

Don’t let the night take you.

Don’t let the light break you.

Don’t let the fight leave you.

Don’t let the might beat you.

 

Chorus:

And the vagabonds always know where they’re going,

Cause the road welcomes everyone who floats on the wings of the sun

And the vagabonds always know who they’re traveling with

Cause they understand more than most the feeling of Judas’ kiss.

Where will the ideas come from?

Writing is such a mind game. The creative process toys with the writer to such an extent that I sometimes wonder who’s in control – do I control the creative process or does the creative process control me?

Ok, I’m already confused. But this I know: I have 10 dramatic sketches to write in the next two months for my new show coming later in the year. Where will the inspiration come from? What procedures, ideas, words, will I engage with to get this writing done?

If I’m still being confusing, this is actually what I’m saying: on August 1, I know I will have written 10 more short plays. But on June 6, today, I just don’t know the process which will actually accomplish that.

Creativity is so strange. The other day, I sat down to write one of these 10 and the creative process came so intuitively that I couldn’t have even described it to someone if I tried.

Writing happens by writing. That’s as best as I can explain it. One chain of ideas linked together, all starting with a simple thought, and expounded on by a few words. Those words give new life to new words and soon I’m following the rabbit down the trail or I’m plowing a footpath through the jagger bushes (sorry, jagger bush is a colloquial western PA term!)  A writer might get jabbed and pricked along the way. It could be bloody and painful, but soon enough, a clearing will appear and the most beautiful scene will present itself to make the process worth it.

And then, of course, the writing will take on new life as the author re-writes and re-edits and re-writes again until the remaining work is sleek and ready to be performed.

In the end, that’s the best part of all.

In December, there will be a show. I just can’t tell you definitively what it will look like. I need a few more jagger bushes to slap me in the face before I will know that.

I love my creative setting!

I’m in a school setting. So yes, I teach.

Whenever I’m not teaching, I write. But one of the things I love about being in a school setting is that I am given time-sensitive opportunities to write creatively, where my writing is immediately used and performed for audiences. The turnaround on feedback is amazing.

Example. Yesterday, someone at my school asked me if I might have an idea of a dramatic sketch which could be done for an Easter chapel which is coming up on March 25. I told him to give me a day or two to think about it, and I’ll see what I can do.

Well, it didn’t take a day (or two). Within  five minutes, I had an idea I already couldn’t shake. I jotted it down so I could come back to it later. Last night, I started working it up. This morning I added some more. Now, a little more than 24 hours after the request, I have a 2/3rd finished script, and I’ve already recruited the four actors I’ll need to pull it off.

Where else but in a school setting could I do this?

I’ll have the script finished in a day or two more, and then I’ll send it on to my actors. They’ll have 8-10 days to memorize it, we’ll meet a couple times to rehearse, and then they will perform live at on March 25.

It’s an amazingly fun and creative atmosphere I get to work in. I get to help others send out their desired messages through drama, I get to work with talented young actors who are eager to perform as much as possible, and I get to write. Creatively. According to my own wishes.

Very fun.

The play I’m writing is called “Dead is Dead.”

I can’t wait to see the finished product. Luckily, I won’t have to wait long.

Author: How did you think of that?

I was asked recently by someone who read my latest novel: “How can you think of all the relationships and twists and turns?”

I replied, “Can’t anyone do that?”

“No,” came the quick reply. Huh. What do you know about that?

Writing and ideas is such a down-to-earth organic process for me that I just assume that anyone could do it if they wanted to. But I’m starting to realize that there are levels to writing and plot lines and twisted relationships and mind-jarring surprises that makes the readers go, “I didn’t see that coming.”

How do writers put it all together? How to they plot it out and keep track of everything? How do they do so creatively?

I suppose that each writer has his or her own way of trying to accomplish these.

For me, the answer to these questions are all about being patient and diligent in my writing. Let me explain what I mean.

When I start writing, I have a general direction and idea. If I didn’t, I’d be starring at a blank screen. But I don’t have an outline or an outcome. I love to discover what has yet entered my mind.

So I start writing, getting to know my characters, and allowing the plot line to weave along at a nice pace and then BOOM! It hits. Invariably when I get to a certain point, the force of all that I have already written finally gives me the clear direction of what HAS to happen next and what amazing TWISTS that I can add to the story.

