Writing Progress

All right, so yesterday I finished a draft of my latest play, NANNA-SIN, inspired by the Ancient Sumerian myths of the god of the moon.

The story goes that two teens are the sole survivors of a village attack decimating their village. They make a pact to travel to the city capital to the temple of Nanna-Sin. One has a connection to the divine and the other seeks revenge. They cross paths with a priest in the House of Nanna-Sin, a lead orchestrator, who sees the potential to use their skill to make a political upheaval. The high priestess of Nanna-Sin is the one with the power, however misuses it to gain control over the people.

Anyway, without giving away the whole of it, which is what the reading on 10-14-17 at the EXIT Theatre is for (mark your calendars! 😉), I'm reflecting on a couple things I did differently this time around that I want to remember and perhaps expand on for next time.

You see, previously, my process of writing mostly involved swirling down the drain of imposter syndrome while simultaneously self-flagellating until the deed was done enough. After a recovery period of varying length, I'd say, "hmm there must be an easier way." But then, I'd return to the same old process and shrug that, "it must just be my process."

Well, how wrong I was about that! Here's some things I did differently this time:

1) Outline

Instead of diving into this good idea I had, I held myself to completing the outline. Well, at least 90-95% of it. The last 5-10% I was okay with coming up with in the process of writing out the script.

This helped SO much because when it came time to write, I didn't have to hold two different things "what happens next" and "what specifically they do or say in each moment" in my brain. I could get to the big story points and color in the details along the way.

The other thing was that if I discovered a new direction that didn't match up with a story point in the outline, it was easier to make a decision about what was the right way to go because I had choices. Not "this is the only thing at can think of"

Way more relaxing. Gotta do that again.

2) Collaboration and Constraints

I spoke with my director truthfully about where I was in the process and told her the story as I saw it.

A screenwriter friend recommended telling more stories as practice in… telling stories. I know, right? Like why did someone have to tell me this? But all I can say is that it wasn't obvious to me that doing this would have any positive impact on my storytelling abilities. Now it seems like a "duh" moment. Oh well, live and let learn.

So two aspects — talking through the story made me realize right away where I needed to work out some story holes and other challenges. For instance, one thing we acknowledged right away was that this story was way bigger than I had time allotted. So constraint #1, tell this epic story in 30 minutes and hit all the points. We talked through some ideas of how this could be possible. The story turns and transitions may be quick. I had it on my radar. Constraint #2, out of respect of my director's timeline and when she wanted to initiate rehearsals, it was going to be best if I finished by a certain date. Deadlines are always a good thing for me at least — though I am not nearly as good with self- imposed deadlines as when a deadline comes from someone else — especially if I'd be letting down another person or group by not fulfilling my end of the duty. Being on deadline gave me the ability to get it out despite it not being perfect. It made me make decisions that I couldn't worry too much about — should I really bring this element in or will people think that's hokey? Nope, gotta move on and get done.

3) Bring Yourself (Play to Your Strengths)

When you get into the nitty gritty of the story — this is where I shine once I'm in the flow. I knew I would be fine and could go for as long as I wanted once I got there. The outline and the deadline helped put a slight bit of pressure and narrowed the focus. Then, worries about what to say or how to transition from one thing to the next? Nah! I'm in the flow!

Flow Time!

And then everything is just calibrated to keep me up. Music helps me with my pace and to keep going. I personally prefer atmospheric dance music that doesn't have a lot of lyrics. Sounds strange, I'm sure, but there's something about moving my body to the beat that every so often helps me get back into it full force.

This story has a lot of ancient elements that I didn't know about — so research helped. Cool things that I learned like how the first author was a high priestess of Nanna-Sin. She wrote poetry and hymns. So interesting because when you read them, I was expecting more sort of exaltations of mystery but really there was a lot about being victorious in battle against their political enemies? Whoa, that could be useful. File that away for later.

And then there was the part where I had to just give myself creative freedom and say, ok I may not get this right the first time and that's ok. Like is it historically accurate? No, but if I invent something based on what I know, it will take less time. And then there were other elements I knew I were going to incorporate like the characters have metaphysical powers so it's like a parallel world where these kinds of powers were not thought possible but are.

Tons of solutions to try to figure out but ultimately I used what I had closest to me as a tool. So, in this story I brought in my influences from yoga, internal martial arts, and Hawaiian healing. Like there are healing chants/songs, a power that one can feel, physical protocols and methods. Is it representational of those things? Oh god no. My teachers or staunch practitioners of these systems would probably frown upon me if I did that. But look, I'm just playing. I can play with stuff and also practice it more traditionally too. No biggie. It made it fun to play in the world of the play.

4) Technique

There were things I did to negotiate between the largeness of the story and the amount of time allotted. For instance, there are some moments where I had to represent a complex idea — like simultaneous time with different space/characters or advancing one character's arch with not a lot of pages. And through the magic of the form, I remembered that I can run both at the same time. I can have two places represented at once on a stage. People have the ability to listen to a story being told by one character and understand another person on stage as a character in that story. There's a point later on that I'm particularly proud of too for its low-budget, high impact way of representing multiple worlds. I use what I know is available in most theater spaces to make the relationship representational in a 3D way.

All sounds conceptual, I know, and whether I was actually successful in clearly articulating what I meant remains to be seen, though at least I tried. If it doesn't work, it doesn't work and we can come up with something else.

It's All Been Done Before
And yet at the end of the day, it's all been done before. Someone else has written thousands maybe millions of stories with these elements. So it's not being created purely from scratch. Not when you think of it like that. Epic fantasy story that needs to be told in 30 minutes? A lot of cartoons do that successfully for multiple seasons!

