In theory and some practice, I am pro-commitment. Take relationships, for example. Just the other day, I was saying that the decision to get married had actually strengthened a relationship that had already lasted for years. Before my sweetheart and I got married, I would come away from bad disagreements thinking, “That’s it! We’re not meant to be together. We should break up.” After we got engaged, however, I approached our disagreements differently. “We want to be in this for the long haul,” I’d think, “so the focus is not as much on winning. It’s on creating long-term strategies for us to avoid these issues in the future.” Though I may have just wanted to get married for vague reasons, I see now that committing has brought its own benefits. I think we’re a better team now than we were before.
I like commitment in theatre, too (I mean, who doesn’t?) It brings to mind John Adams during the second-act crisis number of “1776,” when he belts out, “Commitment!” (I am not even going to bother inserting the YouTube link here, because if you haven’t seen this late-60s show, I doubt I’m going to move you to do so. If you have already seen it, you know it’s awesome and you know what moment I’m talking about.) This past year, I met a Master Teaching Artist in the field of educational theatre who used to watch my students rehearse and say, “Commit,” doing the Sign-Language sign for it under her chin (I don’t remember exactly how it looked, but it looked very cool.)
So, commitment: yes! I didn’t think I had much trouble with it in writing. (Don’t worry, this laughable assertion will soon get debunked.) But it was on my mind during a recent work and letter exchange with another writer, my excellent grad school roommate, Rachel Wilson (her novel, DON’T TOUCH, will be published by HarperChildren’s in the summer of 2014. Yeah!) She is starting a new project, like I am, and she was pushing herself to write a synopsis for me by a certain deadline, since she says that the hardest thing for her in writing is committing to one path or idea. At the time of our exchange, I thought, “Hunh, that’s interesting. I’ve never thought about that. I guess that’s not a problem I have as a writer.”
Ha. Ha. HA.
My memory must be making me delusional. I haven’t started a new project in a while, since the thing I just finished was a revival of something I’d let lie. Now, though, I am starting a new project, and while I’ve been able to push myself into a certain amount of plotting by reading some plotting books, zoiks, I’m reaching a scaredy moment!
It has to do with character. The piece I’m planning is full of action, much more plot-driven than what I usually write. I’ll shape the characters to serve the plot, rather than the other way around. At this juncture, I know a lot of what I basically want to happen, but zeroing in on the people who carry out those actions is scary! What if I get it wrong? What if the unarticulated ferment pit of my brain has all these great ideas, but in committing to getting them down, I leave out one slimy strand and the whole thing crashes to pieces? So much better to just let it malinger in the brain, right??
Well. Probably not. For one thing, I’d just have to start something new and face the whole process all over again. For two, I should probably give in to my suspicions that if I can’t articulate some of my thoughts for my characters, they’re probably just ghosts and feelings in the first place. Sometimes, when I’m stuck in a scene, particularly in rewrites, I go back to my notes, hoping I’ll have included some guidance for myself. Where I’ll hope to see some brilliant mechanism for getting Zoe and Jackie back into each others’ good graces, I’m most likely to find something like, “Then Zoe and Jackie will find something mutual to laugh at, and the ice will melt.”
‘Something mutual to laugh at’? Wow, self, that was helpful! So glad I took those elaborate notes.
So I suspect it’s similar ghosts and haze up here with the characters of the current piece, and that when I commit to articulating something about their hopes and fears, I won’t be killing off sad, better versions of the characters. Rather, I’ll be killing off my own fears that I can’t bring them to life in a perfect manner and embracing the chance to move forward. Now, if only I can get myself to believe it. It’s painfully unshocking how the fear of committing today was so hard that I updated this blog, something I haven’t done for real in over a year.
To further inspire myself, in lieu of visiting the YouTube, I’ll post this picture of John Adams (okay, an actor playing John Adams. The real John Adams didn’t have any photos taken, and the portraits are less than stirring.)
To quote Campbell’s Soup (at least, I think it’s Campbell’s Soup), how can you argue with that face?