OctoMusiWriMo 2017!

Beginning on October 1, 2017, I will embark on my second year of OctoMusiWriMo. It is my goal to complete an entire first draft of my musical by the end of the month. Here goes!!

Below you will find the blogs I posted during OctoMusiWriMo 2016.

Day 31

The final day of OctoMusiWriMo...

I can't thank each of you enough for bearing witness to my writing process this month. I really appreciate all of the thoughtful comments, advice, support, and encouragement. It means a lot.

I am going to keep moving forward. I still want to write this musical. I am still excited about the story, the characters, the possibilities...


Day 30

“Musicals — the great ones — are rarely about ordinary life plodding by, They’re about the outsize romance that can’t be controlled, the special world we’d love to live in for a while, the faraway time and place we’re waiting to be seduced by, the larger-than-life force of nature we so rarely encounter in real life.”

Jack Viertel
The Secret Life of the American Musical: How Broadway Shows Are Built (2016)


"We're in previews for Perestroika. It's roller-coaster time: nights when the audience loves it, nights when they love it too much, nights when they don't love it at all; nights when I'm exhilarated and nights when, during the intermissions, I crouch in outer stairwells and spin fantasies of vanishing from the face of the earth. There's no time more difficult for a playwright, at least not professionally, at least not for me. Narcissistic investment in every moment onstage occasions a crisis of over- identification. Each line that doesn't detonate with the force it possessed when I first heard it in the theatre-inside-my-head feels to me like a humiliation, a violation, a cause for wrath and despair. A life spent looking forward to repeated experiences of this undignified agony ceases, in previews, to have any appeal whatsoever."

"The fiction that artistic labor happens in isolation, and that individual talents are the sole provenance of artistic accomplishment, is politically, ideologically charged and, in my case at least, repudiated by the facts. ... We pay high prices for the maintenance of the myth of the Individual: we have no system of universal health care, we don't educate our children, we can't pass sane gun control laws, we elect presidents like Reagan, we hate and fear inevitable processes like aging and death, and on and on. Way down close to the bottom of the list of the evils Individualism visits on our culture are previewing playwrights suffering paroxysms of mortification and rage, caught up myopically, claustrophobically, sometimes catastrophically, in the dramas of their selves."

"In the modern era, it isn't enough to write; you must also be a Writer, and play your part as the agonist in a cautionary narrative in which you will fail or triumph, be in or out, hot or cold, ride the Wheel of Fortune (the medieval one, not the one with Vanna White). You become a character in a metadrama into which your own dramatizing has pitched you."

"The success of Millennium made the rewrites of Perestroika excruciating. All summer I carried around Gore Vidal's wise words, written on the flyleaf of my journal: "What matters finally is not the world's judgment of oneself but one's own judgment of the world." This sentence had a talismanic power, though I knew that for me, finally, the world's judgment mattered mightily and I shuddered to read Vidal's conclusion: "Any writer who lacks this final arrogance will not survive very long in America." There are many kinds of arrogance I don't lack, but that final one..."

Tony Kushner
Afterword: "With a Little Help From My Friends"
in Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes - Part Two: Perestroika (1994)

Days 24-29

Yes, some writing is happening. Comforting to hear that after two years of working on Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda had two songs written. Comforting and not comforting. The deadlines that came with investors lit his fire.

The hunt for investors begins. Keeping my eye out...

Days 20-23

I'm noticing a trend here.

Saw Thoroughly Modern Millie at the Moonlight Amphitheatre last night. It made me think a lot about relationships in musicals--particularly the romantic ones. And how to make that modern. "Everything old is new again." I actually love the idea of taking a timeless subject like love and discovering how someone might portray it in ways surprising and, ultimately, satisfying.

For now, watch out for this one:


Thanks for the original image, Judy Reeves. xoxo

Day 17

Forging ahead with shitty first drafts.*

*Oh, and that's a good thing...

Today's Tidbits: This morning, I felt compelled to return to Anne Lamott's Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (1994). She has this chapter whose title all of my writer friends know by heart: "Shitty First Drafts." It is incredibly helpful to have a writer of Anne Lamott's talent not just remind us, but INSIST that every writer--even the very best--begins each new project by writing a shitty first draft.

