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    Hermann Hates: The Daily Routine

    Blast Boston Bureau

    Ever since I quit my day job to write full-time about eight months ago, I've had many friends ask me how I motivate myself to get any work done. What they're really asking, I think, is: What the hell do you do all day? So for their enlightenment, and yours, let me show you how it's done.

    On the bulletin board above my desk is tacked a hand-scrawled note labeled "The Daily Routine."

    It reads as follows:

    8:00-12:30 research/playwriting
    12:30-1:00 lunch
    1:00-3:00 script submissions
    3:00-6:00 freelance/Hermann Hates

    The allotted hours on this schedule reflect my priorities pretty accurately: all morning working on my latest cockeyed piece of stage hooey; most of the afternoon on various pay-the-bills sellout projects, or this column when I'm between pay-the-bills sellout projects; and a couple of hours for hounding the theater world with letters, queries, and copies of past, unproduced masterpieces, of which I have several.

    Creating this routine was my attempt to trick myself into being productive even when nobody was there to flog me with deadlines and managerial kibbitzing. I was trying to literalize the concept of being my own boss. "Lunch time's over, Hermann, now put down that donut, get your ass to the copy shop, and make 20 copies of this dialogue sample pronto!"

    Now, eight months after the advent of "The Daily Routine," here's a typical day in my life:

    After hitting the snooze alarm 27 times, I finally crawl out of bed at 9:15.

    I shower, breakfast, and check e-mail, sometimes simultaneously (it's hard to explain). By the time I get to the last dregs of my Cheerios and the day's forwarded dirty jokes and e-mail virus alerts ("This one really will rewrite your hard drive! Honest!"), it's 10:30.

    I reread the six lines of dialogue I wrote yesterday and decide they all suck. I rewrite them. I get to the stopping point I chose yesterday and remember it wasn't so much a stopping point as an impenetrable wall of tightly mortared writer's block. It's now 11:00.

    I hit the Internet to do some "research" in hopes of inspiration. Usually my research leads inextricably to CNN's baseball box scores or an AOL chat room called something like "Hot Horny Females." Unfortunately, my play is not about baseball or hot horny females, though maybe it should be. AOL, God bless 'em, gives you a screen warning when you've been online 46 minutes, so by the time I guiltily log off, it's 11:45.

    Finally inspiration strikes. I manage to squeeze out another six lines of dialogue before an ersatz boss, one of the people I do pay-the-bills sellout stuff for, calls to ask if I'd mind totally rewriting the pay-the-bills sellout project I turned in last week, for no extra pay. I manage to haggle him into a partial rewrite, for no extra pay. By the time I get off the phone my inspiration has vanished in a puff of bitter self-loathing and it's 1:00. Time for lunch!

    I go down to the kitchen to forage and am quickly reminded that I have nothing except pretzels and some slowly browning broccoli. So I go out to the Chinese place down the street. On the way back I pick up a latte and stop at the cash machine to withdraw another $10 and replenish the knot of tension between my shoulders by checking my current balance. By the time I get home it's 1:45.

    Back to the desk. I pull out my trusty Dramatists Sourcebook, a guide to theaters that produce or at least occasionally read new plays ("over 300 pages of theaters, grantmakers, publishers and prize givers that WANT us!"--Tina Howe). I've been working through its listing alphabetically since January. I'm on the "P's. The next 20 listings after the Pasadena Playhouse only accept submissions from agents, writers "of color," writers "with disabilities," writers of musical-comedy (in itself a pretty severe disability, I think), or women writers. This depresses me so I put down the misnamed Dramatists Sourcebook (how about the "Agentless White Boys Need Not Apply Guide to Politically Correct and Snooty Closed Shop Theaters"?) and play "Asteroids." I finally top my previous high score at about 2:30 and go crawling back to the Sourcebook.

    I find two theaters in the "R's that accept groveling pleas for attention in the form of a synopsis and cover letter -- "The following brief paragraph will neatly summarize THE LAST TWO YEARS OF MY WRITING LIFE! God forbid the intern you pay $50 a week to read these things should spend more than 30 seconds evaluating my work!" I duly crank out said synopses and cover letters and head out to the post office to ship them out and buy more stamps. On my way home, I stop in at another cafe to have some more coffee and read the headlines. I get back home at around 4:00.

