The Inspiration Issue

Earlier today, I had the fortune of joining a group of playwrights for their monthly meeting, thanks to an invitation earlier this week from one of the group’s members.

True to my homebody nature, I woke up this morning and would have been content to lounge in my jammies with coffee mug in hand until noon, but I couldn’t. I had to be somewhere at 12, which meant my morning meandering would need to wait out the workweek. Not too many years ago, I would’ve been OK with passing on an opportunity to learn something new, to see something out of the ordinary or to emerge from my bubble, but I’ve tried hard to do the opposite in this area. I’ve found that when I do, the experience is 100 times greater than I could ever have imagined.

We met in a side room at an Orange County library. The gathering was fairly large, with three individuals planning to share their work; feedback would be provided in return. One had his first act complete, another contributed his 10-minute play, and the third was a woman who had her first 20 pages written.

The pages from the first two members were incredibly well-written, and at the completion of their readings, the group praised and constructively criticized the work. This process isn’t unlike what I’ve experienced in my own playwriting classes. And then we got to the woman’s pages.

While the subject matter was nothing short of fascinating (and also very well-written), the way in which she spoke and fielded questions afterwards had me captivated. She answered them, but before doing so would lead into her reply with a quote. Example: “How did you come up with this idea?” Her reply: “There’s a quote that goes, ‘The morning breeze has secrets to tell you. Do not go back to sleep,'” after which she’d explain that many of her ideas come in the middle of the night. The trick, she said, is to do something with them the moment they arrive. Don’t go back to sleep — get up. Speak into a voice recorder. Move to a different room and write, preferably with pen or pencil versus typing. But don’t go back to sleep.

One man who had directed many plays in the Southern California area asked her about a different play that had been shared with the group the previous year. He was interested to know how its completion was coming along, because this woman had since moved to New York and her work wasn’t shared as regularly anymore. That said, she still tried to drop in when she was in town, like she was today.

“It’s not going where I expected at all,” she casually and candidly said of the play’s story.

I was shocked. The writer herself, the one who could make her own imagination come to life, was writing something that she didn’t expect?

It may not seem like a jarring answer, but she so easily admitted her own surprise at the play’s arc that it made me wonder why — in our own lives — we often times aren’t as able to go with the flow and adjust when our own story changes. Why does it seem more difficult to embrace the changes in our own storylines?

I continued thinking about this for a few moments, and while doing so glanced around the room at the members. They varied wildly in age — from a few in their 30s to some in their 60s — but their affection for the written word and where it transported an audience was the same. They were ravenous to create an experience, not just to complete a draft. I wondered what their backgrounds were, and how long they’d been writing. I wondered what defining moment existed in each of their lives to bring them all to playwriting.

The woman was still speaking, and while she had a slightly skittish quality to her movements, she was very sure of her answers. Her hands danced through the air as though she was a musical conductor articulating her spoken symphony.

Toward the end of the meeting, one of the members was giving away some of his issues of The Dramatist, a journal published by the Dramatists Guild of America. He gave me one, and it happened to be a double issue from just one month ago. I put it in my purse, the discussion came to a close and I walked out with the group, making small talk as we navigated toward the parking lot.

Once inside my car, I sat for a minute and realized how much I would have missed out on if I, for some reason, would have stayed home. The thought was almost painful. I said it in a post from last week, but the invitation to join the group’s meeting today was nothing short of a gift — and one that had quickly re-lit the fire to complete my dust-gathering scripts.

I retrieved my issue of The Dramatist from my purse, and noticed the title of this particular issue looking back at me from the front cover: The Inspiration Issue. The words took my breath away for a split-second. I smiled back them.

Inspiration, indeed.

Today I am thankful for new friends, the idea that a work in progress is allowed to veer off course as often as it wants, the embracing of change in my own storyline and my personal, few-years-old resolution to get out and experience more.

To this day, it surprises me how much better it feels than jammies and morning coffee.

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