Writing the Perfect MONKEY

Originally published on Artist Soapbox on 30 July 2018

Greetings, Soapboxers!

Earlier this month, several friends and collaborators gathered to read and hear the latest draft of my upcoming play, YEAR OF THE MONKEY. If you’ve ever put your work-in-progress up for critique, you know it is a singularly excruciating, insecurity-stoking and necessary experience. I clawed my way to that draft and now, armed with lots of helpful notes and personal revelations, it’s time to revise.

Great. I can’t stand this part.

I knew this was coming, but I’m annoyed anyway. Why am I making such a big deal out of this? I’ve got a lot of great feedback to plow into this thing but I feel angry and scared and, honestly, I have been so frustrated over this project that I have contemplated quitting several times.

Ah, perfectionism. My old friend.

At several points along the way, this project has felt like I’m using a tweezers to build a sandcastle. Thomases, by birthright, are unapologetically verbose yet I have no access to this endless supply of words. When I sit down at the keyboard, out come the tweezers. Why? Because I want it to be “right.” Because I want it to be “good.” Because I want to turn it in and never have to do it again because it took so much out of me the first time. Because perfectionism is my beast. Perfectionism would rather stop me before I start. Perfectionism would rather I edited my work and myself into non-existence rather than pick up that bucket and fill it with sloppy, wet sand.

Cue the irony.

After the script read-thru, two different people remarked that a few of the scenes felt unnecessarily short and they could tell I was editing myself. I had been so focused on cutting away anything I deemed extraneous (exposition, talkiness – bad!) that I didn’t leave enough substance to establish some of the objectives and relationships. Their advice? Haul ass and go for it. Fill up those buckets. Save the tweezers for later.

Sloppiness and precision both have their place in the process. Doesn’t sloppy sound more fun? I’m into it! At least in theory. This might be a “both/and” right now.

I know I will get to a space where I’m having more fun, feeling loose and making a joyous mess. But I also know there’s old pain at the root of the perfectionism and I want to make space for that. Pathologizing my stuckness isn’t helping me. Berating myself for not having more fun seems a tad counter-intuitive.

Maybe I’m not exactly where I’d like to be, but I am showing up. Every day. Maybe the words aren’t flowing like wine (note to self: BUY MORE WINE), but they’re coming. As I’ve told myself a thousand times, “Show up for the work and the work will show up for you.” Ugh, that sounds so smug I want to punch myself in the face.

This is eerily familiar. Perfectionism. Resistance. Finding ways to nourish yourself. Time to walk this talk.

‘Til next time, Soapboxers.
MT