Writing a new play always hammers this truth back into my head: I have nothing to write.
I know—I’m a writer. I write things. It’s what I do. But the truth remains that I really have nothing to write.
This is my current process for drafting a script: something I see or hear sparks an idea, and I start brainstorming. I’m nervous but excited, and I start exploring possibilities in my head, naming characters, outlining scenes.
Soon I tenuously start the writing itself, pecking out on my keyboard whatever snippets of dialogue start materializing from the ideas I’ve formed. It’s hard, the first several pages, as I’m figuring out who these characters are and how I should approach this plot. But it’s energizing too, because the territory is new and wide open.
I keep going, step by step, scene by scene, and then maybe halfway through the play, I finally have a breakthrough and can see where all this is going. What I’ve written so far is messy, but suddenly the pieces fit together in my head, and I know everything that needs to be done to get the characters to the finish line. I just have to do it.
And then the writing gets hard in a different way. I no longer feel lost or worried that the story won’t work as a whole, but that very fact means that the writing is no longer an exploration. It’s become a transcription instead—a laborious task of reproducing on a page, in dialogue, the plot that’s finally complete in my head.
This is when I find the writing process most tedious. It’s when I wish I could just telepathically transfer to my computer screen the scenes that I can visualize so clearly in my mind. But nope, I’m a writer, not a telepath. And my job is to transform ideas into words. So I keep plodding, line after line.
And that’s when it happens. The writing is excruciatingly slow, it’s stodgy, and it’s as messy as ever, and at some point a silent, disquieting feeling starts to sink over me. I’m not sure if I can actually do this. I have this pristine vision of how the story should come together, how the plot will resolve, what the characters will learn, and I know a first draft never fulfills that vision. I start to wonder if a second, a third, a fourth, any draft will capture the vision. Maybe I can’t capture the vision at all. I’m not skilled enough. I don’t have enough energy, enough time before my deadline. I’m inadequate.
I pace for a while, I stretch, I sit back down at my desk. Nothing. The screen grins at me, blank pages mocking my mental block. Panic starts to grip me, paralyzing my already slow imagination, and I feel myself breathing harder than usual. I shut my eyes and put my face in my hands.
I have nothing to write. And it’s true.
But You do.
It happens every time. I face the Storyteller, the one who called me to this strange vocation in the first place, and I tell Him exactly where I am. I am inadequate. I have nothing to write. But You do. Help me finish writing this story.
And He does.
No, I don’t hear God’s voice dictating the rest of the play. But, somehow, the words come—still slowly, but steadily. It doesn’t feel like a flash of creative light or a flood of inspiration. It’s more like a trickle. And if I just keep typing, He sees the story through.
And, before long, I type the playwright’s version of “The End,” which is “Curtain.” And I breathe deeply and pray one more time—this time a thank-you.