Ad Hoc Writing

Generally, I write for myself more than anything else.

Writing is a pleasure, one derived from exploring stories that begin with a single idea. I follow the thread to where it leads, scenes pile up on top of each other and then suddenly, there is a story, all formed and standing up on its own. The remarkable thing is how often problems solve themselves. Often, all that’s necessary is time.

However – while writing for others, this sort of luxury and joy isn’t possible. There are considerations for the other person’s taste and specific desires, there might even be explicit expectations. I’ve talked before about writing spec material, but there is another sort of writing that I quite enjoy. Writing for others, when they need a speech or ceremony.

This weekend, I was lucky enough to be invited to not only write but conduct the wedding fro two dear friends and I worked pretty hard on the ceremony. Performing in front of others isn’t generally an issue for me, and the Bride and Groom were both great sports about everything. But here’s the odd bit – the ceremony as I wrote it, was fairly somber and serious – the sort of decorum one might want to ground such a solemn function.

The rehearsal played out that way, the night before, but during the actual ceremony, as I was reading, the words took on a new tenor, a different rhythm and tone, different words emerged from my mouth than the ones on paper. What came was, generally a bit funner that what I had written down. A couple of jokes improvised themselves on the spot and the ceremony felt a good deal more… I suppose, loose and comfortable rather than stiff and formal.

I wonder if that was me doing an impromptu draft on stage, or if it’s the sort of thing that stage actors talk about, reading the room and then modifying what they’re doing to fit the space they’re in. (Yes, I’m sure some works exist that are designed to discomfort or set an audience uneasy but I had no such pretensions (at least, this time.)) Regardless, I found myself enjoying this version of the ceremony quite a bit more.

So, there was an ad hoc sensibility that came together and – to my delight and surprise – worked in this instance. I find that the times I’ve had to improvise at a crunch moment is when I’m able to suddenly find disparate threads and tie them together. Something it makes a neat bow, and at others, an ugly knot. And that’s the risk – careful, planned and outlined writing will always be at least good if not better than good. Improvised material have a might higher possible peak – and also a far deeper pit to stumble into.

Writing feels so safe at times – well, it certainly doesn’t feel that way when you’re submitting pieces. But ultimately, the embarrassment of a bad piece is distanced through reviews and layers of abstraction. A performance leaves you at the mercy of the people right in front of you. For me, the risk of absolute and public failure elevates whatever small measure of skill I might have. Of course, none of this accounts for the actual reading and performance of a ceremony, and for that, I have no objective ability to judge myself. And considering my posture, voice, diction and lack of dramatic training, that’s probably for the best.

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