About Me

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Matthew Freeman is a Brooklyn based playwright with a BFA from Emerson College. His plays include THE DEATH OF KING ARTHUR, REASONS FOR MOVING, THE GREAT ESCAPE, THE AMERICANS, THE WHITE SWALLOW, AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR, THE MOST WONDERFUL LOVE, WHEN IS A CLOCK, GLEE CLUB, THAT OLD SOFT SHOE and BRANDYWINE DISTILLERY FIRE. He served as Assistant Producer and Senior Writer for the live webcast from Times Square on New Year's Eve 2010-2012. As a freelance writer, he has contributed to Gamespy, Premiere, Complex Magazine, Maxim Online, and MTV Magazine. His plays have been published by Playscripts, Inc., New York Theatre Experience, and Samuel French.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

how you write, what you do - response

Mark linked to Marisa. Marisa writes this:

For writers and writing, I'm not so interested in learning about the nebulous, intangible stuff of inspiration and creativity. Borrrrrring. I prefer the quantifiable details: Where do you write? When? Pencil or pen? In a spiral notebook or on office legal pads? When you write on the computer, what font do you use? How do you format your stage directions? Where do you go for character names? When you write at Starbucks, what do you drink? Do you snack? How good is your writing after a couple glasses of crummy [yellowtail]? Music? No? If music, what kind, how loud? Do you wear pants? Can you write on a bus? On a train? In bed?

Then she proceeds to explain exactly that. (Hint: Pajamas.)

I think this is an excellent question and I'm happy to throw in my two cents. I'd love to hear responses from other playwrights, and I'll happily link to them in this post.

I tend to write under duress, late at night, battling a self-imposed deadline. Or (and it is ill-advised to write these words) at my day job. I have also used bars to help me break writer's block. I write in Times New Roman on computer, unless I am writing long-hand scribble in a bar.

I write at work for two reasons. One is that I am performing an act of tiny rebellion and that's satisfying and focuses me. The other is that I love my toys. I love my Playstation and my DVDs and websites about movies and reading other people's blogs and listening to NPR. I love to hang out with my girlfriend and talk to the cats and have some food and watch Twin Peaks on DVD. It means, therefore, that my home is a distraction. One that only quiets down when I give myself a deadline or when everyone else on the earth seems to have gone to sleep. Or when I'm the place I spend hours and hours of my time: my Hellmouth-of-a-Cubicle.

I write at bars when I am out of ideas.

Example of the bar writing: When I wrote The Death of King Arthur, I was 25 and for a while I was crashing on a friend's couch in Astoria. Below his apartment was a bar called Sissy McGinty's. I was trying to write a scene between Lancelot and Guinevere, and was having a hell of a time with it. I grabbed a beer (Sam Adams, I think) and there was pro wrestling on a big screen TV.

I wrote this, while getting pissed, watching the wrestling:

"Lancelot. The crying man is never pridelessly
Begging the heavens for his dignity.
All dignity is only pride made proud.
The prettier pride.

Guinevere. So you keep no dignity?
Does not this dirt show stern and unwav’ring
Contempt for all that would convert it else?
Does not a plant reach upwards to its growth?
Are you like flowers?"

So...it's clear that drinking brings out my purple poesy. Maybe dignity was on my mind as The Rock hit someone with a steel chair.

I have trouble finishing things if it isn't about 2 AM. I can start anything during the afternoon. I think I wrote about 40 pages of The Most Wonderful Love after lunch one day when half the staff was at a meeting.

I don't have routine. Whenever I pick up a new project, I find myself instantly setting my sights on an arbitrary deadline. Then, I kick myself as hard as I possibly can to meet that deadline. In that way, a lot of my plays have been completed much like one completes a paper in college... jacked up on coffee, writing anything that seems to fit, trying madly to just get something into the play to complete the thing. All of this, or most of this, is self-imposed. Self-abuse (in the classic, not Catholic, sense) works wonders for me.

