In the pandemic period of No Theater (as opposed to Noh Theater, which is also kind of slow and weird, but different), I found a lot of interesting ways to use my skills as a director. I directed people through the process of getting their COVID shots, which was pretty great. I did a fair amount of new-play dramaturgy. I even wrote a book with my friend Toby.
But one thing was entirely unexpected. It’s a whole new side hustle, and I think I want to do more of it.
It started with a strange request from an old friend: “Can I hire you to be my boss?”
He had quit his job for a lot of reasons, but one big one was that he wanted to take a year and focus on writing a novel. He had an idea he was passionate about. His job was getting more and more frustrating. It was time for a big change; why not commit and invest in something he believed in and has wanted to do for a long time?
He had just one problem: The writing wasn’t going great. After years of being accountable to a boss, he found it hard to produce pages. He needed someone to check up on him, to pester him about his output. So he contacted me, pretty much out of the blue, and asked if he could hire me to “be his boss.”
As it has turned out, I’m pretty far from a boss. I’d say I’m more of a creativity midwife. I listen, I suggest another thing to try, I offer encouragement, but I don’t demand. I haven’t even read much of the novel yet. A few pages, sure, and he’s told me a lot about it, but he wasn’t looking for someone to offer writing critique. He needed someone to help him unstick his creative self.
It turns out, doing this for a writer isn’t that different from doing it for an actor.
For months, we met weekly, for around an hour, via video chat (he lives on the other side of the country). I ask how his writing went: Did he achieve the goals he set for himself last week? What worked? What didn’t? I offer him ideas to try. A list of resources for when he’s feeling distracted. A game plan for scheduling in that writing time. A framework for making a difficult structural decision. A review of resources in his home and community that can help him get some focused writing done.
I enjoyed it immensely, and most especially because I think it worked, a bit. One week, he said that he still wasn’t to the point where he’d like to be (I think he imagines himself banging out 5000 words a day, Raymond-Chandler-style), but he said it had gotten better every week. As long as he keeps on a positive trend, he’ll end up where he wants to be before too long. Nobody gets there overnight; it’s a long journey. Accompanying artists on their journey is one of my favorite things.
This experiment has been very fun for me, and I think I’m good at it. If you have any creative projects that need a midwife, let’s talk.