Don’t touch me

I always find it instructive to move between forms in writing. At the moment I am working on two major creative projects, a book of fictional letters and a one-act play. As of a month ago, I had put the play through four drafts and a readthrough with actors. I’m lucky to have a terrific dramaturg in my corner. Mostly he counsels me to follow my instincts.

In our discussion after the readthrough, the dramaturg and I found we had each indentified the same major areas that needed work. I knew what I wanted to go for but not how to get there. The dramaturg encouraged me to explore.

The exploration got me nowhere for quite a while. A number of apparently fruitless writing sessions left me frustrated. Then a breakthrough occurred. I wrote and wrote and wrote. With purpose.

When the big stuff had been dealt with, I spent some time on cleanup, tweaks and shuffles. I felt I had taken the development of the script as far as I could on my own. It was time to send draft five to the dramaturg for comment.

Or was it?

I looked at draft five and realized there was a
whole other way to look at the play, a way that would involve tearing it to pieces and reassembling it into an almost unrecognizable form.

As I reached for the draft with my angry red pen, a strange thing happened. Draft five acquired the power of speech. And in a firm tone it said, “Don’t touch me.”

At that moment I realized something. In my ceaseless compulsion to improve upon the imperfect, I had lost the ability to assess, with any objectivity, what I had done. But draft five of my script was aware that if I worked it any more, mayhem would result. We needed distance from each other, the script and I.

“I am as good as you can make right now,” draft five said. “Am I perfect? No. But if you mess with me while you are in your current state of racking self-doubt, you are bound to hurt me. Send me to your dramaturg and go back to your other project for a while. There will be a draft six. It will be better than me. Now put me down.”

So I listened to draft five, sent it off (to its relief), and am back with my book of letters. When I return to the play script I will be refreshed and ready to become re-acquainted with it. The two of us will be happy to see each other.

I need to listen to my work when it tells me to shove off for a while. Even when in an incomplete state, it has its own existence. And sometimes its judgment is a lot better than mine.