Daily Dojo

It’s Like A Kick To The Head . . .

Lloyd Dobler: Hey my brother, can I borrow a copy of your “Hey Soul Classics”?

J-Man: No, my brother, you have to go buy your own. - Say Anything…

So some of the more diligent members of The Dojo may have noticed that, for a playwright, Joshua James be not talkin’ ‘bout writin’ de plays, as a matter of fact, he no say nothin’ ‘bout the secret scribbling arts. Damn site’s called Playwright Joshua James but he avoids sharing some of his dark Ninja Playwright tricks, ya ever notice that? The sneaky bastard’s holding out on us!

Well, my Dojo-Monkeys, what can I say? You’re right. Not that I avoid talking about theatre, oh hell no, I like Talkin’ Smack About Theatre. But I don’t talk about my writing process much at all.

Not that I don’t have my own theories and techniques and views about THE PROCESS. I certainly do. Hell yeah. I got ‘em. I don’t talk about them much for two reasons.

One being that, like all things, my personal process evolves and changes over time. So what IT IS for me TODAY may not be what IT IS for me TOMORROW. I believe in change (I have nipples, hello evolution) and think it be a very good thing.

Number two is, very simply, that like SOUL mentioned in the quote above, some things cannot be given or lent out, they must be earned. There are just some things I could tell ya but it wouldn’t necessarily do you any good.

What does that mean? Well, it’s like in kickboxing, one of the passions I share with Lloyd Dobbler in Say Anything…. You can take classes on kickboxing, you can learn kickboxing combinations and techniques up the wazoo, but until you get kicked in the face, it’s all just theory.

Having someone such as myself tell you what it’s like to get kicked in the face doesn’t come near the reality of actually getting kicked in the face, tasting blood and trying to remember why the hell you’re taking such abuse in the first place.

And for those of you who cannot see the parallels of getting kicked in the face and living the life of a writer, well, all I can say is you have a LONG way to go.

A friend once asked me why I like that kind of stuff, kick-boxing and cage-fighting stuff, why I got into it in the first place and why I still follow when time allows (because, though I’m loathe to admit it, I probably am too old to get really raw with it these days). My reply was thus: You learn a lot about yourself when you get punched in the face. Some of it good, some of it not good, but all of it true.

For me, writing is the same.

I believe that the truly great personal evolutions of a writer, be it of plays or fiction or fantasy, work best and mean the most when they’re DISCOVERED. Like the old sage said, seek and ye shall find.

So I’m not even gonna tell ya that you shouldn’t be clamoring for my hints and tips and bugging me for my bullshit views on the writing process. Sure, go right ahead, hell, I do it when I meet someone higher up on the food chain, I bug the shit out of ‘em. I collect everything about this, my chosen trade, and sift through it like a rabid monkey with a pile of shiny coins. Do it. Fire away. I’ll answer questions.

Just know that my soul may not be your soul. My answers for my process may be different for the answers you need for yours. And that’s all right. The important thing is to seek and find your soul. What you hear from me might not be the answer, but it may help you discover yours.

Now that I’ve gotten that disclaimer out of the way, let me share a bit that perhaps MAY aid you on your journey in the darkness of the literary arts. If there is ONE thing I can share with you, Dojo-Monkeys, if there is one solid piece of advice I can pass on that will help you to your copy of “Hey Soul Classics”, it would be this:

FINISH THE FUCKER.

FTF, for short. Whatever you’re writing. Get to The End. FTF.

That’s it.

I just finished a new full-length play last week. It’s the first full-length play I’ve written in quite a long time and I’ve been working on it for two years. That’s a long time. But on Friday, March 24th I typed the wonderful words THE END to my newest piece, entitled THE PLEASURE PRINCIPLE.

Now some of you are asking yourself, TWO YEARS? It took you TWO YEARS TO WRITE A PLAY? That’s a clever bit of misdirection, stating I’ve worked on it two years. I started the play two years ago, wrote a third of it, put it away for awhile whilst involved with other projects, fiddled on it whenever I had free time. Did another third last year and after New Year’s Day this year, resolved to FTF.

