Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

The inquisition of blank paper

with one comment

Athol Fugard

I write by dealing with what I lovingly describe as the inquisition of blank paper—lovingly despite the terror that it’s had for me in the past, and no doubt will continue to have in the future. My most important tool is my notebook…I jot down random images, thoughts, ideas, speculations, and a little bit of personal misery. It’s a five-finger exercise. Every one of my plays started off a long time before the actual writing took place as an image in those notebooks. There comes a point when one of these images from the past…presents itself again. If it is the right moment, and if, as I tried to describe earlier, there is a coincidence between the external and the internal, the things start happening.

First I just free associate. It’s almost as if the seminal image has a certain magnetic power of its own that helps me focus on the things of daily living that relate to it. This is the first step. It usually results in an accumulation of ideas, scraps of dialogue, rough structures for scenes and a mass of paper. I can lift up that paper and feel its weight metaphorically and think, Yeah, there’s enough here now. Next it’s got to be ordered and organized. I never actually start to write a play—by that I mean put “1” up at the top of a blank sheet of paper and open a bracket for my first stage direction—until I have completely structured the play. I have never started to write a play without knowing with total certainty what my final image is…While it may be a flaw, I am absolutely brutal about my disciplining of the material before I write the words Page One and get to work.

Athol Fugard, to The Paris Review

Written by nevalalee

March 24, 2016 at 8:00 am

One Response

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  1. One of the greats, thank you.

    Jack Shalom

    March 25, 2016 at 7:59 am


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