Guest Blogger: Editor and Writer Gabrielle Lee

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 The Writing Process: The War

OR: Masochism and You

by Gabrielle Lee

I spend a lot of time staring at incomplete things.  Mostly incomplete Word documents.  I’m very well acquainted with the Ctrl+S command, which I do compulsively as I watch the cursor blink at me, and blink again, and blink again, chanting, write, write, write—WRITE, you lazy nincompoop, stop letting your eyes drift to the dark-gray background bordering empty whiteness, don’t you even think about letting your fingers touch that trackpad because you know that if you do, you’ll be on Facebook in five seconds.  Or you’ll end up on the Sims, doing virtual chores with a better-looking version of yourself while last night’s dishes sit behind you in your very-real sink.  Or worse, you’ll start making lists of jobs to apply to again, jobs who won’t consider you until you have a degree anyway which you won’t have until you put more words down on that virtual page so write, write, write.

But I stare at the page.  I think about the story that could appear, the Great American Novel that I will someday write, and the more I practice the more I can feel the energy and motivation under my fingers, I can see the end more clearly, my confidence builds so that it’s not a question of if I will finish this book but when I will finish it.  Ctrl+S, for the last time now, here I go, I’m about to write that next sentence, I’m inspired now—

And then I stop.  Because even (when, if) I finish this chapter, I will have to revise it.  And then after that revision, my thesis advisor will have plenty more notes for me, and then I’ll make a new revision.  And then I’ll have to make a new one, and then a new one, and then (Ctrl+S) maybe then I’ll be able to send out queries (which I’ll also have to write (Ctrl+S)), and then I’ll have to push through (Ctrl+S) mountains of those (Ctrl+S) and (Ctrl+S Ctrl+S Ctrl+S)

and then I’m out of steam.  Because when I think about it, I’ve got eight thousand steps between now and a pipe dream.  So I eat some chocolate, which is pretty much the worst thing ever since I know very well that I haven’t exercised for two weeks, and I would now except that my knee hurts and I’m tired anyway and it’s 8:52 at night, my downstairs neighbors won’t like it so I’ll just sit here and eat another Lindt truffle and who the hell bought me these truffles anyway, who would be that cruel, I wonder, hand now on the trackpad and moving my cursor toward The Sims 3.

My husband walks into the kitchen and gets a glance at my screen and gives me a look.

“No, see, ’cause I’m visualizing it, right?  I’m making a virtual replica of the houses in my book.”

My husband, who is smarter than that, says “mm” and grabs his water and walks back to his office.

And I, in an effort to not be completely bullshitting the both of us, actually do try to make that replica.  Until I realize that I got the floorplan wrong and remember that I’m not actually an architect and that my training is in dance and creative writing and whoever thought to make majors for those things, anyway?  Who was the cruel mogul who created the super-enticing brochure to make me go to school for not one but two creative fields, filling my naïve little brain with falsehoods such as you could find a career from this! and you might actually make money! with those attractive, beaming artists who have CLEARLY never stared at a blank Word document in their lives?

Probably the same guy who designed the Microsoft Word 2007 interface.

Jerk.

The worst part is that this rant doesn’t even solve my problems.  I am still staring at the incomplete Word doc.  Ctrl+S, in case something happens to my laptop while I’m asleep.  Or while I’m doing the dishes.

And of course.  Of course that’s when I get the idea for the BEST LINE EVER ®.  The BEST LINE EVER ® is THE line, the one that’s going to solve all my problems!  My arms are elbow-deep in suds and I quickly rinse them, slap them a little with the towel hanging from my oven and speed over to my laptop with half-wet fingers, not caring as I write down BEST LINE EVER ® and proceed to write five more words after that.

Five more measly words.

Leaving me, once again, in the middle of a sentence.

It’s some time later when I realize that I am never going to win this war with my Word document.  Sometimes when I run out of steam, I’ll trade over to a pen and lined paper, get going for a paragraph or two, and then type it all up and actually end on a finished sentence.  If I’m lucky, I’ll sometimes get an entire page or two done in one sitting.  But the last chapter I finished was sixteen pages.

And this has led me to understand the most important part of my writing process: The Cease-Fire.

Ctrl+S + the little red X button in the upper-right hand corner + my pillow.

It took me almost three weeks to finish those sixteen pages.  Three weeks of staring at blinking cursors and trying my darndest to not look at my e-mail every five seconds and the sleek background design from that git from Microsoft.  And that’s nothing compared to the year-and-a-half I spent on the draft before this one.  And even that is nothing compared to the year-and-three-months I’ve already spent honing my craft in grad school, combined with the five years I spent in undergrad, combined with the four years of high school essays, combined with the two years of middle school essays, combined with—

Training.  My whole life has been about training.  I haven’t stopped training from day one when my parents tried to teach me the basics, repeating bilabial syllables: ma-ma, pa-pa.  Over and over again.  Ma-ma.  Pa-pa.

