Saturday, May 5, 2012

Where does good writing come from?

Listening to four short plays performed last night, the work of a friend, Lenny Roland, led to a brief discussion with the playwright.

Where do your ideas come from? she was asked. It was obvious that they come from having a good ear for the off-beat and interesting potential of everyday life. Driving to the airport, dealing with the frustrations of telephones, or trying to cope with hospital bureaucracy can provide a writer with material. As Lenny said after the performance, "There is material everywhere."

She meant her family, with its various crises, which she turns into comedy; or her friends, which are also the stuff of close observation, notetaking, and writing. There is a popular myth about writers waiting for the muse of inspiration to strike them--and being frustrated when it doesn't. All we have to do is look and listen to the world around us and write.

And rewrite. Like every writer, Lenny emphasizes what the audience could not guess: that each line of each play was altered, moved, and recast as it was read aloud and performed.

Why write plays, I wonder--the most difficult of literary genres? Fiction allows the writer to explain and describe characters, setting, and action that the playwright must convey solely in dialogue. Having written in various genres over the years, Lenny, a great lover of Broadway shows, wanted the challenge, I suppose, of bringing her characters to life through speech. This requires a discerning ear and a wide exposure to various types of people and speech patterns.

Every writer has his or her own reasons for writing, his own method and approach, yet we all share the need to be read or heard. I am glad that Lenny Roland, whose plays were performed by professionals from the Mad Cow Theatre in Orlando, had an appreciative audience as well as skilled readers.

For the rest of us, who work alone with little recognition, often for years, the best reward can be satisfying ourselves that we are enjoying the process of creating something new. And there is always the possibility that a friend or two will comment on the pleasure our work has afforded them. This, not publication, is all that matters. Well, most of the time.

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