First let me apologize for my drop in posts the last week, was having a tough time (as Friday's post no doubt evidenced) but I think I'm through the worst of it now and I have some interesting thoughts for you!
My next 6 posts, this one included, so the next 5 posts, will be based off of a book I just finished reading entitled Acting, The First Six Lessons by Richard Boleslavsky. It's a book for actors that suggest the different things an actor must do to become great. I plan on giving a brief overview of the idea and then I will explain how I think writers can benefit from looking at their work and their life in similar ways. I don't think it extends only to actors.
So. The First Lesson: Concentration
"Acting is the life of the human soul receiving its birth through art. In a creative theatre the object for an actor's concetration is the human soul. In the first period of his work- the searching - the object for concentration is his own soul and those of the men and women who surround him. In the second period - the constructive one - only his own soul. Which means that, to act, you must know how to concentrate on something materially imperceptible,- on something which you can perceive only by penetrating deeply into your own entity, recognizing what would be evidenced in life only in a moment of the greatest emotion and most violent struggle. In other words you need a spiritual concentration on emotions which do not exist, but are invented or imagined." (pg 22)
The above is a direct quote from the book. Boleslavsky is speaking to a young woman who wants to be an actress and has come to him asking for him to teach her to be what she so desperately wants to be. His first "lesson" is that she must be able to concentrate. Seems redundant for me to say it right? Maybe, but it's something that I feel very few of us really know how to do in this day and age. We have so many things to do, so many things taking our attention that we become unable to concentrate on what we SHOULD be doing. In this case, our writing.
Writing to me is much the same as B. describes acting to be. There are two periods, the searching and the constructive. When we build the story, plan out its details, research the information or setting, build the world or characters, it's at this point that we're external. We look outside of ourselves for inspiration, we look to other people, to other information, we seek for a whole idea and we slowly build it.
When we sit down to write, that is when we move from the searching to the construction. Like B. suggests for the actor at that moment the writer must swallow everything they have learned, everything they have searched for and they must look to the story that waits in their own soul and no where else. Now as writers we don't seek to say someone else's words like an actor does, but our own words in a way that only we can do. Keeping this in mind when we are searching and when we sit down to write we owe it to ourselves to create a space where we can fully concentrate on our work, our words and yes, our own soul as that is where the story lives.
In some ways a writer's job is harder than the actor's, as an actor you generally portray one character for one story. Most first person stories could perhaps be seen as akin to acting out the story for the reader's benefit. But those of us who write in first person, who have to go through not one character but all of them. Those who write the plays the actor will act, should keep in mind that what people want to connect with is the soul of the story. And they want it to be something they as a human can also connect to.
So take away those things that will break your concentration. Work out exercises for yourself to keep that concentration no matter what. It's when you can write without breaking for any reason, where you can submerse yourself fully into the sights and smells and emotions of your settings or your characters or your scenes that you will naturally fill in what needs to be seen, heard or felt. I think it's in that intensity of concentration where you will get your best imaginings, your best rememberings and your best writings.
Monday will be Lesson Two: Memory of Emotion.