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by Hedgebrook Guest

What I know about Writing—with a capable “W”—isn’t much. I’d be the first to admit it. Part of it is that my chosen genre is playwriting. Novelists, essayists, poets—those seem to be “real” writers. They can come up with phrases and sentences whose sheer beauty makes me pause, gasp or even cry. Playwrights can’t do that. If I’m writing a play, I often find that I have to take a phrase that I might in prose try to burnish into something beautiful and elegant, and deliberately break and distress it.

Playwrights are the shabby chic purveyors of the writing world.

Or: when I think of playwrights, I think of writers who are writing with their hands tied behind their backs. We are blindfolded. We give our writing to people we cannot see. Whatever we love too much—whatever sounds too beautiful or too much like ourselves—must be cut. We must be bad writers. We must write from the place where language fails, stumbles, repeats itself, goes on tangents. The things other writers avoid, we must embrace. The way people talk—heavy with clichés, unoriginal phrases, shopworn ideas—is all we have.

Or: the blind playwright with her hands tied behind her back is an escape artist. All the constraints put upon her are as tight as any straitjacket. Almost no one could slip loose under such circumstances. And yet we try and some, a magical few, succeed.


What I know about writing—with a small “w”—also isn’t much.

I know that my best time for writing is first thing in the morning before life has snagged me. But I also know this has become the time I am least likely to have. What happens are substitutions: writing while the laundry finishes or the baby is asleep. I had a friend once with a study that had a stunning view. I saw it and thought: I have no view; I must imagine my view. That is how I feel about mornings. I have no mornings to write; instead, when I write, I try to imagine it’s morning.

I know when I’m in the middle of writing something, I have to touch it every day. Writing is not always possible. But I can at least look at it, change a word or two, say hello. Let it know I haven’t forgotten it.

I know finishing something makes me feel good for about an hour and reasonably content for about a day. And then I no longer feel so good. I fret that what I’ve written is terrible. I start to feel afraid. The best thing is to start something new.

I know I have the bad habit of using certain words: “that”; “so”; “just.” They are crutches. They are mental tics. They litter my writing and my characters all say them far too much.

I know to write for a sustained period of time, I need to eat a lot of protein at breakfast. Low blood sugar has been the demise of many a good writing session.

I know coffee is a good ritual. Tea will do just fine. Something to mark the beginning of a writing session is good. A sip. A prayer. A stretch.

I know no phone calls before lunch.

I know an artist who wakes up every day eager to go to his studio and start making art. I long to feel the same way but do not know how to wake up without fear: fear that the writing will go badly, fear that I’ll be uninspired, fear that I’m wasting my time. Going to my desk with joy feels like much too far a stretch. Better to go a small step and just hope to go to my desk every morning with curiosity. Put the fear in a jar and close the lid. Step to my desk instead wondering, “What will happen today?”

I know if I begin the day journaling, I risk expending all my energy and focus so that there’s nothing left for the real writing.

I know I can’t write for eight hours a day. Three or four is probably the most I can stay focused and productive.

I know I’m capable of a terrible silence. Writing still feels like something that happens to me. It’s like having a standing date with someone who’s intensely unreliable and somewhat indifferent. Someone whom I love hopelessly who only tolerates me.

I know that if I could ever convince myself the universe is generous and that there are infinite waves, infinite storms that will drench me with enough story to write and write and write for the rest of my life, I would plunge headlong into a joy I’ve until now only barely brushed with my fingers.


What do you know?


About the Author:

Julia_ChoJulia Cho’s plays have been produced at theaters across the country including The Public Theater, Playwrights Horizons, South Coast Repertory, The Oregon Shakespeare Festival and many more. She was awarded the 2010 Susan Smith Blackburn Award for The Language Archive and was twice a finalist for The Piano Teacher and 99 Histories. Her play, Durango, was named one of the “Top 10 Plays of 2006” by Entertainment Weekly and also one of the “Best of 2007” by The L.A. Times. Her television work includes adapting Brando Skyhorse’s award-winning novel, The Madonnas of Echo Park, for HBO and stints on Canterbury’s Law, Fringe, Big Love and Betrayal. She holds degrees in playwriting from NYU and The Juilliard School and was a member of New Dramatists. Her play, Aubergine, will premiere at Berkeley Repertory Theatre in February 2016.





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