I live in a small town in northeast Texas. Most people here know I'm a lawyer but don't know that I've had quite a few plays published. Still, from time to time, somebody will come to me for advice on how to turn their story nugget into a gold mine. I guess everybody, at least once in their lifetime, will get a story idea that they think is dramatic or humorous enough to be reduced to writing and sent to Hollywood or New York where agents, publishers and producers will fight to outbid each other for the product.
The first piece of advice I give aspiring writers is "finish it." Many people can come up with a catchy idea but thinking it will be a good book, movie or play isn't finishing a good screenplay, play or book. You can't really be a writer until you've taken that idea, worked it through and finished what you started.
Writing can be fun, but it's usually not. Writing can come easy, but it rarely does. Writing can provide spiritual and intellectual stimulation. It can also make you frustrated, angry, crazy and severely depressed. If you stop writing when it stops being fun or easy or stimulating, you're never going to be a writer. If you don't finish it, you're never going to be a writer.
To me, writing is about ten percent joy, ten percent misery, ten percent inspiration and seventy percent maintenance. You've got to work it, stick with it, clean it up, go back to it, redo what doesn't work and hone what does. You've got to be able to look at your own work with a critical eye. And, when you seek the advice of others, you can't assume they're idiots because they don't like this or that about your work. Constructive criticism is invaluable. If your best friend's only comment is "this sucks," don't end the friendship, just find another person to critique your work—someone you trust.
Chris Sergel of Dramatic Publishing Company was the person I trusted. He published my first play and the twenty-something that followed. I would stay with his family at their home in Connecticut once or twice a year and we would discuss ideas for new plays and he would discuss what he liked and didn't like about my works in progress. I did a lot of writing and rewriting at his home and at the office in Westport. If one of my plays was being performed in the area we would go see it. Chris grew up in the business, was a playwright himself and absolutely, positively loved theatre and the process of creating something that ended up being performed by actors in front of an audience. Some of my plays didn't deserve an audience, but Chris rarely gave up.
Once the decision was made as to what the play was going to be about (many times we just came up with a title and started there), then I had to finish it. He would call Texas and check on my progress. Sometimes I would send him bits and pieces. Usually I would send him the semi-finished product. I don't think I ever sent a play that he didn't suggest changes. Sometimes I agreed and sometimes I didn't, but I never questioned his sincerity and always appreciated his desire to make my plays better. Many times I wouldn't want to finish, but he kept after me until I did. And, many times, the struggle to finish opened doors to new characters, plot changes, funny dialogue that never would have been born if the play hadn't been finished.
Chris still kept after me even when I went to law school. He would call me up with an idea about a spoof on this movie or a satire on that TV series. He died before I had a chance to see him again. He was a very special man and my wife and I still miss seeing him and getting his energy-filled phone calls. I'm sure he's sitting front-row center at heaven's finest theatre and I'm also quite sure he's still giving advice. But, even if the big guy Himself came to Chris with an idea for a play, I know what Chris would say. Same thing I would say. "Finish it."