July 7, 2016
I’m in Connecticut, in residence at the O’Neill National Playwrights Conference this month. This means several things. I am enveloped in a thick fog. Every morning I wake up and can smell the ocean. And: The totality of my energy is going toward working on my plays.
How much actual writing should you be doing as a playwright? Here are two wisdoms I’ve been handed down. From Sarah Ruhl: Write a play a year. From Paula Vogel: Work on two plays at a time. Have one in an early stage and the other in a late stage, so you’re using different muscles.
I have found these to be helpful cairns in my life. I’d like to offer a third wisdom, hard won.
Q: How much research should you be doing as a playwright?
A: Only as much as you schedule.
Guilt free research comes from setting aside time for it, and then honoring the time limits you’ve set. Don’t let research deceive you. Here are its lies: “I just want to help.” “You just need to read one more book.” Research has the ability to shapeshift at will into a black hole. So decide in advance how much time you will give it. I am setting aside some time this month for Wilma Commission reading. For me this means: A full week where I dig my heels into the sand and make reading my first priority. I may read one book per week in the weeks beyond that.
I asked the Literary Office at the O’Neill to find me a heaping list of books from the local libraries. I’ll only share the titles I’m most excited about with you:
Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics by Mikhail Bakhtin
The Shepherd’s Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape by James Rebanks
The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson
Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy by Barbara Ehrenreich
Henry IV 1 and 2, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Henry V by William Shakespeare
Dry: A Memoir by Augusten Burroughs
The Scapegoat by Rene Girard
Grief Lessons: Four Plays by Euripides and Anne Carson
Do you now know exactly what I’m making?
I also need to schedule a visit to a sheep farm in August.