Zen and the art of summer

Some things you can do this summer that will help you toward a career in the performing arts aren’t easy to pin down, nor are they anything you’re likely to go wild over. These things are quiet, small things, but they are a way of looking at ordinary things with the creative eyes of the artist. I’m calling them Zen-like because they will teach you planning and patience. These things just are. And they are things that will work for you no matter what profession you finally go into.

So if they are not all that, why would you even want to consider doing them? As Monk in the TV show of the same name used to say, “You’ll thank me later.”

1. Learn how to plan.

I want to write a play. What do I do now? I make a plan. This is my plan, not anyone else’s. Other people need to do make their own plan using their own strategy. This is going to be mine.

My strategy is to know where I’m going with this writing project and I’ll let the details guide me each day. This is my preliminary plan:

  1. To review what it takes to write a play, I’m going to reread Syd Field’s The Foundations of Screenwriting, which came highly recommended in a playwriting class I took.
  2. I’m going to take my idea and outline the scenes I think I’ll need. I can add more scenes or take some away later as I get into it.
  3. I’ll flesh out my scenes and rearrange them to give the play shape and then rewrite like crazy.
  4. I’ll estimate how long this play will take to write. I have a goal to enter it into a playwriting contest I found when I was researching.
    1. How do I know how to estimate? I go by how long it took me to develop a scene for that playwriting class and multiply it by the number of scenes in my outline and then add a few weeks for a cushion. I add another three months for rewriting. Another month for editing and rewriting the final draft.
    2. I now realize that I’ll have to enter next year’s contest because no way is this play going to be ready in time for this year’s.
    3. I set aside time – the same time every day – for the actual writing. I will adhere to this even if it means spending time sitting in front of the computer screen staring at a blank Word page. Eventually some words will appear and I’ll be off and running.

When I plan, my vision comes alive. Little by little my vision becomes real and almost a living, breathing thing that needs care and feeding.

When you plan, you put your intentions out there into the Universe where all that energy can put your project in motion and help you get it done in a satisfactory way. The Universe isn’t going to put a prizewinning play in a nice neat package on your desk for you, but things begin to work toward that. I know now I can do it, even if it is going to take at least a year to get it done. What I can’t predict or make happen is if I will win. I can only write it to the best of my ability. I can finish it.

2. Live mindfully

The second thing to do starting now is to look, really look at things. At everything you see. At whatever emotions come up. Your thoughts. See them. Feel them. Right now. It is the present that feeds your creative soul, not what you think you’ll do some day. Your future is more of you are doing today. So watch, observe with the eyes of an artist. Write these observations down, if you can. Or sketch them. You want to preserve impressions. These are the observations that fuel your art.

3. Look for things to sync up

You begin to see ideas everywhere. You begin to see that obstacles are actually opportunities. The old adage heard over and over in detective and crime shows is “There are no coincidences.” And so it becomes for you.

Here’s what I mean. Let’s say your intention is to write comedy sketches and your plan is to get as much writing in as possible wherever and whenever you can. A trip to see plays in New York for two weeks threatens to derail your plans. But you remember that obstacles are also opportunities so you take your tablet with you on the plane. You have an idea you want to write about and there is no time to lose.

You get on the plane and into your seat. The plane takes off and you begin typing up a storm. You are on a roll. But an obstacle is looming. Someone sitting next to you interrupts to inquire about what you’re doing. You tell him. He asks you to read some of it.  You do. He laughs. You are surprised. He hands you a business card. Turns out he’s Tina Fey’s or Fred Armisen’s or someone like that’s agent and asks you to send him a sample of your work.

You don’t panic, because part of your plan has been to write a lot and also to take the time to format it and make the best ones look good so you’ll always have a ready-made samples. You have plenty you can send him.

A coincidence? Really?

The Universe provides what you need, but you’ve got to put it out there, “it” being your intentions and the planned follow-through these intentions deserve.

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