"You just let this childlike part of you channel whatever voices and visions come through and onto the page. If one of the characters wants to say, 'Well, so what, Mr. Poopy Pants?,' you let her. No one is going to see it. If the kid wants to get into really sentimental, weepy, emotional territory, you let him. Just get it all down on paper, because there may be something great in those six crazy pages that you would have never gotten to by more rational, grown-up means. There may be something in the very last line of the very last paragraph on page six that you just love, that is so beautiful or wild that you now know what you're supposed to be writing about, more or less, or in what direction you might go--but there was no way to get to this without first getting through the first five and a half pages."

Very comforting...

Days 13 & 14

Yesterday was the first day I forgot to blog during OctoMusiWriMo. Arrgggh!

I wrote both days. That's the good news. And things are moving forward.

Thanks to all of you for your thoughtful and supportive comments. A special thanks to Rick O. for helping me show up yesterday and today. It matters.


Today's Tidbits:

"The importance of introducing characters as early as possible in a musical cannot be stressed too strongly. For the audience, immediately after meeting them, begins to see things--whatever--through their eyes and to care that they get whatever it is that they want."

"I was thinking of this recently while walking on a beach in St. Croix. Overhead I saw a pelican soaring seemingly lifeless in the sky. I knew it was searching the sea for a fish, and I wanted to see it succeed. Hardly had the thought crossed my mind when I saw the pelican swoop down like an arrow into the sea. It emerged swallowing a fish. There was no doubt that I was on its side because I had met the pelican first, knew what it was after and wanted it to get it. Then I thought: Suppose I had been snorkeling underwater and had seen a beautiful iridescent blue fish swimming aimlessly, and this fish had got my attention and interest. Then I saw an underwater turbulence, and the pelican had suddenly grabbed the fish! My feelings would have been opposite. I would have been horrified by the incident."

Lehman Engel writing in Words With Music: Creating the Broadway Musical Libretto (2006).

Day 12

Not much to report today. Any favorite motivational quotes, friends? I have such cool friends that I know that whatever you share--whether from you or a favorite author/mentor/idol/person--will be meaningful to me. Thanks in advance.

Day 11

30 minutes today. Fresh start tomorrow.


Today's Tidbits: Happy National Coming Out Day.

Day 10

More SETI/NASA/CIA intrigue today. Really solves a number of "believability" issues I've had.


Today's Tidbits: Because I am considering having Hu's father work for the SETI Institute (SETI = Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence), I was looking at the SETI website for information. Among the things I learned:

  • Stephen Hawking worries about us broadcasting signals into the galaxy. He worries that the alien beings we may make contact with will be Columbus and we will be Native Americans. In other words, they may be aggressive and intent on destroying us. I was just writing about this. Damn. So strange. The universe works in mysterious ways. I am proud to say that my muse is not just international--she's intergalactic.
  • The next total solar eclipse--the first in 37 years--will take place on August 21, 2017. We will only see a partial eclipse here in San Diego, but if you go to Salem, Oregon, you can see the whole shebang.

Day 9

Did Hu's father just become a CIA agent? Hmmm... Interesting paths today. Intergalactic espionage. Hmmmm... I like where this is going. Unexpected.


Day 8

Another day of fits and starts. But at least there were starts. :~) Very intrigued by the discoveries I am making about my protagonist's relationship with his father. Hmmmm...

Today's Tidbits: Okay, I'm spotting a theme. But I just love what Seth Godin says about "writer's block" in his book "The Icarus Deception" (2012):

"No one ever gets talker's block. No one wakes up in the morning, discovers he has nothing to say, and sits quietly, for days or weeks, until the muse hits, until the moment is right, until all the craziness in his life has died down.

Why, then, is writer's block endemic?

The reason we don't get talker's block is that we're in the habit of talking without a lot of concern for whether or not our inane blather will come back to haunt us. Talk is cheap. Talk is ephemeral. Talk can be easily denied. [Blogger's note: Unless it is on tape with Billy Bush.]

We talk poorly and then, eventually (or sometimes), we talk smart. We get better at talking precisely because we talk. We see what works and what doesn't and, if we're insightful, do more of what works. How can one get talker's block after all this practice?

Writer's block isn't hard to cure.

Just write. Write poorly. Continue to write poorly, in public, until you can write better.

Everyone should learn to write in public. Get a blog. Or use Squido or Tumblr as a microblogging site. Use an alias if you like. Turn off comments, certainly--you don't need more criticism; you need more writing.

Do it every day. Every single day. Not a diary, not fiction, but analysis. Clear, crisp, honest writing about what you see in the world. Or want to see. Or teach (in writing). Tell us how to do something.

