When I lived in LA, I was lucky enough to have Dennis Clontz for a writing teacher. He is the author of the play, Generations, named one of the best three new plays of 1990 by the American Drama Critics Association along with August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson and Richard Dresser’s The Downside. He won three Drama-Logue Playwriting Awards. His plays won 13 Drama-Logue Awards. He was the recipient of over a dozen national writing awards including the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences Nicholl Fellowship. He was part of a team that won a 1994 Pulitzer Prize for on the spot reporting about the Northridge earthquake that struck that year.
Funny thing was, at the time, I knew nothing of all this.
He was one of the most modest and unassuming of men. He was also generous, reducing my fees with a wave of his hand. And he was the most brilliant, animated and fascinating teacher. I still remember practically verbatim his story about meeting his blood family in Appalachia for the first time. And his class on Sophocles’ Antigone will never be topped.
He died of cancer in 2004. But I still think of him when I stop and stare too long at the screen.
Because when he got his student writers in a room he’d set us an exercise, its chief demand being don’t stop, don’t think, just write.
And then he’d set the clock for twenty minutes and yell, Go!
And we’d start…
…invariably we’d stop.
“Don’t stop, don’t stop!” he’d shout. “Write f…, f…, f… if you have to, but just don’t stop!”
Needless to say some of my first plays were pretty foulmouthed but at least there they were out of my head and onto paper.
I credit him completely with my being able to finish each one of my novels.
So when my friend sent me this, I thought hmm, it’s a cyber version of Dennis’ teaching.
It starts to do horrible things when you stop: screech at you, eat your words. So you keep on, like you’re running through the woods, a bad-breathed hairy beast at your back. And yes, you write a lot of schlock, but surprisingly, you write some stuff you can actually use.
And I hear Dennis in my head: “Don’t stop, don’t stop!!!”
photo by nacho_thesith (flickr)