The Joys of Rewriting (or how I have spent the past few weeks driving Jannelys crazy)

Tonight, I’m going to be a part of Villain Theater’s Women in Comedy: A Love Letter to Myself. I wrote a letter that will be read by a local actor, among other letters, performances by stand-up comedians, and Villain’s all female improv troupe.

It’s an exciting event and I’m happy to be a part of it. Serious props to Jannelys Santos for putting it all together.

It has been a tremendous exercise in rewriting on a small scale.

My first draft was a half-finished snarky rant on how I managed to love myself despite all the various patriarchal messages telling me otherwise. It specifically focused a lot on how I really fail at dating and a hyper-femininity.

I got about half-way through and thought, well, this is funny. But it’s far too… mundane. And kinda overdone. Why should everything be related to the traditional coupling story?

The second version was a lot less funny and a lot more heartfelt. I stopped the the first draft of that version when I reached a point where I was crying because I tapped into memories of the last time I was suicidal and spending time in my therapist’s office openly admitting that my greatest fear in life is that I’m completely unlovable.

That was a pretty emotionally raw, truthful piece, but it wasn’t funny and it was much harder to get back around to the place where the letter was a love-letter to myself.

I decided to start over.

The third version had a little bit of the first and second versions in it, but it came from a place where I acknowledged my deep seated fears about being alone and unlovable from a stand-up comedian type perspective. It was pretty raw, but I liked what I had.

Then I found out that I wasn’t reading my own piece and I changed my mind about that version. It isn’t that it wasn’t good, but if I am going to do the stand-up comedy send up of my deepest fears, I feel like I should be the comedian. As a playwright, I’m really used to others saying my words, but since there’s no cover here — no pretense of this being about some fictional person of my imagination — I wanted to start over.

I started over. Again.

I started over a few more times. Until I got the version that is going to be read tonight. It’s less funny than some of the earlier versions, but it has a sweet message — and of all of them, I think it does what it’s supposed to be doing the most. It’s flat out a loveletter to myself. It’s not perfect, but I was able to get it to Jannelys yesterday so that she could get it to the actor who will read it.

After tonight’s event is over, I’ll post it here.

I mention all of this because I have been spending a lot of time with newer playwrights. Both my students and friends who are embarking on writing plays for the first time. In almost every single case, there’s a great desire to have it be perfect the first time out. But the truth is — it’s never perfect the first time out. There were a lot of good ideas in my earlier drafts of this love letter to myself, but they weren’t the best ideas for the event that was going to happen.  I wouldn’t have been able to get to that place without those other half-finished drafts that went off in different directions.

It’s pretty consistent that some of the best work my students do happens when they let go of the expectation of what the play should be and just write a thing. Sometimes that happens because I give them impossible challenges. Sometimes that happens because the flow hits. Sometimes that happens for inexplicable reasons. I know it’s true for me as well, and I also know that letting go is one of the things I struggle most with.  They don’t want to have to turn in three drafts of their short plays because they don’t see the point. However, the ones who commit to the rewrites are always so pleasantly surprised by what happens.

As far as my loveletter to myself, it’s been a fun rewriting process. I look forward to hearing it tonight.