And I should add, I wasn’t just sitting around all day playing with my Xbox in the past two years since I began THE PLEASURE PRINCIPLE. In that time I’ve written a two screenplays (each about 120 pages, and each one requiring eight or nine draft rewrites), one practice novel of about 350 pages, seven or eight treatment bibles for television proposals (anywhere from fifteen to thirty pages), five or six screenplay treatments and pitches (same length), about fifteen to twenty comedy sketches of various length, one short story just under 5,000 words, five or six one act plays and I also did the text for this website and have authored nearly 175 posts to this beloved blog, The Daily Dojo.

All that and I keep a personal journal. So I’ve been busy and it doesn’t even account for rewrites I’ve done on other projects and the plays I’ve had produced onstage in the last two years.

But the play sat there, not being written and I decided this year that, enough was enough, I had this play in my head and I wanted to finish it. And finish it I did, I wrote until I hit THE END and the damned thing was done.

Sidebar, Your Honor?

It should be stated that plays are never truly finished. Just reaching THE END isn’t THE END, it is in fact just the beginning. The beginning of the REWRITE which is, next to FTF, one of the most important parts of the process. But you cannot REWRITE if you don’t FINISH THE FUCKER first. So more on the REWRITE on a later date.

And now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

So it’s done and I’m glad it’s done. After two years, THE PLEASURE PRINCIPLE has been written.

Now I’ve written other plays, as you may have noted if you’ve been good and visited my Library, and a couple of them I wrote REAL fast, in fact, the bulk of TALLBOY WALKIN’, a favorite play of many, was written in two exciting weeks that I spent in a boarding house in Woodside filled with wild, hard-partying Irishmen.

One or two of my plays took me nearly as long as THE PLEASURE PRINCIPLE. Here’s the thing. The ones I’ve written fast are just as good as the ones I’ve labored over for months and months. Sometimes they come fast and sometimes you gotta force the issue.

Why is that? Because writing is HARD at times. Sometimes it is easy (not enough, though) but most of the time it is hard. Real hard. Especially when the weather is sunny and bright and you want to go outside, you want to fiddle with your Xbox or surf the barter section on craigslist or go to a toga party, sometimes the last thing you want to do is write. It doesn’t matter how much talent or soul you have, one thing I can guarantee is that at some point, you’re gonna want to do anything other than sit down at the keyboard and start hammering away.

Like in a real dojo, no one really enjoys the pushups or abdominal crunches, no one. If you say you are, you are a friggin’ liar. No one really likes that stuff. I hate that shit. But I love me my kickboxing, and so it’s gotta be done.

I fall in that category of writer that hates to write but loves having written. That’s definitely me. I kick and scream and bleed when doing my pushups and crunches but I like the burn I get in the end when it’s done.

And I really love it when I’ve just finished a tough one.

I mean, I like my new play, I like it a lot, I started it because I liked the idea behind it, I liked the characters and I enjoyed the story. This one was a particular bitch because when I started it I hadn’t the slightest fucking idea how to end the damned thing (always fun) and it took so much blood and sweat and tears just to understand where it needed to end up at in order to type those beautiful words, “The End”, and be happy. I am happy, I like my new play.

Now, does that mean anyone else is going to like it? No.

Does that mean it will get produced, that it will win awards and get me fame, fortune and truckloads of hot babes? No. I mean, I guess it could happen, but it could also NOT happen.

No guarantee anyone will even read it, though I hope that they will. But there are NO guarantees when it comes to writing and SUCCESS. None whatsoever. Sorry, if that’s what you’re looking for, we’re fresh out of money guarantees here.

One thing I will guarantee is that NONE of those things will happen if you DON’T write it. That’s definite. You do nothing and you get nothing.

