Posted by on Sep 20, 2016 in Evergreen, On Writing: Craft and Commiseration, Playwriting, The Green Bird, The Love of Three Oranges | 0 comments

Novelists have been doing this sort of post for a while, an all-in-one debrief on exactly how they wrote one of their books day by day (here’s one example and another but there are many out there), but it hasn’t caught on yet in the playwriting community. It’s a shame because writers are strangely secretive about their process when transparency is really the best way from us to all learn from each other. To that end, I decided to keep track of the whole process of exactly how I wrote my adaptation of Carlo Gozzi’s The Green Bird from idea to published play which just came out a few weeks ago from Playscripts and I’m going to share that whole journey exactly how it went down here.

FYI, I keep all these writing stats about all my projects because I use this spreadsheet. I track writing time using the free program ManicTime so I know exactly how much time I spent in my actual manuscript each day vs Facebook et al. 

The Green Bird coverBackground info to this project:

Carlo Gozzi wrote The Green Bird as a sequel to his play The Love of Three Oranges, which I have a very popular adaptation of. People have been asking me for years to adapt this play as well but I had no intention of doing so mostly because I hated it. When I eventually did decide to adapt it, it was to completely overhaul the play, turning a five act play into a two act one with a brand new plot to take out the racism, misogyny and other issues. I also ended up writing two versions of the play: a full length one and a half an hour one-act version.

Background info to how I work:

I run an internet company and I have a toddler at home who is three as of this moment and was younger when I was writing most of this play. I have no consistant writing schedule and don’t write anything close to full time. I snag time to write here and there, usually when the little one naps or just after she goes to sleep. Any time beyond that is because of poor life choices (staying up all night) or, more rarely, someone distracting the toddler for me to buy me some extra time that day.

Where I kept track of total time spent writing, understand that those times don’t represent a single writing session but rather many small bursts throughout the day. I mention this because some people have some confused idea that you can only write if you have a dedicated chunk of time for it and, if that was true, I would literally never get anything done. In and around chaos is the only time I have to write so that’s what I use.

OK, let’s get down to it.

How I Wrote The Green Bird

Inception Stage

  • 6/29/2014 Read my first translation of The Green Bird. I still wasn’t planning on adapting this play, but I was working on another play, The Fourth Orange, which takes place in the same universe and wanted to know exactly what happened in that story just in case.
  • 6/30/2014 Wrote myself a quick synopsis of the play for future reference and also made some notes about what I liked and hated about the story

Worked on other projects for a year, all the while developing this sneaking suspicion maybe I did want to adapt this play after all, if I could do it MY way.

  • 5/17/2015 Read another translation of The Green Bird and then wrote out a loose outline of how I would write the play if I really were going to adapt it. Realized I liked the idea and, hmm, I guess this is really happening, so I started the first draft.

The First Draft

Words Written  Editing Time Total time spent writing
5/17/2015 3222 3:13:20
5/18/2015 1874 2:44:38
5/19/2015 1623 2:58:45
5/20/2015 2559 3:04:31
5/21/2015 1278 1:16:30
5/22/2015 1987 3:39:20
5/23/2015 615 0:39:44
5/24/2015
5/25/2015 2192 2:35:18
5/26/2015 1401 1:23:45
5/27/2015 2329 2:22:03
5/28/2015 1682 2:03:52
5/29/2015 939 0:56:24
5/30/2015 1421 1:45:50

And the first draft was done. That day off in the middle was when I realized I had to move the act break and took a day off to think that out. The first draft is a much lower word count than the final draft, as ends up happening with all my projects, because I always underwrite the first time around.

I took four days off to work on other projects and let it sit and then jumped right into editing it.

