steering the craft

back to work

When I was eighteen years old, I had a truly extraordinary stroke of luck  

It was 1980 and I was an acting student at NYU, in the fall of my sophomore year. I was not a great student, honestly. To succeed in the New York theatre was my dream, but there was much about it that flew way over my naïve suburban head. 

But luck found me nevertheless. After attending an open audition for a new musical with a score written by Stephen Sondheim, one of my idols, I was cast in a Broadway show.

Recall that I was eighteen. I was a student. My resume was a list of all the school plays I'd been in during high school. How could this happen?

Nevertheless, it happened. That show was called MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG, and it was directed by Broadway legend Harold Prince.

There are so many great Hal stories. Many have been told and retold, but one that sticks with me was his career-long practice every time he opened a new show. Whenever...

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the practice of writing

“How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” It’s an old joke, and the punchline, of course, is “practice!”

“Head north on Broadway and make a right on 57th Street” is also a correct answer, but it limits itself to physical circumstances only. Such literal-minded directions might get you to the door of the building, but they won't make you a world-class player. Only many, many hours of tush-on-bench with guidance from a worthy instructor will achieve that outcome. 

My ruminations yesterday about story energy are the fruits of a lifelong practice in the storytelling arts. A mix of study, mentorship, and a huge volume of hands-on doing has served me well. To incline toward action is advice worth its weight in gold; if you don’t write a lot, your writing will not improve.

If your writing is not all you wish it were, that’s all the more reason to produce more of...

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that voice

I played a rousing Zoom-hosted game of Ex Libris last night with some dear friends on the opposite coast. Do you know that game? It is so fun, so writerly, and really a fantastic exercise in voice

I’ll tell you how to play in a minute, but first let me define what I mean by voice. 

Voice is the metaphysics of style. The prose style you create for a book has a tone and personality all its own. It’s why a sentence of Jane Austen is distinguishable at a glance from a sentence of Tolkien. You’ll never answer the phone and think Salinger is talking when, in fact, it is Hemingway. 

Word choice, sentence and paragraph rhythms, the kinds of details chosen, the way of seeing the world that is conveyed by what is said — all of these are part of voice. Together, they add up to a quality all great writing has: the unmistakable feeling that there is an actual, living personality on the other side of...

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storytelling is golden

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