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  • by Judy Coder

The Writing Process

For the past 6 months or so, I’ve been working as a librettist. I am composing an opera, and I’ve taken it upon myself to write the libretto, the script, the words that will be sung. It’s a totally new experience for me. As I write, I’m learning a lot about the process of writing.

I do not write on a schedule. I’ve talked to novelists who speak of sitting down to write every day, but I can’t do it like that. I’d love to, but I’m not a full-time librettist. I don’t do anything full-time, really. I am a producer, booking agent, performer, private teacher, and a composer whose current project is a masterwork.

This piece is historical fiction. It is based on a true story, and I regularly consult the autobiography. I have an outline for the plot, and when I can, I set aside large blocks of time for writing. I’m happy to say that, so far, the words come easily. I have also set aside even larger blocks of time in the coming weeks, which will allow me to be more creative with my libretto.

Up until this point, I haven’t done anything one might call “creative writing”. Everyone writes things for school work, but the creative pieces I’ve written have been short and sweet. I really don’t believe I’ve ever written anything that required any sort of character development. In the libretto, character development takes place through conversation. It must also be singable; sometimes the music in my head makes the libretto flow easily, but not always.

I’m writing with an eye toward humor. In this libretto, I’m looking at a serious subject through the eyes of a person who brightens up a room just by walking in. Humor is a delicate element of writing. I am not writing jokes, by any means, but the main character herself is lighthearted, quick with a laugh, even in the face of difficulty. When the onstage drama becomes intense, I have created supporting characters who will provide comic relief. This will require a light touch. Overdone, humor is just not funny. Subtle humor is my goal. It is a serious story, but it is not sad, and I want to give the audience lots of reasons to smile.

Sometimes I need a deadline. The opening chorus is complete, and will be premiered this November in Albuquerque. I’ve written some additional dialogue, and the project seems to be going well. I’d like to discuss the process of writing while I’m still in the thick of it, so recently I corresponded with a radio host whose show focuses on writers. An interview seemed well-timed.

In preparation for my radio interview, I was asked to answer a few written questions about my project, and to submit the actual text I’d written. YIKES! I was far from finished. It required more polishing than I realized to make my outline coherent enough to be shared. In a burst of writing, I clarified my outline, and even wrote some additional dialog before submission. In the days that followed, I continued to clarify and expand the text. It was tempting to send revisions, but the interview will be about an ongoing project, with many revisions to come. I expect the libretto to be far more impressive by the time we actually visit on the air.

I’m glad I did it. I’m glad I put myself out there, and I’m glad I crammed all that writing in over a few short days. Even if the radio host decides to wait for our interview until I’m a little further along in the writing process, I’m glad I did it. I do see that I’ve got lots of work to do, but I’m not overwhelmed; I’m excited.

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