What Writing Really Looks Like

Writing doesn’t always look like writing. When you hear the word “writing,” what do you think of? A pen moving across paper, or maybe a clicking keyboard and a glowing screen? Do you think writing is the application of language to a page? If that’s what you think of, you’re half right… but you’re also really wrong.

Writing is not the production of words.

It's a bunch of paper stuck to a wall in my room..

This is my outline wall. The “YOU” sign lives at the top to remind me that nobody else is gonna write this thing.

If you watch me write, you’d be forgiven for thinking I am a television detective trying to solve a murder. I’m often pacing and muttering, or putting my palm on the wall to lean while I stare at a scrap of paper, with a furrowed brow and a determined jawline. Right now, working on my vaudeville “The Horse’s Ass,” here’s my setup:

Paper on the wall.
Index cards on the table across the room.
Post-it notes on the bed by the door.
A computer through the doorway, in the kitchen, on the counter.

The writing happens at all of these stations… but mostly, the writing happens when I’m walking from one place to another.

The wall has my scene by scene outline. (A kind of abstract storyboard of highlights, tracking where new ideas or themes are introduced and resolved. Each scene is a different page, color coded to help me remember that, for example, what I set up in scene 5 is meant to pay off in scene 10.)

The index cards have notes for specific lines of dialogue, turns of phrase I want to hear coming out of a character’s mouth. (A joke, the start of a monologue, a question one person needs to ask another when the gloves really come off.)

The post-its have notes for specific visual moments, images I want to see onstage. (A piggyback ride, a slap, a certain way two people might stand in identical poses but far apart from each other.)

When I’m sure where in the play these small moments happen, the post-its and index cards get tacked up on the outline, on the wall, and the play literally takes shape in front of me.

Hidden away in the kitchen, the computer holds the fully fleshed out scenes. (When a page on the wall is crammed with visual and dialogue scraps, I pull it down from the outline, and head for the computer to draft that scene word-by-word, in full. The computer is also where I revise, when a written scene needs to change because a new idea has made something in the current draft obsolete.)

The writing down happens where the index cards are, where the computer is, where the post-its are, but the writing… happens in between.

I never know what I’ll need to write down next, or where. You can’t predict what kind of idea you’ll have, and you can’t force a particular kind of idea to arrive; when an idea comes, your only power as a writer is to decide if, and how, to use it.

When an idea shows up, I decide on my feet where to take it, where to walk it to, where in the room and in the play it lands.

Does it solve a huge structural problem, does it demand to be taken directly to the wall? Does it illuminate a small moment with specificity, does it belong on a post-it? Does it call for the deletion of something that’s been typed up, am I heading to the computer to play Frankenstein with yesterday’s draft because this idea serves the same narrative function as what I already have but offers more dramatic whammy? I decide what to do with the idea before I pin it to a page, before I write it down. The writing of the play mostly happens in those moments of decision.

Writing is not the production of words.

Writing is the application of energy to time, which eventually produces words.

Xoxo – Megan

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Filed under about.me, how.to.write, play.in.progress, the.horse's.ass

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