And I look at those last sixteen pages again and realize: I have a few damn good lines in here.

And I look at those last sixteen pages again and realize: This isn’t all crap.

And I look at those last sixteen pages again and realize: This isn’t all crap.

“Incomplete” is part of the writing process.  It has to be.  From looking at incomplete things I continue to find places to improve the story, to make this draft better than the last one, and it usually is.  The truth of it is: I will probably cut the BEST LINE EVER ®.  Probably because there will be a new one.  Probably because if I’d studied something like engineering and weren’t working on a book, I’d be bored to tears.  I’d be reading other people’s books and wishing I could make something like that.  “Incomplete” puts me in the process of making that thing.

I am, essentially, living my own dream.  I am that girl in the damn brochure.  I just eat a lot more chocolate than the girl in that brochure.

The truth is: plenty of writers look at their books after they’re published and wish they could change what they’ve written.  The truth is that there is no definite end in sight, but the masochist in me never wants it to end, anyway.

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Gabrielle Lee is Managing Editor for Willow Springs. She lives in Spokane, Washington with her husband, where her short play and its sequel were performed in 2013. Her fiction work recently appeared in Scissors & Spackle.

Guest Blogger: Playwright Greg Nanni

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What do you write, and what, specifically, are you working on now?

I focus on the subject of escapism, and often employ surrealistic measures in order to reflect a character’s interior state of being in the exterior world—the exterior world being the stage on which the work is presented. My format is playwriting. Currently, I am working on two projects: SOS Chatroom and Dancing with the Shadows under a Mushroom Cloud. SOS Chatroom is lighthearted comedy about five strangers meeting online and then in real life to commit suicide together. Dancing is still in the secretive stage.

What do your first drafts typically look like?

Grotesquely plump. The first draft is the first attempt to explore and record all possibilities that can happen within the project. Unnecessary scenes, lengthy conversations, useless plot mechanics: all that and a bit too much stage direction. The first draft is written and rarely shown. It is the second draft that I show to my peers.

What is your revision process?

Cut, cut, add. Cut, cut, add. Cut, cut, add. Then the subject becomes clearer. The ideas become more connected. Things don’t fall over each other. More trust is given to the director and the actors. The process is a consistent attack on the script and what the script can be. I’m usually only done once I am sick of it, and even then it most likely means that I will return to it in a few months or a year.

Where do you like to write? What tools do you use?

I cannot write anywhere where I am comfortable enough to sleep. I mostly write in quiet coffee shops or in loud bars. I switch between my laptop and a pencil and paper. I find pencil and paper to be the most effective way to write a first draft, as you don’t get distracted, and there’s something to feeling the words being drawn that gives them weight. The handwritten first drafts tend to be more concise.

Who is your favorite author and/or what is your favorite book, and why?

The only author I consistently adore is James Baldwin. Every word is poetic, every paragraph clean, and every book filled with a lifetime of emotions. I volunteered to take over the professor for a day to teach a class about Giovanni’s Room because I love the source material so much. My favorite plays are The Iceman Cometh and The Bald Soprano. The first is a perfect piece about escapism, and it was one of the first plays I read after I had decided to go into playwriting. The second is a satire on story structure, and one of the funniest experiences I have ever had. Everyone should at least read The Bald Soprano.

What was the first piece you ever wrote, and what made you decide to start it?

In the third grade I wrote a Scifi story about these weird slug monsters flying around in space ships shooting space marines in some overblown and plot heavy Star Wars-esque story all within 15 pages. It was a school assignment. In those days I had difficulty controlling my imagination, and often I was mentally absent from class. I really enjoyed filling up the pages on something I was excited about, even though I doubt it made sense to anyone who read it. I have yet to see it again… I hope that I have improved since then.

Where can we read more of your work?

You can see my work around the greater Philadelphia area as time moves forward. Currently, I present materials during EAR Fuzz nights at Plays & Players Theatre in Philadelphia, PA. You can meet me in person post show.  The next EAR Fuzz is at January 20th, 2014, at 8pm, the following the same time at 8pm on March 17th.

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Greg Nanni is graduated from the George Washington University in 2011 with a dual major in English and Political Science. He is one of the Playwright’s in Residence at Plays and Players Theatre in Philadelphia. He also co-leads “The 3 Hour” for the Philadelphia Dramatist Center, an open communal workshop devoted to developing the craft of Philadelphian playwrights. Please inquire the PDC if you are interested in joining.