|Mr. Kurt Vonnegut, a hero of mine, and someone who wrote for only one person|
TIME FOR ANOTHER PLAYWRITING LESSON!
Tonight's advice is actually for any writer, whether it be for plays, stories, novels, poems, songs, or anything else you put pen to paper to create.
Today, I was going through some of my earlier published plays looking for quotes to use for a new promotion that Brooklyn Publishers is doing on their website. I noticed how as I went through some of these older plays, line by line, that I really ejoyed them. I realized as I was reading them that, while I was writing them, I either didn't have a playwriting "career" yet, or, it was so new and fresh, that there were no worries about how it was doing. I was writing with a kind of freedom of someone embarking on a new adventure in their life, which, in truth is what I was. I also realized as I looked over these older plays, that I was writing for one person and one person alone.
My Ideal Reader.
Those of you familiar with Stephen King's book On Writing (I like Stephen King--- he's a fellow Maine boy), know that he talks a great deal about his Ideal Reader, who happens to be his wife, Tabitha. Kurt Vonnegut, who I think of as one of the most creative modern American novelists, also wrote for only one person--- his sister. And he continued to write for her even after she died. He thought of her as his twin, even though they were not twins.
There are great benefits to having an Ideal Reader, and I recommend it, even though it is NOT necessary to have one to be a successful writer. Some of the benefits are pretty obvious--- someone to read your first draft, someone who knows you well and knows what you want to accomplish. They are a great indicator of how well you are handling the wheel.
But there's more to it than that.
Vonnegut himself mentioned the idea that if you are writing for the masses, if you arre writing for vast appeal and acceptance, it can wear you out, keep your head spinning, take you completely off the map. In this regard, having one Ideal Reader can keep you get focused... after all, now all you're trying to do is please one person, make one person laugh. You are now only performing for an audience of one, and can direct all that energy into that job, which is much easier than trying to please everyone under the sun or snow or rain.
Perhaps the biggest advantage of having an Ideal Reader is that, presumably, since it is someone you love, this love will shine through in the writing, even if it is tough subject matter. In this mode, writing becomes a kind of gift that you are sharing, a gift that comes from within your mind, heart and soul. And it is also giving a gift to yourself as a writer, the act of creating something you love so deeply for someone you love so deeply.
As I was reading over these older plays, I could remember in the act of writing them imagining my Ideal Reader reading them for the first time, the laughs they might evoke, the parts that make my IR cry.... it was such an important inspiration for me to have this person to write for. It made the early productivity of my publishing career possible. I can never be grateful enough for Ideal Reader for this help and encouragement. I look at it now and I truly remember my mindset when writing: I literally wanted to impress my Ideal Reader and wanted this person to be proud of me. That is what drove me to keep going. And I was lucky that my Ideal Reader is so universal that so many other people seem to really like my plays, too. (Which is a relief).
Now don't get me wrong--- I also write to please my audience, and I also try to write work that I think will sell and make others happy, but that first draft is always for my reliable I.R. A "look what I made this time!" mentality, that makes the whole creative process less painful for me.
Again, don't freak out if you don't have an Ideal Reader. You'll know when you meet them. They are a person who can be honest without being crushing, who has the same kind of aesthetic sensibilities as you do, someone who, quite frankly, gets you and what you are trying to do. Who better to let you know if they think you've achieved it or not. And there's nothing like seeing the smile on your Ideal Reader's face when they are proud of you.
Okay, maybe this is a light weight post, but I don't care. I'm just being honest. I was just struck by how much easier those I.R. inspired early plays were to write than some others. It's kind of amazing what it can do for you.
I thank you for reading my post tonight, and I wish you all the best as you continue to work on writing your plays. Don't give up. Keep moving forward with dialogue, and work towards completion. You'll be glad you did.
Until next time, you can learn more about me from the links below, and remember: theater is not just a craft or artform--- it is also a sport.