I can't really write creatively with a pencil. Pencils are for cross-word puzzles and Sudoku.

I write better with caffeine than booze. I make coffee at home. Lately, I've been putting some cinnamon in the grinds. It's pretty darn tasty. I used to drink Half-and-Half, but I'm trying to lose some weight, so that's 1% now.

I can't possibly imagine doing even one small bit of work at a coffee shop, or the Tea Lounge or whatever. In fact, I'm often exasperated when people have decided that anyplace with a couch is their personal living room. When freelancers and writers and junior advertising copywriters bring piles of paper and their Macs and a hat and a scarf and sweat clothes and make camp with a pot of tea, I think to myself that they are either performing their work publicly on purpose; or they just think that buying their own couch is a hassle. It makes me sweat and feel like dunking their Urban Outfitter socks in ice water.

Then, of course, I realize I'm being a tool, and its likely that these people are about a thousand times more productive than I am. That I resent them for being up at 8 am, checking stock prices on their wireless connections and reading over the fifth draft of their screenplay.

I can be incredibly judgmental, clearly. I am also self-loating, which tempers it a bit.

I enjoy writing on notepads, yellow legal pads, with Pilot Rolling Ball Pens. The results are aesthetically pleasing to me.

My formatting has slowly transformed. I'm pretty much self-taught, so my formatting used to be all over the map. Now, I think it's pretty standard. I don't use a Macro, though. I probably should.

I can't eat chips when I write because it makes my keypad greasy. That's gross. I would, though, eat them if it didn't. I love chips.

I can be inspired by music, but my writing is at its best when I turn off the radio, the CDs, the iTunes, whatever...and it's quiet. That's been hard for me to accept. As someone without a firm routine, I've tried writing to music over and over. It's just never worked as well as sitting in the quiet does.


Art said...

I have a green spiral bound notebook that I carry around as a combination journal/idea book. I filled a few over the years.

I write in that journal almost anywhere: Stop lights, trains, parking lots, eating lunch...

I also have handheld tape player into which I will sometimes dictate things if I am in the car.

When writing the actual play, it is mostly on my computer at home. When typing a play I always type in Courier 12 Point. Pretty standard formatting. Character names usually come to me as I am writing. I use relatively few stage directions.

I do write with music sometimes, but only if I feel it is benficial. I wrote most of Radio Check 2330 in silence. But I wrote most all of my play I Go Solo with headphones on and listening to fun, up tempo pop music blasting through headphones.

When I am not typing on the computer, I will usually write on yellow legal pads then transcribe it into the computer, later. Any pen will do. But I find that I get distracted too easily to do hard nuts and bolts work on the play in coffee shops, etc. (I don't have a laptop.)

I have, over the last two years become more methodical with structuring my plays. I have become an index card person.

If an idea for a play gets to the point where I think I actually have something, I get one of those little spiral bound index card notebooks and I just write on the index cards if I have an idea for a scene or an event for the play.

The card might say, "we see Catherine, alone, with Hal and Erick off to the side." Or it might say,something like: "Darren suggests Portia goes AWOL."

It is kind of my way of getting myself to focus on whether or not I have a play or I just have a bunch of scenes. As I go along, I might start to scribble dialogue or beats that I envision in those scenes or events.

This is relatively recent for me, but it works very well. I used to do so much of that in my head. This way is much easier. Some plays haven't made the cut this way, but that's alright somehow. It is easier to let it go of them.

I am terrible at setting self-imposed deadlines with writing.

Scott Walters said...

I love this post, Matt. Marisa is right -- while this probably seems sort of extraneous to the Act of Creation, it really isn't, is it? There a sort of invocation that happens around creativity that involves a lot of very banal things, like formatting and coffee with cinnamon (I'll have to try that -- I'm just "learning" to drink coffee now at age 50). Anyway, as somebody who rarely gives anyone a glimpse of myself as a person on my blog, I have great admiration for those that do. And great curiosity. And my word verification below is "asboo." Which pretty much says it all.