Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Writing is a Lonely Business.

Today I have to write a 'business plan.' I have no idea what that means or, really, how to go about writing it. But I'm going to give it a whirl. Angie and I are standing unsteadily on the edge of a new idea, one that is quite original, if I don't say so myself, and we're getting close to actually launching it. Now, one of the reasons (I say 'one' because there are so many) I'm not a particularly wealthy man is because I have absolutely no business sense. None whatsoever. I have a few friends that have 'portfolios' and 'investments' and 'retirement packages.' I don't have any of those things. In fact, I'm not even sure what some of those things are.

I remember some time back I was a 'guest artist' in a large Equity theater in upstate New York. It was actually a LORT A theater, so it wasn't a 'guest artist contract' as specified in EQUITY, the union for professional stage actors, but rather a new thing that had been drawn up specifically for me. A contract that outlined my duties as a teacher, director, and yes, an actor, over an entire season. It was intertwined with my duties for the the local university as well as the theater itself. It turned out to be quite a busy year.

In any event, I ended up having a longish 'thing' with a graduate student at the university. Part of the contract that my agent negotiated was this really beautiful apartment right on the river, high up, large balcony, tons of space, nicely furnished. The girl I was having this 'thing' with assumed it was my apartment and that I must be a reasonably wealthy guy. I did nothing to discourage this line of thought. So one night, quite secretively, she asked about my 'portfolio.' I told her not only did I have one, but that it was quite large and I hadn't even gotten around to using it yet. Problem was, I'd left it in my apartment in New York because I didn't anticipate having to do a lot of filing while I was up there. She was not amused.

So, this idea, this new business we're about to launch, is on my mind today. I haven't the faintest idea, of course, whether or not it will fly, but I suspect under ideal circumstances it could. And if so, it could be a wonderful little money making thing.

But, like most entrepenearial ideas, it will require seed money. Hence, the business plan.

I'm a little gun-shy about the whole venture because the last time I tried something like this (a new theatre company), once I had launched it and got it rolling, I had to go off for a bit to make some money and in my absence the whole thing came to a grinding halt. Taught me a lesson about starting a business with too many fingers in the pie. Not that I'm upset about this, it just happened. Falls under the category of 'if you want something done right, do it yourself.'

So this new thing is just my wife and I. My title is His High Chairman, Mr. President, In-Charge-of-All-Things and Angie's title is The Sensible One Who Actually Makes It Work. That's pretty much the way things are in my life, too.

If and when this idea takes flight, I'll be a bit more specific about it all.

In other news I am starting to gear up for some new playwriting, too. I have to finish a new play that's been hidden in the bottom of the proverbial trunk. It's tentatively called 'The Promise' and I think it's fairly good stuff. I went back and read what I have so far and, unusual for me, I actually sort of liked it. I started it about six months ago because I wanted a project that my friends and I could act in together: Jimmy Barbour, John Bader, Kyle Puccia, Rob Arbogast and myself. So I began writing it with the rare luxury of having actors in mind that might play it.

Unfortunately, I then went off to do this Adding Machine thing and it stopped for awhile. Well, today I'll pick it back up.

You know, I don't much enjoy writing. I have a good buddy of mine, an old, old, friend and one of the finest prose writers I've ever read, Jeff Wood, who says he likes writing quite a lot. Jeff, like most of my close friends, is much smarter than I am, and I suspect has a clear idea of what he wants when he sits down to a blank page. Not me. I do have an idea of how I want a play to start, sometimes an idea of what I want to happen, and once in a blue moon, an idea of how I want it to end. But further than that, I'm completely adrift.

I don't think I could ever be a full-time writer of any sort because I tend to write only when I'm engulfed in a wave of passion for a particular idea. For example, once I started writing 'Praying Small' I did nothing else for a few weeks; just wrote, ate, slept and wrote. And then, of course, the actual nuts and bolts of the craft began - the dreaded rewriting and editing. If possible I dislike rewriting and editing even more than the actual writing.

As Faulkner said in his famous speech upon accepting the Nobel Prize, it's a lonely business.

A lot of writer buddies I know say that HAVE to write in order to maintain their sanity. They say they don't care if no one ever reads it. They say it's the writing itself that is important. Well, that might be a great position to take if you're living on a dune in Provincetown in 1923, but it holds no luster for me today. I'd kinda like people to see and hear my stuff eventually.

Another part of writing that disturbs me is the fact that once a play is done it takes about thirty years for anyone to mount it. Well, not thirty years, but you get my drift. I'm an impatient guy. I want to finish the last sentence of the play and then go into rehearsal the next day. Obviously, that rarely if ever happens.

And I can't even imagine writing a screenplay for a major studio out here. Everyone has an opinion. Everyone wants to suggest rewrites. This is even true for the playwright who holds a position of near royalty in the live theatre as opposed to the screenwriter who is, at best, considered a necessary evil in Hollywood. It's the old George S. Kaufmann quote: 'Every human being has four needs in life: the need for food and water, the need to procreate, the need for shelter and the need to rewrite someone else's play.' Truer words were never spoken.

Now, for anyone who has ever read my work, they know that I tend to be fairly raw sometimes with the language. Like Mamet, I completely believe if you say an offensive word enough it loses the power to offend. This is the tact many rappers have taken with word 'nigger.' Although I personally have no use for rap, I completely support this point of view.

So, and this is a true story, once I had a play going up in Chicago. One of the play's themes was a fightening dose of misogyny. The director of the play, an otherwise sensible fellow, called me up one night and said, "You know, you've got seven 'cunts' in the play. I'd like to cut three of them. I think seven is simply too many and our audience will be offended." I said, "So, you're saying that four of them won't offend them but seven would push them over the edge?" "Yes," he said. "I think so."

I don't usually allow someone else to dictate the actual writing in one of my plays (a director recently tried very hard to do so out here in LA and the experience turned into an ugly ordeal), but this one time I said, okay, cut the other three cunts. Just out of curiosity, one night I attended a performance and talked to an audience member right after. I asked, "Tell me, did the fact that this guy in the play said the word 'cunt' four times, offend you?" He said, "Not at all...that's the way that guy talked. He was a dirt bag." So I said, "If he had said the word three more times would you have bolted from the theatre screaming in horror?" He didn't know I was the playwright and looked at me oddly. "Um, no. No I wouldn't have." Then he quickly brushed past me and pushed through the crowd in the lobby, darting looks back at the obviously crazy man behind him.

I don't know where I'm going with all of this. Just getting the old fingers warmed up, I guess. Which brings to mind a trick Stephen King talks about in his book 'On Writing.' He says when he's having trouble getting started in the morning, he'll pull out a favorite novel, in this case 'The Great Gatsby,' and begin typing it out, word for word. After a bit, he claims, the creative juices start to flow and he's ready to write his own stuff. Interesting.

Alright, courage summoned, healthy bowl of oatmeal in front of me, music in the background, fingers warmed up, mildly focused, ready, set...write.

See you tomorrow.


jkeyes1954 said...

...thanks Clifford....I've been fighting myself over my writing, lately....good ta read ya.....peace, joy and discoveries...jk

Clowncar said...

I like writing when I'm doing it well. which is rare. I lean prettty heavily oon rewrites.

at any rate, thanks for the props.