It’s Never Too Late to Revise – Lessons in Creative Collaboration
“It’s never too late – in fiction or in life – to revise.”
– Nancy Thayer
What do you get when you cross a writing retreat with a play work-shopping session and a girl’s weekend?
I suppose it depends on the people involved – but in our case, we had a heck of a lot of fun, consumed vast quantities of food (and wine…at least, one of us did – more on that incident a little later) and yes, even made some significant headway on two plays.
I also learned (again) about the benefits of playing nicely in the sandbox with others when it comes to collaborating on a creative project. For this, I must confess, is not an area I have extensive experience in (creative collaboration or sandboxes). When it comes to writing, I prefer solitude in my sandbox – particularly during the early phases of a writing project.
As I mentioned in the November 2014 issue of The Watering Hole e-zine (Boundaries Edition), a friend and colleague of mine, Lynne Karey-McKenna, came to my place last fall for a week of work-shopping two of my play scripts, The Neighbours and The Widows. Another friend, Theresa Chevalier joined us a few days later.
We had a hoot!
The week began with Lynne heading out on an extensive grocery-shopping expedition. My pantry was loaded – a good thing because all that creative brainstorming makes a gal pretty hungry.
Our first work-task was to tackle The Neighbours, which will be a one-woman play. The script itself was in the very early stages – a few of the beginning scenes had been written but most of it was just a detailed outline.
Now, as you may have heard (I have told anyone who would listen – usually more than once), in real life, I do indeed have very strange and annoying neighbours. At least, they irritated the heck out of me for the first 3 years I lived in my home – and then, strangely enough, when I actually sat down and started writing the outline for the play script, The Neighbours, things next door improved dramatically.
For a taste of the specifics of my neighbours’ antics, you can check out the blog, Sometimes Situations Have to Go Springer. I obviously hadn’t yet read the book, Shut Up, Stop Whining and Get a Life – nor met Zopa the Magic Monk & Meditation Master 🙂
At any rate, enough weird and wacky events had happened in the noisy little bungalow next door that I was finally motivated to write the details down, if for no other reason than to try and figure out what to do about the situation: sell my home and move, try and change their behaviour (hah!) or learn to accept what was going on and not dwell on the negative.
Now, Lynne is an actress and a director. She is also a writer but she has decades of experience in acting and directing, so her skill set is very different to mine. And this, I realize, is where collaboration can become a vital part of the creative process. Although it was important that our personalities worked well together (and they did – boy, did we have some laughs!), it was our different perspectives that really got the creative ideas flowing.
But creativity, I’m learning, is a very subjective term; it means different things to different people. As a writer who mostly specializes in creative non-fiction i.e. writing about real-life events, I may write creatively but the bulk of my work is based on reality. Fiction has never been my strong suite – I use it when I have to.
Lynne, on the other hand, has a vivid imagination that loves to explore all sorts of new and exciting possibilities. To her, reality can be an excellent starting point for a fantastic fictional story. So when it came to The Neighbours, she encouraged me to let my imagination soar.
This, however, is easier said than done. For when it comes to writing about real-life events, I am like a dog with a bone about holding on to what really happened – and what I learned from it all.
And in all fairness, prior to our brainstorming session, I don’t think Lynne was completely aware of the extent of the real-life situation next door – nor the serendipitous chain of events that led me to buying this particular home in Sidney by the Sea of all places…and certainly not what happened the day I moved in.
But the more Lynne heard about the facts, the more open she was to letting me work them into the script versus using them solely as a jumping-off point for a completely fictional play.
So that’s exactly what we did. And what an incredible process – for both of us. I would write a scene or two and then Lynne would act it out for me, so I could hear what it looked and sounded like. It was so helpful to be able to see and hear my dialogue and stage directions come to life – and then tweak accordingly. And interestingly, the more relaxed I became with the process of working with someone I trusted, the less obsessed I was about sticking to the facts.
So much so, that I nearly abandoned the pumpkin incident.
“What’s this about a pumpkin on the neighbours’ door step?” Lynne asked me one morning over coffee. She’d been reading the outline again.
“Oh that,” I said, waving my hand dismissively, “It’s no big deal. I was just a bit psycho about the carved pumpkin that was still on their doorstep in December.”
She raised her eyebrows. “And?”
“And it drove me crazy!” I said. “Who the hell leaves a rotting pumpkin on their doorstep six weeks after Halloween?”
“So what did you do?” she asked.
“I ran over there one day, grabbed it off their step and then raced back home and put it in my compost bin.”
“That,” she said with a smile, “is awesome.”
“Because it’s crazy stuff like that,” she said, “that really sheds lights on who the character is.”
And that character, of course, is based on me. This is when I realized that Lynne knew exactly what she was doing. As a director, she was working with me, the playwright. As an actress, she was observing firsthand the character’s personality and motivations…trying to figure out what made her tick. Because Lynne knew that once we figured out what made the character tick, we’d be able to figure out where the story goes – and how it ends.
But of course, it was also me and my life we were brainstorming, so the experience wasn’t just an exercise in creative collaboration; it was also a therapy session of sorts that helped me get to the bottom of what really pissed me off about the whole neighbour situation. So perhaps you won’t be surprised to learn that Lynne also has years of experience as a counselor.
How’s that for the universe sending me the perfect person to help me write The Neighbours?
One of the things I love the most about writing is that the process helps me understand whatever is I’m experiencing. For although we cannot change the past, if we take the time to learn from it, then perhaps with a little help from our friends, it never is too late to revise – and tweak accordingly as we move forward in the story of our lives?
At any rate, that’s where I was at when the next house guest, Theresa, arrived to work with Lynne and I on The Widows play. And things just kept getting more and more interesting.
To be continued…please see It’s Never Too Late to Revise – Part 2.
Maryanne Pope is the author of A Widow’s Awakening and the playwright of Saviour. She is the CEO of Pink Gazelle Productions and the Chair of the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund. If you would like to receive Maryanne’s weekly blog, please sign up here.