There's something about the idea that if someone else figured out something remotely similar to what you're working on, it makes you (or me at least) feel like, ok well I can probably figure it out. At least an aspect of it! I mean I'm not trying to be a super amazing great writer all in one go, but, you know, occasionally people laugh at my jokes, think I represented a particular scene or moment in life well, or opened their eyes to a new perspective. Those things are all things that not just my mom and dad have told me.

😊

shifting viewpoints of the night sky

night sky

a blanket that is not smoothed out

the light from a full moon can be piercing 

making eyes water 

bright and blurry

until shifting gaze

looking differently into the distance

the nuances of the moon’s exterior 

are in full view

detail takes my breath

and gives it to the beauty of the moment 

the stark difference between brightness and dim

the eyes see colors long after they look away

left with the remnants of what it was like to see contrast

like ghosts that follow

until they dematerialize into the softness of night

the cover

the blanket

that provides protection while the mind settles into itself

and the new stars dance

in new ways

to new timing

to new music

the wonder of which

the depth of which 

is infinite

watching the moon move

i watch

small

as the moon

bright light 

big against the darky sky

drifts

changes faces

changes perspectives 

the way it moves across

smooth

like a ship on calm waters

deliberately 

it moves with purpose

i watch it

tracking it

learning from the moon

how to be so smooth

moon, watching over

sleeping soundly 

and then a lantern from the sky 

lights its way across the moon

it says

wake up! this is something you’ll want to see

i do and turn to see the moon

still in the sky

accompanied by stars

light fluffy clouds drifting past

the moon says

yes, you can sleep too

i will watch over you

until the early morning 

slowly diving down past the horizon 

and out of view

it disappears until another night when it climbs across the sky

but in my sleep it was so bright

i thought it was morning once again

the moon’s sense of humor

tonight the moon is only a sliver

yet i can see its outline

it shadow glows against the backdrop of night 

not much illumination is needed to see its full shape

yes, the moon seems very close tonight

like i could reach out and boop

pluck it from the sky

like a blueberry 

or a marble

and it points to down below 

with its fingernail

it’s hidding something behind that smile

saying to us 

loud whispering 

look over here!

so bright

the moon can’t be subtle 

not with all that glow

no, but it would laugh if it could hear this poem

and nod

yes, the moon has an occasional sense of humor 

why do you think it “disappears” every so often?

haha, moon

caught you in your joke

i see your sideways smile

and it makes me smile too

space travels

i’ll be flying through space tonight

(just so you know where to find me)

there are unborn stars i’ve gotta witness

lime green and sparkling blue clouds i’m going to fly through

dodge a satellite 

while i pursue a comet

i may enjoy a meteor shower

and if one moon isn’t enough

there are plenty for me to give my adoration to

three suns i see

and a swirling darkness 

i get pulled apart by various forces

only to be put back together 

another form 

another place

you may see rings around my irises 

they are an indication of my extraterrestrial self

dive into a sea 

a blanket of sparkling wonder

and emerge

floating in weightless night

in between evening

i’m going to tell you about the evening sky

orange turned to dusty blue

and last lights of the day 

glow on the green 

stretching into forever

where commuting traffic twinkles creating a river

cuts through low hills of grasses 

turned golden from the summer heat

i’m going to tell you about how the last steps up to the sidewalk

where passengers walk quickly to the next thing

to cars that speed away into the distance

to the windowed doors with fingerprint smudges

to the dimly lit empty elevators

empty halls that stretch endlessly

days pass as you walk and walk

each step takes you closer but so far to go

until finally the door opens

and there is instant relief

there is serenity 

half moon in the sky 

bright

so bright i can see the edges 

like i’m looking into a telescope 

oh, thank you, moon, there you are!

night keeps gently covering the land

but for now there is still the hint of an orange in the sky

and i can see the horizon

where the last light meets the hills

the moment where the day is done

the special effects of lunar journeys 

there’s one sure fire way to get to the moon

she said to me

the invisible ladder

trail of blinking lights

go on

to a syncopated beat

that only a few can feel

those beats are dirty! 

is what they say to me

only the voices in my head call me crazy though

pure spirit

pure fire

put into words

breathed over the air

traveling backwards

stumbling

and into clay shaped and smoothed by water

ladder to the moon isn’t the only invisible way 

star children grownup and forming a dance troupe

with me 

we drift up into the light

hands outstretched 

movements coordinated

only the nonsense of a lunatic 

what makes the moon tick?

face of a clock 

winding it’s hands backwards

until the moment when time is nothing

time is nothing to many beings we can’t see

doesn’t make it less true

my spatial dimensions only matter to those that can’t see

shimmering brilliance

and so yet another dance to the moon

who welcomes us 

who loves that crazy talk

just chuckle to yourself

and make the words spin

as the day passes

silent waterfall

ducks swimming across the water

gazing to fish 

swimming deep in the depths below

on the banks 

a tiger watches

unblinking

then slowly closes his eyes

and turns back

to hear the whispers of the forest

and the wind that rustles

calmly through the trees

sun on the edge of each ripple

and at the end of the day

you can see the moon drift up into the sky

glowing bright as the warm sky turns cool

doves sing in the evening

and everything is still    

night journey

rolling hills

the kind that sing to you as you drive by

a blanket of night that covers soft grass

warm winds driftibg by

whipping by 

and on the road you can see the moon 

high up on the sky

you remember that it’s the same moon that was up above the waves

that settled blue gold light across ice crystals 

when the earth was covered in snow

and it’s this moment

when you release

and something shifts

even further as you keep going

but you are lighter than air now