Editing

New Words Written  Editing Time Total time spent writing
6/5/2015 3:55:23 3:55:23
6/6/2015 3:07:29 3:07:29
6/7/2015 3:34:18 3:34:18
6/8/2015 2:34:49 2:34:49
6/9/2015 0:49:21 0:49:21
6/10/2015 2:38:55 2:38:55
6/11/2015
6/12/2015 200 0:17:20
6/13/2015
6/14/2015
6/15/2015 0:51:10 0:51:10
6/16/2015 169 0:30:16 0:30:16
6/17/2015  Sent to  beta   readers
6/18/2015
6/19/2015
6/20/2015
6/21/2015
6/22/2015
6/23/2015 0:50:24 0:50:24
6/24/2015
6/25/2015 584 1:00:47 1:00:47
6/26/2015
6/27/2015 1:18:49 1:18:49
6/28/2015 2:20:00 2:20:00
6/29/2015 1:48:04 1:48:04
6/30/2015
7/1/2015
7/2/2015 1:42:10 1:42:10
7/3/2015 3:14:56 3:14:56
7/4/2015 3:48:59 3:48:59
7/5/2015 1:01:29 1:01:29
7/6/2015 1:36:35 1:36:35
7/7/2015 2:13:52 2:13:52
7/8/2015 4:23:04 4:23:04
7/9/2015 3:09:59 3:09:59
7/10/2015
7/11/2015
7/12/2015 0:27:36 0:27:36
7/13/2015 0:37:04  0:37:04
7/14/2015
7/15/2015 1:11:58 1:11:58

Mostly, I only keep track of time when I’m editing and don’t fuss with word count. On June 17th, when I finished the first big editing pass, I sent the play to beta readers. The edits after that time represent a new round of edits based on the beta feedback.

On It’s Feet

7/21/2015 – Emailed my mailing list of directors I’ve worked with before to see if anyone was interested in premiering this new show. Had half a dozen productions booked for it by the end of the week. (That’s the advantage to finally writing a play people have been nagging you to write for over a decade! ;-))

7/27/2015 0:35:16 Gave the play a final read through before sending it out to the groups interested in performing it.

Post-Production Revisions

The majority of these productions happened in the fall so I was attending as many as I could in between working on other projects. When I saw the last one for a while, I wrote up some notes and changes I knew I’d be making in the new version later.

11/15/2015 51 words
11/16/2015 857 words

In December, I started the rewrite in earnest with the goal of getting it done in time for some productions happening in early 2016. At some point I added a new column to my writing spreadsheet where I included notes from this point on.

Words Written  Editing Time Total time spent writing Notes
12/2/2015 2:00:28 2:00:28 Started new revision
12/3/2015
12/4/2015 2:34:43 2:34:43
12/5/2015 4:15:42 4:15:42
12/6/2015 2:37:47 2:37:47
12/7/2015 0:27:37 0:27:37
12/8/2015 3:14:23 3:14:23
12/9/2015 2:47:52 2:47:52
12/10/2015 0:04:26 0:04:26
12/11/2015
12/12/2015
12/13/2015
12/14/2015
12/15/2015
12/16/2015
12/17/2015 2:48:55 2:48:55
12/18/2015 2:59:33 2:59:33
12/19/2015 0:09:03 0:09:03
12/20/2015 3:28:53 3:28:53
12/21/2015 978 0:56:04 0:56:04  Finished revision

I didn’t write down what that long random break in the middle was. Was likely just the toddler deciding she was morally opposed to naps again. This revision was mostly little changes here and there but included three brand new scenes to replace old scenes, two of which were really long and involved. Once this version was done, it went out to the remaining productions.

In the meantime, I started a one-act version of this same play to increase the opportunities for it.

The One-Act Version

Words Written  Editing Time Total time spent writing Notes
1/5/2016 0:59:54 0:59:54 Started 1 act version
1/6/2016 2:15:45 2:15:45
1/7/2016 2:46:43 2:46:43
1/8/2016 3:11:18 3:11:18
1/9/2016
1/10/2016
1/11/2016
1/12/2016
1/13/2016
1/14/2016
1/15/2016
1/16/2016
1/17/2016 2:58:17 2:58:17 Finished one-act, gave to beta readers

What’s funny about writing this out is that it felt like writing the one-act took an absolute AGE but apparently it didn’t take me that long at all. Maybe it’s because I got totally fed up with it and walked away for a few days to work on other stuff. Anyway, we did a reading of it after the beta reads and I realized it was still too long. I had to cut down this over 2 hours play into around 30 minutes to be in a good range for drama competitions (the main demographic for a one act like this) so I grabbed my machete and did a final chop of the show to get it down to the right run time.

