Last week I met with the wonderful playwriting professor in residence, Larry Harbison. Larry has spent the majority of his career working as a senior editor for the theatre world’s largest publication company and I was lucky enough to garner some of his sage wisdom.
Cut to Larry and I sipping on coffees at Mujo’s cafe in the Duderstadt, talking theatre and quoting the greats. Well, actually it was Larry who was talking and quoting while I nibbled on a butter croissant. I told Larry my initial idea and expressed to him my great distress about how my writers block was indeed, blocked, etc etc. Larry listened to my pleas for help and ultimately told me to write. Just write. Scratch any ideas about what I need to produce or what my play needs to look like, just write. He advised me to stay away from documentary theatre which actually greatly relieved me and he said this: “Most great writers start by writing what they know. Earnest Hemingway began by writing about his working class family life in Illinois until he decided to go to Italy and become an ambulance driver. So here’s the trick: Write what you know, but know more.”
I thought about this for a while as he continued to speak. Write what you know, but know more. This got me questioning the kind of writer that I am, and the kind of writer that I want to be, what I know and what I want to learn. In class we were asked to answer a few questions about what kind of writers we were, and I found myself thinking about what a great question that was. When was the last time I really sat down to think about my style, or who I am when it comes to my writing. Later in the conversation I had with Larry he asked me if I was innately comedic or dramatic. My tip of the tongue answer was to answer comedic. I get this question a lot about my acting as well; what would I prefer to be in, comedies or dramas? What am I better at? Why?
It is extremely fulfilling to emote. It is extremely fulfilling for any artist to get on stage or canvas or paper and cry. It is extremely fulfilling to be vulnerable, but it is not always the most difficult rout. Any artist can go drama, but will it be quality drama? It is undoubtably much easier to write or act a shitty drama than it is is to write or act a shitty comedy. There is so much skill and finesse that goes into the art of comedy that most people consider any form of artistic comedic timing a gift. I always felt that though I would love to be in and write dramas, I have an innately comedic inner voice which I see as a strong suit of my writing.
Larry told me to focus on something that I find obvious, that I feel like I have to explain to others, and write about that. He also advised me to take every single character seriously. For instance, he said if I write about a supporter of a certain politician, write that person in to be completely valid, no matter what I as the writer believe. Every person and every character needs to be rooted in the truth, even for comedies. Meeting with Larry and thinking about my own voice got the wheels in my mind turning. I know what I know as a 22 year old female, half Jewish half Catholic, female from California studying acting. I just have to trust that I know what it is to be a who I am, at this exact time, living the life I do.
So now I’m gonna go write what I know, but one day I want to know more.