I count a play done, finished, finito when I sit in the audience and don’t change a thing. I count it “done” when I am ready to submit.
And that then begs the question, “Why am I submitting this?”
That’s not a self-depreciating comment about the quality of my work – but a reminder that there is a difference between submitting for development and submitting for a production.
If I’m looking for development opportunities I want to be happy with the characters, plotting, dialogue. I want the script to be free of typos and lines that make me cringe and places where I have the character say something half a page after they have exited. But I’m kidding myself – and frankly setting myself up for disaster – if I believe the play is in its final form at this point. During the workshop process, I’ve had a character turn into two characters. Restructured a play from a two-act into a long one-act. Added 15 minutes of material. Even changed the set. Sometimes these have been suggestions from actors and/or directors which I have stolen . . . ahem, incorporated. Sometimes I’ve watched a rehearsal and found a better way to accomplish something. Sometimes I’ve discovered that a character is standing around for 5 minutes without a single line or bit of stage business. Or I’ve allowed a page of dialogue (about a minute) for a complete costume change.
So when I get ready to push the send button or seal the envelope, I don’t sweat too much.
Submitting a play for a first production is a different process. I hope I’ve found all the critical bugs during the workshopping and rewriting process. I’m a little more concerned about the quality – but again, I’m not focused on perfection. The play is still not set in stone. If I have a chance to be involved with the rehearsals, I might still make changes. If I can’t be at rehearsals, I make changes when I watch the show. (I have seen all the World Premieres and go to as many productions as possible – both because it’s fun and I want to see how the show holds together – does it still need tweaks?) Even for subsequent productions, I make changes before sending it out. But these are usually minor things, a nip here, a tuck there.
Another reason I don’t worry about every single word is that for the most part my plays aren’t published. They are produced. Even one of my published plays has been rewritten. (It was the prize from a play contest so it was basically published after the workshop process.) It was a two-act, it’s now a one act. And the ending is different – it’s the ending the play should always have had but I was unwilling to write.
It’s easy to become focused on the writing. And the rewriting. And “Is it good enough?” And “Is it finished?” And “Maybe I should leave it on the desk for a week or so (or more) and see if I still like it.” But think of it this way, if you never consider a piece “done” enough to submit, you never give your work a chance to be. And your words are lost to the world. So give us all a chance to enjoy your writing. We’ll experience it like a symphony. Even if it isn’t “perfect” in your mind – even if there is a wrong note or two or a harmony that could work better – it’s still beautiful. Trust us.