2/21/2016 1:14:07  finished hacking up 1 act version

Publication

In May of 2016, Playscripts (who has the licensing rights for my version of Oranges) acquired both versions of the play. I did another quick pass through of the play before I sent it into them to ready for publication and did a bunch of other little final things such as doing final edits of the synopsis, doing production notes, writing up acknowledgements, organizing production photo credits, etc.

Words Written  Editing Time Total time spent writing Notes
5/6/2016 3:22:48 3:22:48 Publishing stuff
5/7/2016 4:03:22 4:03:22 What I hope to be the last pass through until I get the proof
5/8/2016 0:56:00 0:56:00 More final stuff but hit send this time!

Then there was a long stretch where Playscripts was doing their editorial stuff and getting the play ready for publication. In the meantime, there was a production of the new version of the script so I had a chance to verify that the changes were working as intended. There was also a run in Chicago of the original version of the script which provided a nice contrast.

In August, I received the final proof versions of both plays with the editorial notes and went through those. (Don’t let this give you an unrealistic idea of how fast the publishing process normally works. This was unusually fast turnaround because Playscripts wanted it out in time for their new plays catalog which ships in the fall. It normally takes FAR longer.)

Words Written  Editing Time Total time spent writing Notes
8/4/2016 3:00:47 3:00:47 Final edits on The Green Bird full length
8/5/2016 0:41:26 0:41:26 Started final edits on The Green Bird one act
8/6/2016 1:10:44 1:10:44 Finished final edits on The Green Bird one act

Both scripts officially went up for sale on August 22nd, 2016 (again, unusually fast) and I can officially say I’m done writing this weird play. Yay!

Total hours spent working on The Green Bird: about 133 hours

My Takeaways

  • You can get a heck of a lot done with stolen moments here and there. Slow and steady wins the race. Not just advice for turtles.
  • I wrote this play rather quickly. I look at these numbers and think, gosh, if I had 8 hours a day to write I could have finished this puppy in half a month! Someday, friends, someday. But even with the grab and go method of stealing writing time I have, it was still only 65 working days total from start to finish averaging just two hours of work a day which is totally doable for someone with a bunch of other commitments.
  • There’s a lot of hurry up and wait. Nothing you can do but sit on your hands while waiting for beta reader feedback, publisher edits, productions, etc. Which is why it’s essential that…
  • You’ve got more than one thing going on. When I was in a holding pattern with this play for the reasons above or otherwise stuck on it, I wasn’t sitting around twiddling my thumbs. I completed over a dozen different writing projects at the same time I was working on this play from fiction to freelance articles. Not only did this keep me from going nuts from obsessing on just this one script, it meant I had many completed works at the end of this time period to submit and sell instead of just the one. And the fact is, the more you have finished, the more you can get out there and the more chance you have of success. Plus, I find switching gears to work on another project makes it that much easier to approach the original project again with a fresh and critical eye.
  • I am no expert. I’m just some gal, ya know? I am not even remotely famous. There are probably plenty of people out there doing it faster or better or with more style. But so long as you get it done, the results are about the same in the end.

So that’s The Green Bird from start to finish. If you found this valuable, let me know! I’d be happy to share the details of how I wrote other plays of various lengths if there’s interest but what I’d really like to see is other playwrights doing their own debrief of how they wrote one or more of their plays. Whether it’s a 10 minute shortie or a full length epic, seeing exactly how someone else goes about the process from start to finish can inform how you tweak your own process so it’s worth sharing. I also find it valuable for my own purposes to look back on a project as a whole and see what I can learn for next time.

If you do write your own “How I Wrote” post, please comment with the link below so everyone reading this knows where to go find it. And if you don’t have your own blog or space to share it, let me know and I can try to share it here.