When I was in my early twenties, my brother and I started a theatrical show called The American Basement Review, a loosely connected series of comedic sketches based on our love of Monty Python and Saturday Night Live. While we had already reserved a venue for our first performance, we had no stage or lights with which to rehearse. In our heads, which is where the show was entirely conceived, we were picturing a cross between a Bugs Bunny cartoon and a Broadway musical. Once the show actually hit the stage the truth became glaringly apparent to us: we were just two guys standing on a more or less empty stage. The scenes we wrote after that first show were much better that the ones we wrote for it. In fact, I remember standing on stage in the middle of a scene thinking to myself, “This should have ended three minutes ago.” From that point on, all scenes for the American Basement Review ran two typed pages.
It reminds me of what Frank Delaney said about reading your work aloud. Like a lot of writers, he holds to the belief that if it doesn’t sound good aloud, it isn’t any good, period. There’s a lot to be said for this. The spoken word often reveals what we distort in our minds. If something missed the mark, you will usually feel what is missing when you try to speak it.
Like a lot of writers, I’ve always been a pretty ambitious guy. I’m always filled with big ambitions for where my work might go. But whether I’m writing a comedy review or a novel the most important question is not, “Where do I want it to go?” but, “Where am I right now?” It is easy to sit around dreaming of what it might be; it is easy because you can make that future anything you want it to be. But when you look at where you are right now, when you read your work aloud, you are standing in the only place from which you can see all your possible choices, the only place from which you can get where you believe you wish to go.
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