writing a play :: the slow project series :: part 2

This is the second installment in a four-part series behind the scenes of the slow way I'm doing projects these days.

About four years ago, my excellent theatre friend and colleague Gregor wanted to start a theatre company.  He wanted the inaugural show to be a new play.  A rather epic new play adapted from some rather epic old literature.  And he wanted my longtime playwriting partner, Tamara, and me to write it.

We were psyched.

I would love to tell you how that project turned out.  I can't do that, though, because we're still not done yet.

And here's how things have gone so far...

What we're doing:  Writing a new play adapted from some very old sources

How long it took us to write plays together in the pre-family, pre-40 olden days:  9 months

How long we thought it would take us this time:  1 year

How long it's actually taking us:  4 years and counting

Some of the major life events that have happened since we started:  I got pregnant.  I had a baby.  I changed my job situation.  I moved.  Twice.  Tamara changed her job situation.  Twice.  And she got pregnant.

What else has happened:  Gregor went ahead and launched the theatre company.  They've produced 4 shows at this point.

When we've worked on it:  Honestly, I can't remember when I worked on this before I had my daughter.  I think it was late at night.  And Tamara and I met a fair amount at night.  Now, though, we don't have many meetings.  For the past couple of years, we've done almost all of our work by trading thoughts and script drafts online.  I've mostly done my part early in the mornings.  5:30 or 6:00 a.m. kind of early.  During some stretches, I've alternated days:  one broken teapot work one day, playwriting the next.

What has been hard about it taking so long:  Lots of things.  Feeling badly that we didn't deliver in the time we said we could.   Trying to keep the thread of the play, the thread of the excitement.  And timing:  Our availability for the work in the grand scheme hasn't matched up so well.  When Tamara would have space in March and April, I'd have space in May and June.  That kind of thing.  Again and again.

What has been awesome about it taking so long:  This play will be so very different than any play that we could write in 9 months.  The ideas have had so much time to marinate, to seep into our bones, to get space.  And also:  Life brings surprises.  To have access to a project with this much flexibility has been, in many ways, luxurious.  And that's a benefit I'm only fully realizing as I write this.

How I'm feeling about it right now, 4 years in:  So good.  I'm so proud of what we've done so far.  We have a lot left to do, and I'm still feeling motivated, so that's a good sign.

My biggest how-to-do-a-slow-project takeaways from writing this play:

1:  Life will change things.  For you and your collaborating partners.

I couldn't have predicted how having a baby would affect my time and energy and interest for this project.  Well, I tried to predict it, but I was wrong.  Same for moving and job changing and whole host of other things.  

I reckon there are make-or-break times when we have to hold the line, deliver no matter what, make it happen come hell or high water.  But this project has shown me that I sometimes assess something as make-or-break when it isn't.  We can make space for life to ebb and flow around our creative work--for us and for our partners.

2:  Go away, and come back.

I talked about consistent time to work in part 1 of this slow project series.  That's been important with this project, too--during the phases when I've been actively working on it.  But I've also found value in stepping away completely for a few weeks or months at a time.  I come back with fresh eyes.  I bring new ideas.  I cut beloved-but-superfluous writing more easily. 

A confession here:  There was a time when Tamara and I both dropped away from this project for a long stretch.  I think I was away longer than she was.  Maybe 9 months.  That's a long time.  Honestly, I thought maybe the project was dead.  This had never happened in our work before.  What was going on?  

We got together to figure out what we should do.  Were we still interested?  Did we just want to hand over what we had so far and let Gregor find other writers?  It was a hard conversation.  In the end, we decided to go back to it for 3 months, and re-evaluate.  I'm glad we did.  Just because we hadn't ever gone away for that long before didn't mean it was wrong this project.  We both love it even more now.

3:  Say no to other things.

I know.  I said this one in the last post.  But it's important.  I don't have the bandwidth for too many projects at one time.  Here are some things I've said no to in order to create space for writing this play:

+  No, I won't start other projects #1 and #2 that I'm interested in doing.

+  No, I won't sleep an extra hour today in this cozy bed.  I'll get up and write again.

+  No, I won't be able to meet once a week during the summer to make a new piece of theatre with a group of great women.  (Last summer I had the space to work on two slow creative things, and I prioritized the ones that I had already committed to:  one broken teapot and this play.)

So that's my (our) slow-ass but extremely exciting playwriting project.  End date TBD.

If life changes have taken you away from a beloved project you started, maybe that's just part of the arc of your slow project process this time around.

Could you go back to it with fresh eyes?

It might be happy to see you.