the view from Power House, our home at Windhorse Farm
A couple of years ago I took oil painting classes. They really helped me with understanding how to build a novel. How? Because I did the same thing on my paintings that I did on my novels which was to concentrate on one area and neglect the rest until I had this perfectly polished tree that stood in stark contrast to the feebly executed field around it. Or I got down my subject's eyes exactly right but the rest of their face and body wasn't right. My teacher (the ineffable Christopher Webb) taught me to work on all areas of the canvas each time I went to my easel. There were other things I learned too that helped with my writing - things like 'don't try tricks until you master the techniques' and 'paint what is actually there instead of what you think is there' but that first one was the most helpful for me.
Cross-training is a technique employed by many athletes. Football players take yoga and find it increases their concentration and balance. Wrestlers swim, basketball players run and so on. Sometimes you don't need to go too far afield to cross-train.
Monday and Tuesday I went to Windhorse Farm with a playwright and four actors. We took the playwright's play and she and I developed a way for the actors to work with it so that the playwright could see where the writing could use some work. It was intense, joyful and surprising in many ways. It got me to thinking about how one could do something similar with a novel.
Playwriting is a highly collaborative art form. The playwright begins with an idea and may write the entire play without any feedback but that's about it - once it is chosen to be produced the playwright better park her ego and prepare to see her play transformed. The directors have opinions, the actors want things a certain way, the producers, the stage-managers, the set designers - all of the creative team will have its way with the play. The best way that I know to work with this is whole-heartedly. Abandon your preciousness - don't even worry about killing your own darlings because others will be happy to do so!
the creative team goes for a walk in a blizzard!That is one reason I decided to attend to fiction writing in the last few years. I loved the process but it is rather daunting from time to time. But...
on the other hand...
the energy that the four fabulous imaginative actors brought to the script was VERY good. They were willing to embody a process that the playwright and I had pretty much invented. We wouldn't even let them read the play until we'd worked for eight hours. We got them to improvise certain parts of the play and really start to understand their characters first. How might I do that with my novel? I'm not sure but I am going to put my mind to it.
By the way - I'm definitely going to figure out a way to go to Windhorse Farm for a good long writer's retreat - fantastic place.