How do you know when an idea is ready to become a play? How do you know when it’s time to write?
I spend a lot of time in the idea stage. I wallow in the idea stage. I start out jotting things down in a notebook, mostly in point form. The first step is always pen to paper. I have pages and pages of notes on this new play I’m working on and nothing in play form. A few scraps of dialogue, that’s it. When I know I’m really onto something, I might transfer those scribblings into a new book so the play has a notebook of its own. I just did that with my new play.
I think a lot in the idea stage. I l do a lot of walking and thinking. I really let the idea run around in my head. Sometimes I’ll carry around that notebook with all the point form scribblings. I’m still not “writing” in play form, I’m just carrying it around. Like I’m transferring the idea into my brain through osmosis. Ok, not really. Ok, actually really. That’s really what I’m thinking. Sorry. It’s weird. And I’m fully aware it’s not something you can teach someone to do “Ok, write in a book and then walk around with it. It’ll work. Honest.” The point is that for me, the thinking about a play in the idea stage takes up as much time as note taking. By the time I’m ready to write a play I’ve spent hours, days, weeks thinking about it.
I believe this is the reason why first drafts (particularly with short plays) happen rather quickly for me. The actually writing is a last step in a long process of notetaking and thinking. And with this new play? This new idea? It’s time to take that last step. I’m ready to go.
But how do you know? How do I know you’re ready?
When I’m ready to stop writing notes and start putting together a story. When I know who the bulk of the characters are and I’m ready to let them speak for themselves. I have a rather big question which I haven’t been able to figure out, but at this point I’m ready to blunder through. If it works, it works. If it doesn’t I’ll follow a different path.
How do you know when you’re ready to write? Every writer is different so it’s an impossible question to answer. This is not math. This is not preparing for the Olympics. But in technical terms, you’re ready to go when it’s impossible to hold back the tsunami of words that want to pour onto the page. When you can’t do anything else because the idea is taking up so much space in your brain. The last step is a big one. It’s a big risk. Sometimes an idea that seems so lovely in point form and so joyous running around in my head does not turn out well in play form. It dies on the page. But that is the way writing goes. It won’t be perfect. It can’t be. It never is. But I have to take that last step, I have to take that risk because if I leave my work at the idea stage, then I’m not writing. I’m not being a writer. And that is what I am, that is what I do.
I have two four plus hour long flights this weekend. I’m going to see how much of this idea I can turn into a play. It’s go time.