Photo credit: Steve Wagner Photography
We were very excited to interview Greg Vovos for this week’s post. He is a playwright, screenwriter, and theatre director in Cleveland. You can read his impressive full bio here. I worked with Greg at American Greetings where he is a Senior Writer by day. We asked him about his creative process, his most recent play on the heroin epidemic, and how being a dad impacts and informs his work. This is longer than our usual posts, but there’s so much great stuff in here! We couldn’t leave any of it out!
And now, the talented and unfailingly kind Greg Vovos. -Julie
Tell us about what led you to writing.
Writing has always been a part of my life. Even as a kid, it’s something I would do for fun – write stories, poems, plays – but not necessarily something I was good at. (I can still remember my rejections from 3rd grade!) Growing up I was actually a better musician. But when I was at Ohio State things began to change. First, I dropped out of my clarinet major because I knew I didn’t want to do that for the rest of my life. Then, feeling lost, I went into Business like so many others, and wrecked my GPA. Quickly. So I decided I’d take an acting class because I knew I’d like it. My teacher was a grad assistant – Megan Freeman – and I will always be grateful to her. Because on the first day of class she told us to bring something personally meaningful to our next class, something we would save from a burning house. So I brought a notebook that I’d write stories in and I talked about that. When she asked me what my major was and I told her Business, she looked at me confused and asked, “Why?” I had no answer.
After that, I switched my major to English, which might not seem like a big deal, certainly not professionally, but for me it was everything. A lot of people thought I was making a mistake, but it was the first time in my life that I legitimized what I truly wanted to do. Now, I had a loooooooooooong way to go and a lot to learn (and still do), but the hard part was over. I knew what I wanted and I was going to pursue it.
Not long after that, Ohio State brought in a visiting professor, Julie Jensen, to teach playwriting. I was actually considering on giving up creative writing altogether at that point, because I wasn’t having much success with fiction or poetry. I told myself this was it: either something happens for me in this class or I’m done. The class turned out to be a turning point for me. Julie invited me to UNLV to study playwriting with her and to earn my MFA. To this day, she is still my greatest mentor and will offer dramaturgy on my work.
After grad school, I spent a lot of time working as a director and playwright. But my day job was as a typist. Which wasn’t so bad, because I love to type (weird, right?), but the job didn’t burn my creative brain and I wasn’t proud. In fact, when my son was born they allowed me to work from home. But when he was a year old, they wanted me to come back to the office, and I was pissed. So I started looking for a different job, specifically one with writing – and I found the perfect posting late one night – writer for American Greetings. And my life changed .
You work full-time as a writer by day AND you’re also a playwright. How do you structure your time?
This is a really important question. And the answer for me is pretty simple: I schedule my writing. I schedule it as if it were a business meeting, but the meeting is with myself. Every writer is different as far as when they do their best work, but for me, for my playwriting, I like to write EARLY in the morning. And I want to get at least two hours a day (5 days a week). Sometimes I get less, sometimes more. If I get less I don’t beat myself up. I learned this from a different writing mentor of mine. If I get off schedule, I just work myself back into it. I look at it like exercising or running, just get in the habit and it becomes really easy and it’s a great way to combat resistance.
I start with my playwriting in the morning because that’s when I’m closest to dream state – less tainted by the day – so it’s when I feel most open and creative. After that, my brain is actually primed to do my day-job writing, which is also creative in nature. But honestly, it’s as simple as scheduling it and holding myself accountable. And then once I’m in rhythm, it’s pretty easy.
One tip: I do a variation of Julia Cameron’s morning pages just to warm up. I write longhand about whatever comes to mind and I find it extremely helpful. When my writing’s not going well, and I’m looking back on my process to diagnose the issue (good process = good product, I believe), the problem usually lies in the fact that I haven’t kept up with my morning pages. If I write something I love and others enjoy, obviously this makes me happy, but I get my most satisfaction and worth as a writer by staying on schedule.
Do you have any time-management tips for other creatives out there balancing multiple projects?
I think it’s worth taking time to separate the projects and see where you’re at with each, and then determine what time of day your brain best meets those particular demands. I think of things in terms of Conceptual Brain and Intuitive Brain (I learned this from screenwriter Corey Mandell).
We know the intuitive is the part of our brain that just loves to write, doesn’t think, just writes and writes without any inhibition, like when my daughter is playing with her dolls. She’s just playing, having fun. I do that kind of writing in the mornings – if I’m exploring. But if things are more conceptual, i.e., think structuring your story, outlining, editing, things of that nature, I can handle those tasks later in the day.
Or another tactic is to work first on the thing that is causing me the most anxiety. That way I just get through it and it frees me for my other projects. And, of course, nothing sets a schedule better than a deadline, right? But again, schedule it. It sounds so uncreative – but I find it lightens my spirit and anxiety. And PS, if you’re a writer like me, and you doubt your writing or what you’re working on, keep an anxiety journal, a journal where you can just write down all the things that are freaking you out or the voices in your head that are trying to stop your momentum – the witches. Do this, get those thoughts on paper as fast as possible, and you will become more productive in the time you have. Even just five minutes of doing this can be really helpful. But the best advice I can give is schedule your creative time and protect it – guard it like you would a newborn 😉
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