Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Go ahead, paint yourself!

Back in my Melodrama days we had a special term for a crappy performance:


Typically yelled with disdain by any one of a number of Melodrama hangers-on who attended most rehearsals, it was short for "You're painting yourself brown." And when you were bombing big-time, the utterance was accompanied by hand motions that mimed painting a wall with an invisible paintbrush. Which meant, basically, you were slathering yourself with virtual shit and stinking up the joint.

Brutal? Well, yeah. Kinda. But it was mostly yelled with affection, a gentle (ha!) admonition to get your act together and do better. It was feedback of the most immediate kind--you knew right away when something was not going to work.

Now, you'd think this would be inhibiting. Oddly, it tended to have the opposite effect. To earn a "Brown!" from our live-in, self-styled critics became a badge of honor. If you didn't paint yourself brown in the early rehearsals, you weren't daring enough. And, frankly, we lived to be daring.

The worst insult you could get was a tepid "Beige." Followed by an exaggerated yawn. If you were going to dip into the cesspool, you'd best go all out. A deep, dark chocolatey hue--a truly outrageously bad, chewing-the-scenery performance--was respected much more than a timid, cafe au lait, I'll-just-stick-with-the-tried-and-true offering.

(I'll bet my writer buddies already know where I'm going with this.)

Most writers are familiar with the concept of the "shitty first draft." First (and sometimes second and third) drafts are like rehearsals: your chance to practice, to do everything, to risk anything, to make it as right as you can.

When I made the switch from acting to writing, I wrote an awful lot of beige words before I was comfortable enough to let myself go all-out brown during the first draft phase. (Even now my alpha and beta readers don't always see the 72%-cocoa brown words I've been known to produce with my early forays into a book.) But what I've found out is, shit is good fertilizer for my imagination. If I spread it on thickly enough at the outset, some amazing ideas can grow from it.

So I think it helps to remind yourself of something at the scary start of any new project: when the readers/audiences see your final effort, they aren't going to be thinking of the manure you had to spread to get there. They're just going to enjoy the garden.


Susan Adrian said...

Oh, VERY nice. I like. :)

Linda G. said...

Suze, thought you might appreciate the theater reference. :)

Kari Lynn Dell said...

Hah! So maybe this is why I get all my best ideas while shoveling shit out of the barn.

Linda G. said...

Kari, I'd still rather shovel horseshit than iron.


LOL, very funny! I remember reading a blog post a couple years ago titled "Embracing your suck," and the basic idea was that you sometimes have to give yourself permission to write crap in order to get to the good stuff. Too true!


Linda G. said...

Tawna, exactly. Perfection paralyzes, and who needs that?