Audience feedback and finding ideas

On Sunday I did a reading of the play I’m writing. I get together every couple of weeks with some actor friends and we usually read a play but this week we read some things that I’m working on (it’s nice being the only writer in the group). And it got a really nice reception and lots of laughs. Which is a relief because I’ve spent a lot of time on it and the longer you wait without exposing it to an audience, the more I start to feel the weight of doubt about its viability.

If I go long enough without feedback I start to go insane, so thankfully I have an easily accessible audience of friends willing to read my work. And during the reading I realized that  it’s still only half-finished and needs a lot of work, specifically with building out a full story structure that will support the comedy and the characters.

Anyway, the reading serves as a thermometer to see if there’s heat in what I have so far and to see where it stalls. If there’s heat then I can keep developing it with enough positive feedback to keep me going. Where it stalls is what needs to be rewritten and fixed, which is the hard part of writing (breaking the story), at least for me.

So to develop the rest of the story, I’ve been watching Westerns this week. I find the best way to get ideas (not inspiration–you can get that by pondering your imminent death) for whatever I’m working on is to watch other work–watching it actively and jotting ideas down as they come to me. Since I’m writing a satire (that also honors the genre), I’m looking for tropes and archetypes to play with and steal. And once I start looking for ideas, my brain starts listening for more ideas and then they just start coming to me throughout the day, which is much easier than sitting and staring at a screen and trying to think of things.

And now that I think about it, I get most of my ideas when I watch something being performed: plays, films, actors in a class, an improv show. Sometimes I think “I’d like to do something like this but with x or y or z” and sometimes I just get an idea for something completely unrelated. Or just a fragment of a scene or a setup or a line of dialogue. I jot them down and when I want to start something new, I have hundreds of starts, ideas, scenes, or other fragments to start with.

It always works this way and I almost never get an original idea that comes from just staring at a blank page–there’s nothing to connect to a blank page, so how can you be creative? You have to start with something and connect it to something else.