Fun with Cliches

I must admit, it’s getting harder and harder to write these weekly posts. Part of the reason is that this blog supports a professional page, and so I write about theater and writing and the New York arts scene, because that's my profession – and it can feel increasingly hollow doing so in these current, horrific times. (I mean, seriously, you guys know it’s wrong to lock up babies in cages, right? I don’t have to devote a blog post to that in order to make you realize that, do I?) Furthermore, I’ve spent the past few months holed up in my apartment writing, and at a fundamental level, that’s boring as hell. How many ways can I describe how it feels to balance my laptop as I sit on the couch? Do you need to know what color it is? It’s beige! It’s that boring! Would you like to know I listen to on the radio each Sunday night, as I prepare the posts you read on Monday morning? It’s called “Old School,” it’s on WQXR, and it’s dedicated to Renaissance and Baroque music! My life as a writer could not possibly be more boring!

It’s not just me, of course. It’s historically impossible to tell the story of a writer, be it in a film or in a book or what have you, and make the writing itself exciting. Usually, you have to assume the writer is writing whenever the camera isn’t looking, while you send him off on some tangentially related adventure. You’ll see him discover the subject he’ll write about, but you won’t see him doing the actual writing, because there’s nothing particularly interesting about striking at a typewriter or a keypad. And on the rare occasions where someone is depicted actually putting to words to paper, it’s one of two scenes, which have become shorthand for “being a writer.” Either they’re crumpling up sheet after sheet trying to figure out their opening line, or they’re staring at the screen, head buried in their hands, steam pouring out their ears, as they wait for inspiration for One Big Important Speech that will sum up everything they want to say, and ensure that they have Created A Masterwork.

Both of these tropes are bunk, of course. Nobody crumples up page after page in search of the perfect opening line. You write a few paragraphs, then look back at what you’ve done, and then adjust as necessary, and keep on repeating that procedure as you make your way through your work. And if you can’t – if you really can’t think of any words to start your story – then you have bigger underlying problems to deal with, and probably aren’t typing in the first place. And as for the One Big Important Speech – well, it just doesn’t work that way. Plays, novels, what have you, each is full of hundreds of little moments. It’s these little details that either block you, or connect with each other to propel your work forward. It’s the tiny little bit of exposition, the bit of imagery you’re trying to thread through the piece, that causes the most consternation. It never comes down to One Big Speech.

In related news, I’m almost finished with my revisions – except for a crucial character’s One Big Speech.

I wasn’t planning on this. I’d already written out a speech for this character at a pivotal moment of the play, and I’ve been steadily cleaning up and polishing around that moment. What I’ve realized, however, is that after all of my other revisions, what I’d originally written for The Speech is now merely a placeholder. The themes are clearer, the surrounding arguments are sharper, and this moment of truth for a key character needs to reflect that. And so, ridiculous as it is, here I am. Unable to finish this play until I’ve written a perfect speech. Holding my head in my hands in frustration. Hell, I’ve just written a 700 word blog post about not writing the speech when I could have been writing the speech.

I’ve got until August 1st to submit this play, so I’m not in a rush. And truthfully, it won’t take me that long to complete these revisions. But as long as I’m hung up on One Perfect Speech, there’s a part of me that figures I might as well wait until 11:59PM of the night of the due date, just to embrace the cliché.

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