But if you’ve FINISHED IT, if the play is DONE, you’ve done something that many speak of but few achieve. You’ve written a play. You’ll meet many who claim they’ve always wanted to write, you’ll meet more who say they are writing or working on something, but you won’t meet as many who have actually done it and completed the job. And the next thing I guarantee you is that, once you have finished the work you set out to do, you will be, in some small way, a different person. Because it’s hard and you did it.

At some point, usually about two-thirds of the way through, you’re going to be convinced that whatever you’re working on is the worst piece of drivel and dreck imaginable, that you have no business being a writer and that you seriously blow when it comes to soul. It’s gonna happen. If you’re smart and have game, it’ll happen (and take heart because in my experience the only writers who never doubt their work and think absolutely everything they write is genius are the writers who truly do suck).

It will happen. And you know what? You may even be right, what you’re working on just may suck and blow and stink to high heaven.

But if you want to be a writer, if you want a copy of “Hey Soul Classics”, and someday find yourself in a dare-to-be-great situation, I say this to you. Finish The Fucker. Even if it’s bad, even if it’s terrible and reeks of shit baked in a brick oven. Finish The Fucker.

You Finish It, whatever you want to write, and once it’s done, start something new and begin again. But you cannot do that unless you Finish The Fucker.

The difference between someone who wants to write and someone who is a writer can be summed up pretty simply.

The writers are the ones who have written.

It’s the only way into the ring. It’s the only way to find out what you need to know, to find out if you want to go for that championship belt.

And if you don’t want to be kicked in the head, don’t like taking punches, don’t like getting bloodied up and smacked around, you don’t have to. You can do something else and at least then you know that you did it and didn’t like it.

You won’t be one of those people who sit around and say, “I’ve always wanted to write a book / play / screenplay” and you’ll look at them, amused, because you DID it and even if you didn’t like it, the shit was done and you’ve moved onward to better things. You did your time in the trench and it made you a wiser person.

But if you do like it, if you do love what you’ve accomplished regardless of how it was received, then you’ve discovered something really profound and for that I congratulate you. Now you know what it is you want to do with your life, for better or worse.

Lloyd Dobler: I don’t want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don’t want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career, I don’t want to do that. - Say Anything…

7 Responses to “ It’s Like A Kick To The Head . . .”

  1. Dorothy Says:

    Anne Dillard says it takes 10 years to finish a book.
    :)

    Some plays want a long time, some plays don’t. Some writers write all the time, some writers write less.
    There is no recipe. But it pays to try different ingredients, spices and cooking techniques.
    Congratulations !
    I have a play that’s been wanting to be finished and at the same time it’s been wanting to stretch and take its sweet time. It freaked me out because I am used to finishing things I start in one gulp. But this one didn’t want that.
    Now I am ok with that. I know it will get done.
    I still think sharing process is great.
    Just some thoughts. Not really a point here.:)

  2. Constance Says:

    nothin’ substative to say on the subject du jour - especially since I can’t seem to BEGIN any writing any more. just wanted to say that you’re wonderful, Joshua. i always enjoying watching and reading
    your words - even those on your blog! can’t wait to see the new one. it WILL be produced…

  3. Stacy Says:

    FTF….

    You talkin’ to me?

  4. Joshua James Says:

    Hah!

    Well, I think FTF works for songwriters too! ;)

  5. RB Ripley Says:

    FTF can be applied to just about anything. As such I am going to apply a little of it to my new play
    right now…

  6. YS Says:

    FTF is great advice!

    I know just where you are coming from. At times I have had a play half written and after struggling with it it for months, I have sat down at the keyboard and said, “Finish this play in two pages, right now! And just get it the hell off your desk, because it is keeping you from writing.”

    Sometimes this will break the log jam, and I will start to see a way to finish it properly. Other times it will just wrap up the project for now and allow me to move on to another idea.

  7. Daily Dojo of Joshua James » Blog Archive » The Dojo Makiwari Board of Greatest Hits - July ‘06 Says:

    […] The Last Gasp Fingers To The Bone It’s Like A Kick To The Head . . . And While You’re Over Here, You Mind Grabbing That End Of The Couch? […]

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