writing process


I just finished a phone meeting with Heather Helinsky, dramaturg. I learned so much, and I want to share it with my playwriting friends. 

I first met Heather at GPTC in 2012, where she was the dramaturg for my play On the 8's. I was totally impressed with her then. She's scary smart, and I came away from that experience with the impression: this woman knows her stuff. 

Recently, I felt stalled on my play, The Memory of Ice. I had read on FB that she was working with another play that had a science base about global warming. So kind of on a whim, I reached out to see if she took on clients. And she said yes! 

For reading/thinking about my play and 90-minute phone session, she charged me a very reasonable fee, which makes it seem possible to afford dramaturgical support on an on-going basis. Side note: anyone interested would have to approach her for current rates, availability, etc. 


  1. Clear notes about the characters, the relationships, and the stakes.
  2. Confirmation about what was working and what wasn't. These were things I had some gut feelings about, but it really helped to have another person articulate it.
  3. Identification of places where my voice was coming through. And I felt like my authentic voice was something that was being encouraged, even nurtured. 
  4. Revelation that my play has stakes, but they are in wrong place! I don't know why I couldn't see it before. Maybe it's because the play has had two vastly different iterations, written 10-years apart, and things just have become muddy. Probably most writers can relate to the feeling of not being able to see a script clearly anymore. This revelation has clarified new stakes for the play that makes total sense to me. 

Now I feel all jazzed up and ready to revise. I have a clear idea of several things I need to work on. She suggested a homework assignment, some resources, and even connected me to another playwright writing about Alaska.  

I wish now I had been working with Heather all along. Why didn't I do this with her years ago? I don't know. I probably thought I couldn't afford it. Or maybe I thought I didn't need it, since I teach playwriting. Wrong! No matter how much I know about the craft of playwriting, when it comes to my own work, I'm convinced now that I need this specific kind of support. 

Bottom line, a dramaturg can be a gift. The fee for this expertise is extremely reasonable. Could I spend that money on other things? Sure. But when it comes down to it, very few things in my life are as important to me as making progress with my plays. 

Heather's website includes a list of recent plays she has worked with, her impressive resume, and client reviews. 

Play Penn also offers a rent-a-dramaturg service that I used a few years ago. They paired me with someone excellent. Their prices have gone up slightly, I think. But I'm sure the money is well worth it. 

A Bullet Journal for Writers

If you haven't heard of the bullet journal phenomenon, search bujo in Pinterest or Instagram and behold the latest craze. Enter with caution -- it may take over your life! It's become something the founder of this system probably never envisioned. My version is painfully simple and embarrassingly plain in comparison to the creations of those with more time and better artistic ability. So, it is with a bit of apprehension that I share my version of the bujo.

I never planned to share this on my blog or admit to this level of geeky obsession. But I was having coffee with a former student this week (Anna Kholod), and she asked me how I make time to write while working a full-time job -- the struggle most of us are trying to navigate. So, with a little hesitation, I pulled out my bullet journal to show her my humble system of trying to make my writing goals tangible and real. And we frankly nerded out! 

Redefining Success

I've always believed that a writer's success should be found in the act of writing rather than external validation. Not that there's necessarily anything wrong with validation, but I have tried to find success in things that I have some control over: am I writing nearly every day and am I getting better in the craft from year to year? The first one requires some kind of writing discipline and process; the second one has to do with pushing myself to try new forms, new ideas, or new themes -- constantly challenging myself to exceed my grasp. 

I think for the most part this approach works for me. I practice it and I teach it to my students. But lately, I've been questioning this paradigm as the way in which I measure my success as a writer. What about those seasons in life when writing isn't possible? The time or the emotional energy just isn't there?

A Silent Writing Retreat

It’s Spring Break—finally!  Later this afternoon, I’m heading up to Signal Mountain to do a silent writing intensive.  It’s only for three days, but I’m hoping to get a lot of writing done.  While I’ve done three-day writing intensives, I’ve never done one in silence.  

The thought is frankly terrifying.  The only experience I’ve had with an extended period of silence did not go well.  I found myself in this situation unexpectedly, and it was like dropping off the face of the earth.  There were tears…

Writing Angst

Today I feel angst-y. I haven't had my usual writing time this week due to appointments of various kinds. Finally this morning I was going to have a couple of hours to write before going to teach writing. But my husband woke up with a viral respiratory infection. Poor guy. But yeah... Another morning of not writing. 

I think it's the feeling that there's so much to do - many of the applications to big contests are coming due soon, I'm in the middle of a really difficult revision on a play, I have a new play I'm also thinking about, and it's the part of the semester when I'm reading drafts from my students. 

And these are all good things. But today, there's the sense that my head's gonna explode if I can't get some large chunks of time to write. 

The real truth though is even if I had time to write today, all of the noise in my life right now may not lend itself to good writing. 

While I'm sure this sounds like I'm complaining, I say all of this to remind myself that days like this come. And the dissatisfaction I'm feeling about being stuck in my script and not having enough time and wanting desperately to write something that matters and resonates -- days like these can be followed by a period of productivity and breakthroughs. If I let it. If I can create some space where I can listen and get words on paper. 

Angst can be good. It's telling me, "Stacey, shut things off and get quiet and listen. You've got something to say that needs saying."