Wednesday, May 6, 2009


What rainy, cool weather we have been having here in Maryland over the past ten days! Every time I turn around, the weatherman is adding another rain-filled day to the ten-day forecast. I'm beginning to think that I live in London! We endured our April showers, and now, when I'm expecting May flowers, I'm getting May showers. I shouldn't complain, and I'm really not. There are places all over the country that are dealing with drought. At least I know that my well won't run dry anytime soon! I would just like a few sunny days every now and then. Perhaps I could cut my grass if that were to happen. As for now, it grows and grows under wet conditions. The miracle in it all, though, is that, where there was brown nothingness two weeks ago, there is now green growth.

I'm still dealing with a bit of an internal drought regarding my play. It seems that I have trouble with my own writing. I think it's funny that I can write without a problem when I'm writing for someone else on subjects that I am really not interested in, yet when I write for myself on subjects that I'm passionate about, I hit major roadblocks. This play is but another of many projects where I've suffered throughout the process.

When I think of this "writing process" and the pain that it sometimes brings, I can't help but think of Dylan Thomas. Dylan Thomas was one of the world's great poets, and he was perhaps the greatest lyric poet of the 20th Century. Welsh by birth, he died in 1953 while touring the United States at the age of 39. Thomas was quite transparent when talking about the writing process. He once stated that he wrote poetry at the rate of about two lines per hour. But slowness at writing did not stop him from going through draft after draft until he found the right words. He was known to have revised some poems up to ninety times before he published them. Talk about pain!

It is painful to write well. There is no doubt. I think that is what separates the great writers from the good ones. Revision and rewriting are the most intense, confusing periods of a writer's life. This is what I'm going through right now with the play. What felt good coming out just didn't work in all spots. Sure, there are good things that I want to keep, but there are many things that need to be re-done. So, back to the drawing board I go to see if I can make the entire play work for me. I know what I want it to be like when I'm finished, and I know where I want it to go, but there are countless directions I could take to achieve the same end. My job is to find out which direction is the best for the play. And to have direction, I need to know where to begin, and that is one of my base problems. The middle never seems to be the issue. It's the beginning and the end that I take issue with. But to get it right, I must re-examine the middle to fit new beginnings and ends each time I try something different. When it's all said and done, it feels like I'll have ninety plays to choose from.

As a former writing instructor, I know that the writing process isn't taught very well to students. We always talk of writing and revision, but revision often said quietly as if it's an evil word. Most students can get through college nowadays without ever having to go through multiple revisions on papers. Most English majors too! No one is so gifted that revisions aren't a fact of life for writers, so why is it that we don't accept this component of the process as we do others? Fifty years ago, it wasn't the case. People understood that they had to work for something in order to benefit from it. They understood that first draft quality wasn't acceptable. Today, that is not the case.

I believe that it is just another reminder that we have become lazy. We don't want to put in the extra work. We don't want to rack our brains with direction and perfection. We want to write and put it out there in rough form, hoping that we have a hit. That doesn't work, and that's why there are few great writers among us who are not over fifty years old. Believe me, I'd love to think that the first draft of my play is acceptable and will be picked up by a Broadway production company. However, as I read through it, I know that it's not. I know that I need to write a line a hundred times in order to get the best line I can get. I know that it's going to take months not weeks.

This is not the same Mark talking now as it was a few years ago. A few years ago, and all the way back to my days in the MFA program, I was arrogant and lazy. I believed that I could write quality stuff without all the work. Well, age and life have taught me differently, and I'm still coming to grips with all of the effort needed to produce something worthy. My poetry still suffers from a lazy mentality. If I were to just accept the work ethic of Thomas, I could perhaps write some fantastic poetry. As it stands, it's just good poetry right now. But should I accept good? I don't think so. Everything I touch should be great, not good. The same with this play, no matter how much it hurts.

The moral that I'm getting to is that art isn't about inspiration and a few minutes of work. Post-modernism tries to teach us that it is. It tries to instill in us that all art is Jackson Pollack and a dripping paintbrush. Well, it isn't, at least in regards to writing. The great poets didn't frolic in the sunlight all day and write for a few minutes at a time. They slaved over their work. The inspiration is the same with all artists, but for poets, and all writers for that matter, inspiration is just the beginning. The work itself is long and intense. What that teaches me is that I need to stick to my inspiration, not give up, and fight through the process. If I do that, then I will have what I've always dreamed of having -- a quality piece that everyone can appreciate on an artistic level.

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