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Sunday, June 17, 2012

Entering the World of the Book

SUNDAY NIGHT, A LITTLE before midnight. I’m driving the NYS Thruway, heading home after a weekend in Manhattan. A fun weekend of performing and being entertained, making me more aware than usual of the role of the audience such enterprises. And compelling me to look more closely at a couple of the longer-range projects in which I’m immersed.

Short pieces – reviews, essays – I can usually knock off in a single sitting. A little pre-thought, in which I envision an outline and mentally write the lede – and they typically can be finished within an hour or two. Especially in the reduced-distraction realm of the coffeehouse.

But I’ve got a novel in progress. And I’m working on a new play. Both of these consume large parts of my consciousness, and I’m sure they’re percolating in realms of my unconsciousness as well.

They have become boon companions. The novel has been with me for a few years, stagnant for a while, lately far more full of life. The play is a deadline-crunch job, as much an exercise in discipline as anything else. What’s fascinating about both is the extent to which they ride alongside me tonight.

I’m not much of an outline-writer, but I’m obsessed with the architecture of a piece. Pacing is vital; if I’m aiming for comedy, which usually is the case, I want to be sure to reward the audience with a decent array of laughs.

And so I turn the characters of the given scene loose in my mind, delineate the landscape, and let them discover the challenges that erupt. And I’m as fascinated as they are to see what solutions become possible. Entering the world of the book becomes a pleasant escape from the world in which I’m forced to reside.

Many years ago, a composer named Václav Nelhýbel visited my high school’s music class. He was born in Czechoslovakia but came to the United States in 1957, when he was nearly 40, and was living in my part of Connecticut in the 70s. His music was quirky but delightful, challenging but always rewarding to the ear.

This is what he told us about composing, rendered in a happy Czech accent: “I wait until the theme I am looking for builds and builds in my head until it’s starting to bug me. Really bug me. Then I let it out and see what is, and see if it’s useful.” A better take on the creative process – any aspect of it – I’ve yet to hear.

Where am I? Near Newburg. Good. I’ve got a couple of hours left to sort out this scene. By the time I get to my desk, I’ll know what’s bugging me.

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