In my latest novel, A Love Story for a Nation, it was slightly different because I based it on a short play that I had written. I knew the crux of the story and the general ending, so I had to create the back story that led up to the big events. What I didn’t know, however, is that there were two amazing secrets simmering beneath the surface. I don’t want to give them away because I’m no spoiler. However, as the idea for the first shocker came to my mind, I had to stop, sit back and really think it through. How much will it change the story? Will it make it better? Is it too contrived? I realized that it was too good of an idea to give up, and, in fact, it added an amazing deep layer to the story that I had not previously seen.

So how did I piece it together? Part luck (my brain just happened to think of it) and part diligence (just by continuing to write and allowing the story to peak at a point that would give me that break-through idea).

So if you’re struggling with ideas, the best advice I can give you is to just write. Keep it going and trust that your time and diligence will pay off for you.

It always does for me.

Approaches to (Drama) Writing Part I: Be Fearless

A colleague asked me to speak to an English class about drama writing. This was a good opportunity for me to spend a little time to think through the processes I use when writing drama (or creative writing in general.) Mostly, my procedures are nothing learned or formal, but merely intuitive responses based on trial and error. I’d like to take a few posts and talk about my procedures in hopes that it might encourage others in their pursuit of writing drama. Part 1 is not exclusive to drama writing. It’s an essential part of any type of creative writing.

Drama Writing – Part 1: Be Fearless!

When you start writing drama (or any creative writing), you will find yourself saying things like this:

“I don’t know what to write about.”

“I have no good ideas.”

“Look at what I’ve written. It stinks.”

If you find yourself saying any of these or similar platitudes then you are well on your way to being a writer. Here’s one to crochet on a pillow and put in your writing room: Doubt is the bedfellow of a writer.

Undoubtedly.

There are many reasons for this. One of the most obvious reasons comes from comparing one’s work with that of other writers. We’ve all read something which we really admire and think, “Wow, I could never write like this. I could never be a better writer than this person so why even try.” You may feel like sulking in despair and throwing your pen into the trash. But while the previous sentence may be true, the inverse is as well, that author will never write like you. There’s only one you. Capitalize on it!

Secondly, vulnerability is embedded into the fabric of writing. If you ever want to say something memorable, if you ever want to communicate effectively and correctly about the human condition, if you ever wan to connect with an audience, you have to be vulnerable in your writing. You have to go places in your writing where you typically don’t want to go. You have to write things which will make your friends raise their eyebrows and look at you funny. They will wonder if you are really losing it, or if you have finally fallen off the deep end. All those doubts they had about you will be confirmed. Are you sure you are ready for this?

Third, an issue interconnected with vulnerability is the judgment which inevitably will come along with it. Fairly or not, writers who let others read their works will be judged. Some people will understand what you are saying. Others won’t, and that judgment can hurt. I remember after I published my first novel, I had some friends who treaded lightly around a few topics which I broached in the book. Some even asked me, “Whoa, what’s going on in that mind of yours?”

But what I have learned more than anything else about writing is that writers don’t let unfavorable comparisons, painful vulnerabilities, or ruthless judgments stop them from writing.

Writers must be fearless! This is the foundational stone upon which your writing must be built, and I think it’s also the first step that must be understood when attempting to write serious drama (or any other genre of creative writing.)

Understand at the beginning that failure and doubt will follow you everywhere, but you must not give in to their begging and pleading.

Now that we all understand what to expect, we’re ready to move on to step 2 of drama writing.

Next Up in Our Drama Writing Series – Part 2: Writing Starts in Your Mind

A Post on Future Posts

I just noticed that I have 42 drafts under posts on my blog. Most of them are just a few words long or even just a title. That’s how I do things – write down titles which could become future posts. And now look at this, the future titles themselves have become a post. Mind-boggling, I know.

This is something I do frequently, think of a cool sounding title and then tuck it away for another day. Sometimes they never come to fruition and sometimes I can’t even remember what I meant to talk about months after creating a draft of a title.

For example, I have one draft post entitled “13,481”. I have no idea what that number means. I guess I’ll have to get creative some day.

I don’t only write blog posts this way. I also write short plays and songs like this as well. In fact, I remember doing the same thing with my friend in college. We would yell out the name of a yet to be written poem and then we’d each write it to see how completely different they would be.

