September 2, 2009

The best period of playwriting in my long career was an extended summer in 1978. My father had died two years earlier so the grief had passed but I still continued to receive survivor’s benefits that freed me from the requirement to seek summer employment for the first time in my life.

I lived in Spanish Harlem in a fourth floor walkup that cost only $105 per month and this economic freedom allowed me to create a regular schedule of work. The day began with letter writing in the claw foot bathtub. This was followed by breakfast and reading. Next a bike ride to some  New York neighborhood for journal writing and people watching. Late afternoon was lunch, work on a major project followed by a nap. Finally another bath and out to enjoy New York night life with college friends.

The Pavlovian experience of writing at the same hours and examining the same projects inspired a deeper concentration than was often afforded by the chaotic life of subsequent years. The result of that monastic period was the multilingual epic play, The Stalking Horse.

It has been difficult to create sustained periods of focused writing as an adult but at the very least we can alternate intense mini-retreats with periods of pedestrian writing so that each play benefits from several days of our greatest focus near the beginning, the end and for at least a single “polish.” It invariably unlocks an otherwise unattainable depth of insight.

--Ed Shockley


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