Here we are again. This time it’s playwright Amy Tofte, a fellow Hawkeye… ok, I don’t really care about the mascot from the University of Iowa. Amy and I met years ago at the University of Iowa, while we were both studying the theatre arts… say it that way, and it sounds like MAGIC. We have recently reconnected and as we are both playwrights, and both bloggers we have decided to write an entry for the other. We decided to write about what happens when we get stuck. Let’s face it, from time to time it happens to EVERY writer. And how one gets out of being stuck is just as unique. So, here’s Amy with her writing secret weapons, and when you’re done, go check out her blog… HERE.
My Writing Secret Weapon
by Amy Tofte
So a lot of what I do creatively is pre-emptive. I often have several projects in the air at once. I float between them. It keeps me interested. And at any given time one project is in the forefront, more so than the others. This keeps me from falling into too many ruts.
So when I do get stuck…really stuck…it’s usually around a deadline. Or something that simply needs to be done right, right now. And I have to zero-in on it and make it happen. This can be a tall order. And I have a few things at my disposal that I use:
1. Backwards and Forwards by David Ball. This is my favorite writing resource, hands down. I love this book. It has short, easy to digest chapters and it focuses on specific issues in story-telling. I love this book so much, you will often find it in my bag at all times. Seriously.
2. Free writing and word games. I have something I call my Book of Bad Poetry and it has saved me more than once. Similar to Backwards and Forwards, this piece of crap notebook is also with me most of the time. And when I’m not feeling the love from a particular project, I often throw it into the mix of my Book of Bad Poetry, the place where I always have permission to—in fact it’s better if I do—FAIL. Even if I don’t solve anything by messing around with the writing in this book, I feel better.
3. Exercise. I do my very best writing at the gym. Or walking to the gym. Or hiking Runyon Canyon. Or doing anything that gets me out of the house. Sometimes I work really hard to “state my problem”…such as the main character needs a stronger reason to want something. Then I spend my walk or run meditating on that one problem. Even if I don’t solve it, I often do such great thinking on the story, I solve another problem I didn’t even know I had. This is why I have a little notebook and pen in my gym backpack. Just in case.
4. Going to movies and plays by myself. If you see me at the movies or a play by myself, I will usually have a notebook with me. Or my Book of Bad Poetry. I often find solutions hitting me in the moments before a movie or play starts. I’m not sure why. I think it might be because I’m mentally clearing my head to listen to another story…and the open space makes something appear. Or maybe being in another story-telling space gives me inspiration. Or maybe I’m weird. I think all of these options are possible and likely. But seeing other stories OUTSIDE OF THE HOUSE (not watching at home on my computer) seems to get me un-stuck.
5. My Secret Weapon. There is nothing more beneficial to me than my secret weapon. His name is Tudy. That’s short for Tudor. He is one of my very best friends in the world and he is Romanian. But he speaks and writes better English than most Americans I know. (In Romania they start studying English in grammar school.) He’s only lived in the U.S. since 2008, but he’s very Westernized from prolonged exposure to American culture through bootleg movies in his homeland, which means he’s also steeped in the very best of American films from the last 40 years.
Tudy is my secret weapon because he consistently gives me the best feedback of anyone I know. We think it has something to do with how he still translates English in his head as he hears it so he listens very, very carefully. Often times he will be eating dinner and I will sit at my laptop and read him my script out loud. I play all the parts and read the stage directions, make the sound effects. I’m always worried he doesn’t get it. But he does.
And because he’s thinking so carefully about everything I’m saying and how I’m telling the story…he asks me all the very best questions, hands down. He asks about points of confusion and what makes sense for a character. He asks questions about language and what certain things mean. He also notes what he’s maybe NOT understanding because he’s not American, which is also helpful.
Getting stuck is so personal. And getting unstuck is just as personal. I’m always finding new things to pull myself out of the mud. And, in some ways, I think the moment of getting unstuck is part of the fun.
Amy Tofte is a writer/director living in Los Angeles. She was a guest playwright at the Last Frontier Theatre Conference in Valdez, AK (2009, 2010, 2011) and the Kennedy Center’s MFA Playwrights Residency (2009). Her short play The Course We Set recently toured in the U.K. Her plays have been produced in the Midwest, New York, Mississippi, Alaska, Los Angeles and twice at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. This summer she will premiere her full-length FleshEatingTiger and her short play Trio at the Hollywood Fringe. She is a founder and president of Fierce Backbone and a proud member of The Dramatists Guild of America, Inc. She received her MFA from California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) Writing for Performance program in May 2011. www.amytofte.com