I probably have more than ten dramatic sketches, yet to be written, with only a title to their name. I like the challenge of trying to think what kind of story would fit with which kind of title. Once I wrote down the name “GeneRations”, thinking it would be clever to write a play about society rationing genes. You’ll notice that it also spells “generations”. However, my show called “For All Generations” come and went last year and I never used “GeneRations” for it, but I eventually wrote a script for the title when a new idea popped in. It’s a fun creative process, a jumping off of point I guess you could say. If you ever get stuck about what to write about, give it a title first, and then see what can flow from it.

Here’s some titles of future blog posts which are currently sitting in my drafts:

“Education is wasted on youth”

“Don’t Sound Pretentious, but Don’t Dumb It Down”

“The Internet is Great for This: Passing on Stupid Ideas”

“Where the money is”

“Honesty and Writing”

I have about 37 more of these at this current writing. I really don’t know what these above posts will be about, exactly, but when I finally sit down to write them, it should be exciting to find out what they mean.

 

My Alexander Popish Poem & a Yearning to Create

The more and more I think about my past, the more and more I realize that I have always yearned to create. I remember when I was a sophomore in college, one of my lit courses was 18th Century English Literature.  On one of our assignments, we had to write some sort of comparative analysis concerning some of the works we read – not anything out of the ordinary. Except there was an alternative assignment which was also allowed. We could write a creative work which mimicked the style and influence of an 18th century author or poet, but put in the context of the 20th century.

I jumped on it! Actually, I was the only one in the class to attempt such an assignment. Perhaps I was crazy. Some thought so, but I felt liberated to create for a grade. What could be better than that? (Other than getting a good grade.)

So I chose Alexander Pope as my muse, and I wrote an epic satirical poem in Pope’s style about the United States. I don’t know how many lines it ended up being (I need to count them someday) but I created this rhyming and satirical monstrous poem and turned it in as my assignment.

When I got it back, I received a B+. The problem, it seems, was that the imagery and wording was a little “dense” at times, thus being too vague for even my PHD professor to be able to understand. Fair enough. I admit it. I wasn’t even sure what I meant at times, using these extremely vague ideas which just floated endlessly from stanza to stanza. But I didn’t care, I had a blast writing it.

I know now what I didn’t know then. I needed to create, and when I had the chance, I jumped at it. I actually wasn’t thrilled to be a lit major. I really wanted to be a creative writing major, though my school didn’t have that option, so I settled on the second best. Being a lit major forced me to read all the classics, which I enjoyed, except for wordy individuals like Henry James. Sorry. Not going to go there. But actually, I didn’t like reading all that much. I trudged through it, but never thoroughly enjoyed it. I wanted to write. I wanted to create. I wanted to be free to explore and express myself with words.

Unfortunately, after I graduated, I thought I would never be a writer and so I embarked on a twenty year, writing-less journey that brought me back to being an indie author – something I never expected, but now embrace wholeheartedly embrace.

For me, Alexander Pope is just another reminder of what I was made to do – create. Thanks, 18th century lit!

There’s no way to know if you should “blow-up” your writing

You’re cruising along in your writing, following a certain idea, a certain rabbit trail that has you darting and dogging over and under a thrilling maze of obstacles until you are satisfied that you have what you want.

And then, you get another idea – an idea which will completely restructure everything you just wrote. This new idea has merit, for sure, or I wouldn’t be talking about it, but will it make the story better? Will it add anything or will it become an unnecessary distraction?

Should you throw your “idea-bomb” into your writing and blow things up and start again?

Unfortunately, there is no correct answer to this question.

I’ve come across this issue on a play I’ve been working on. The play itself has a simple setting with only two characters. Most of the play has already been fleshed out and written, and I expected to let the writing cruise on home to finish this bad-boy.

But a new idea hit me. I could suddenly add a new character about half-way into the action to completely change everything. I’m tempted by the possibility, but I am unsure if, in the long run, it would be the right thing to do.

What’s the only option? Write it both ways and compare.

If that seems like the most time-consuming thing to do, it is.

Do I have a huge amount of time to write? I don’t.

So now the decision comes.

And the decision solely rests on the writer. Would it be wrong to ignore the new idea and stick with the original? Not at all. It might even be preferable.

Would it be wrong to delay ending the project by exploring some new writing avenues? Of course not. Writing is a marathon not a sprint.

Will the writer’s decision be easier by writing a blog post about the dilemma?

Absolutely not.

I was hoping for another answer, but there you have it. Only the writer can make those decisions.

Good luck making yours.