Keeping on track: My ball and chain method

Once in college I was writing a stageplay, my first full-length stageplay actually, titled “24 Hours and Something Original.” It was a Spring semester and I was writing the play for myself mostly. However, I was neck deep involved in the theatre company at the college, volunteering as a board member of its governing body.

So of course, I felt if the play was good enough, it may be an option to produce with the company that following summer, since a summer show had not been chosen, nor were they on a regular basis. I wasn’t writing the play very fast. I was definitely taking my time.

However, that had to change after I was having a conversation with the theatre office’s administrative assistant, who was looking for a summer production to use in order to acquire stage management class credit. I mentioned the play I was writing and she asked if she could read what I had so far. Usually I don’t agree to such blasphemy but I decided to let her read the first act, which was finished. I hadn’t started the second act because I honestly didn’t know what direction I wanted to take the story. Back then I didn’t have the development process I do now.

So she read the first act and thought it was worth pitching the idea as the summer production for the theatre group. She put the first half in front of the chair of the department who was in charge of all final green lights. He read it and said he’d want to let us produce it depending on the second act. But I had no second act. The gal who was routing for it said she could stall him a week if I could get her the second half by then. We never told the producer the script was unfinished.

So I had a week to turn out a decent second act, which I figured revisions could be worked out during production rehearsals. That week I didn’t do anything else outside of classes except work on that play. I eventually finished on deadline, which has always been my strength, and the complete play was green-lit for production that summer. This was in 2000.

During that crazy week where my fingers bled typing on my outdated laptop which was given to me as a gift the year before, a fellow community thespian, who also wrote for stage as a hobby, saw me in the halls outside the theater and asked what I was working on. I told him I had a week to finish the script I was on to get it produced. He asked me how I was keeping myself focus to be able to turn out a full act in only seven days.

This brings me to the point of this blog. Focus is sometimes a struggle for writers especially when life gets in the way. My life back then wasn’t much except college and production. However, I still needed to stay focused given my deadline. So I had a method of keeping focused and making sure I continued to spend every free moment on the script and it’s that method I continue to use to this day.

I call my method of focus the Ball and Chain Method, a phrase I used for the first time during that hallway conversation. The Ball and Chain Method is basically using a backpack or a bag to keep on my person at all times with all my notes, drafts, laptop, pens, etc. I feel the weight of that bag on me while I’m going about my day so I am constantly reminded I have work to do…and sits a monkey on my back until it’s finished and I can actually put the backpack down.

Now with the age of smart phones comes new adjustments to the Ball and Chain Method. With calendar and reminder apps, there’s new ways to create yourself the constant annoyances which tell you it’s time to sit down and get work done. Now you can set yourself an actual writing schedule and have your phone, which you would obviously have with you at all times anyways, tell you when it’s time to jump.

There’s also a third avenue to the Ball and Chain Method. If you were a fan of the TV comedy “Friends,” you may remember when Ross was on sabbatical from work and Joey had no new projects so Ross encourages Joey to write his own screenplay in which to star. And Ross would be his wing man to keep him on track, his project while being unemployed. Now that is actually a no shit method. Designating someone to read notes and scenes as they are coming off the printer is a great way to make sure you are producing in a timely fashion.

It would also be beneficial, having been there with my playwrighting classes in college, to have a handful of writers including yourself meeting each week at the same time to pass around what work has been finished from the week prior. That weekly meeting, knowing your cohorts are going to expect you to show with something new each time, gives a negative encouragement to keep producing but at least it’s encouraging and it works. At least it did for me.

The Ball and Chain Method doesn’t work for some. It does for me and has since “24 Hours…” was completed in that week and produced that summer thankfully. But sometimes distraction gets the better of people, I mean OH LOOK A NEW EPISODE OF BIG BANG THEORY…

#ballandchainmethod #focus #stayingontrack #bennfarrellwriter

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