    By now the mail has arrived, which for me usually includes: bills; some inspirational press clippings from my parents about yet another hack playwright made good thanks to a few rich benefactors and a startlingly cynical talent for self-promotion; more bills; and one or two rejection letters, which often say things like, "The Podunk Players are no longer accepting submissions for new works." "Then what're you doing with a listing in the so-called Dramatists Sourcebook?" I roar, crumbling the rejection letters into little balls and hurling them at the cat, who always cowers under the coffee table at these moments with a demeanor that is satisfyingly abject. At this point I usually come to my senses and retrieve the rejection letters, which I then smooth out and file away. I didn't used to save rejection letters, but then a more experienced playwright friend suggested that it's always good to have a record of correspondence with any theater in case you ever submit to them again. Besides, I think, maybe I can trot some of them out for a few laughs on my first appearance on Letterman.

    Now that my artistic ego is thoroughly chastened, I am ready to go sit back down in front of the computer and write drivel, which is what my pay-the-bills sellout projects require of me. It's now 4:30.

    It's not easy to write drivel, especially good drivel, which is mainly distinguished from the bad kind by a subtly ironic acknowledgment of its own drivelity. The new editor hired by the music company I churn this stuff out for seems to be on to me, because he keeps bouncing my good drivel right back at me with all sorts of nit-picky notes designed to sap it of any last traces of cleverness or originality. Thus, what began as:

    "If you thought 'Scream' was all over the map stylistically, wait till you hear the soundtrack. This mix of oh-so-hip '90s sounds and glib remakes of '70s classic-rock is scarier than the film it accompanies...."

    --winds up being:

    "'Scream's' stylish balance of genuine chills and tongue-in-cheek jibes at the genre made it a hit among hardcore horror fans as well as moviegoers who don't know Jason from Freddie. The film's soundtrack likewise has a great mix of hip new sounds to please many tastes, from the crunchy guitar-pop of the Pig Bastards to Phlegmboy's haunting, grunge-acoustic remake of 'Don't Fear the Reaper'...."

    Let's face it, neither one is any likelier to make you want to buy the soundtrack. But which one is more fun to read?

    Anyway, suffice it to say I have a hard enough time rewriting my stuff when it ISN'T designed to be spineless vanilla pabulum. So rewriting this is like eating soggy two-week-old pizza. Fortunately it's also writing about music, so I pass the time subjecting myself to one more hearing of the latest Moby track. Moby is on every soundtrack this year; it's like they left all the film stock out in the rain and Moby spores grew all over it. His music, for want of a better word, sounds like a 23rd century construction site, all whistling machines and syncopated sledgehammer thwacks, but the good thing about it is that it numbs me into the proper state of stupid passive-aggression necessary to pound the life out of my own work.

    By 5:30 I've transformed several pieces of good drivel into bad, all for no additional cash whatsoever, thank you very much. I'm also really, really hungry, bad Chinese food having that miraculous, probably MSG-related ability to not fill you up in the slightest no matter how much you eat. So, to reward myself for yet another productive day of rewarding artistic pursuit and lucrative self-employment, I decide to let myself go early and trot down to the store for more pasta.

    After dinner and the evening news I settle in for another night of mind-numbing "must-see TV." As I sit there listening to the half-baked one-liners and cliche set-ups, I think bitterly to myself, "I can't believe this crap is on national TV. Who do these people think they are? I can write better than that any day of the week."

    And tomorrow, I'll hit the snooze alarm 27 times, drag myself out of bed, shower, get breakfast, check e-mail, and stare in dull disbelief at yesterday's six lines of dialogue. Suddenly "must-see TV" seems like Shakespeare. Unfortunately, I can't fire the guy who wrote them, so instead I delete them and start again. And start again. And start again. "Hey, Hermann, I don't pay you to stare at that screen. I pay you to write. So start writing!"

    And that, my friends, is the Daily Routine. Any resemblance to your day job is, I assure you, purely coincidental.

    Catch up on old hates at the by-now-it's-official-already web archive at