If you know you have to write something every single day, even a paragraph, you will improve your writing. The resistance, of course, would rather have you write nothing, not speak up in public, keep it under wraps.

If you're concerned only with avoiding error, then not writing is not a problem, because zero is perfect and without defects. Shipping nothing is safe.

Fortunately, the second-best thing to zero is something better than bad. So if you know you have to write tomorrow, your brain will start working on something better than bad. And then you'll inevitably redefine bad and tomorrow will be better than that. And on and on.

Write like you talk. Often."

Day 7

Good day today. Maybe it's because seven days is what it takes to find a rhythm. Maybe it's because I am deeper into the story now. Maybe it's because 7 is my lucky number. Maybe...

Today, in part, I was thinking about how we (as writers, as artists, as creators) balance our desire to entertain with our desire to shine a spotlight on some truth about humanity. Too much in one direction = slapstick. Too much in the other = didacticism. Finding that balance.


Today's Tidbits: One book that has been tremendously instructive as I work on this musical is Jack Viertel's "The Secret Life of the American Musical: How Broadway Shows Are Built" (2016). I return to it as a wise reference book on the structure of the American musical. Here is what Viertel says about what audiences want from a musical. Do you agree?

"There are no inviolable rules for the creation of enduring, popular musicals, possibly except this one. The hero has to want something that's hard to get, and go after it come what may. The sooner the audience understands this, the better. The I Want song is the mark of an active hero... Great shows have clear stakes."

Day 6

Today, I discovered how dangerous plants can be.


Day 5

Today was a good day. In addition to writing, I spent some time mapping out action plot points in my story on a large piece of cardboard. It helps me begin to visualize the overall structure of the piece. As I begin to fill in additional elements--song placement, settings, etc.--it helps me to have a visual map of what I'm doing.

Thanks for the generous comments yesterday. As many of you said, you just get back up and go at it again. No sense dwelling on yesterday. Staying in the present.

Intentionally blurred...

Today's Tibits: Yesterday, I was reading the story of how James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim came to write Into the Woods (if you are a musical theatre fan, Sondheim's two volumes of collected lyrics--Finishing the Hat and Look, I Made a Hat--are a treasure trove). I went to the pages not because of my musical, but because I had a voice lesson last night, and decided to sing "No One is Alone" from Into the Woods. Sondheim writes that when he and Lapine were "looking for a quick way to make a buck," in 1985, Lapine had the idea of creating a television special "involving TV characters from situation comedies (for example, Ralph and Alice Kramden, Archie and Edith Bunker, Mary Richards and Lou Grant, etc.) in a car accident which brings to the scene characters from the cop shows (T.J. Hooker, Joe Friday, Cagney and Lacey, etc.) who take them to the hospital where they are treated by Dr. Kildare and Marcus Welby and Ben Casey, etc." Sondheim and Lapine presented the idea to Norman Lear, who loved it and wanted a script. But when S & L explained that they didn't want to write a script, they just wanted to sell the idea, Lear said he didn't want to buy the idea, he wanted a script. And that was that. One year later, Lapine came up with the idea of "applying the TV idea to the Brothers Grimm. We would write a story in which the lives of famous fairy-tale characters would collide and intertwine in a mutual meeting ground, and where else but the woods, where so many of the stories take place?"

Love that story. Oh, and if you saw Into the Woods in tryouts at the Old Globe in 1986, you may remember that there were characters there that did not make it to Broadway and beyond: Snow White and the Three Little PIgs.

Day 4

I guess this means four hours tomorrow.



Day 3

I found it very useful today to review sections of Christopher Vogler's The Writer's Journey. I spent my writing time today plotting out my main character's heroic journey. Really helped me clarify some plot and structural points. Yay!

Today's Tidbits: Very useful passage in David Spencer's The Musical Theatre Writer's Survival Guide; he titles Chapter 7, "The Bogus Condition, or: Writer's Block":

...writer's block is a mythical malady borne of four quite real symptoms:

  1.  You don't have enough information.
  2. The song or scene you're trying to write is resisting you because the underlying premise is false.
  3. Something is intrinsically amiss with your story structure or your underlying theme, and in trying to accommodate the flaw, you're running up against its limitations.
  4. What you're trying to write simply isn't good enough by your own standards, and your internal barometer is urging you to start again.

Learning to diagnose the symptoms is what gets you over the hump.