Friday, March 4, 2016

Hair Like the Sun - The First Draft

This is a story about something that I wrote that you will probably never see: the first draft of 'Hair Like the Sun.'

I wrote that first draft in early 2013. It only took me about three weeks. I can be a fast writer when properly motivated, and this project motivated me. I watched Claire Mix's documentary and read her book in a day. The story immediately grabbed me and demanded I write it. I had no choice but to comply. (My fellow writers will back me up on the notion of being held hostage by a story.)

After three weeks, I had something. I was proud of what I'd accomplished in such a short amount of time. I was under no illusions that this was a finished product, you can't write a play in three weeks and not need revisions. That said, there's a lot in that first script that did survive to the final one. More importantly, it proved that Ruth's story could be told in a play.

Now, imagine that you're Claire Mix. You've spent years creating a documentary and writing a book about your mother's life. Your mother was very active in theater, and you wanted to bring her story to the stage. However, try as you might, you can't crack it. For some reason, you don't see how you can turn her story into a play. After months, maybe even years, you decide to shelve the project, declaring that it is impossible. It can't be done.

Then some punk in Texas writes it in three weeks.

Let's just say that Claire and I began our relationship with her being annoyed with me. Thankfully, after reading my draft, she moved on from annoyance to excitement. This was it, the play she was searching more. Moreover, here was someone who got it, who wanted to tell this story and honor Ruth's legacy. That first draft not only sold Claire on the concept of the play, it sold her on me as the playwright. She trusted me to tell this story.

I say all this because the final script barely resembles that first draft. Over the course of three years and countless revisions, the play has gone through plenty of changes. Someone might be temped to then see that first draft as a waste. Why bother writing it if you are just going to change it?

The answer, of course, is that you have nothing to change without a draft. Even more importantly, that draft shows you that it can be done. An idea is only impossible until you actually do it, and that's what happens with that first draft.

We needed that first draft to make a crazy idea real. Without it, none of us would be here. The idea of a play would have been nothing more than a passing thought in an idle conversation, amounting to nothing more than, "wouldn't it be nice if...?"

So if there's a lesson in this story, it's that your first draft isn't unimportant. That draft makes your ideas real, it gives you something to build upon and improve, and it shows the world, or just you, that your crazy idea can be done.

That's what it did for me, for Claire, and for everyone who believed in this project from day one. We had a long way to go, and I'll tell you about it, but we had that first step. And look at us now.

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