043: What good is a bad first draft? Playwright and arts educator Ian Finley extols the power of revision.

“The first draft really ought to be quite horrible.” A passionate masterclass in playwriting with Ian Finley, playwright and arts educator. Dramatic structure, writer’s block, revision, adapting historical events, the value of arts education, working with what you have, and the importance of “Just Finish it!” 

Ian Finley holds an MFA in Dramatic Writing from the Tisch School at New York University.  He served as Resident Playwright for Raleigh’s Burning Coal Theatre Company from 2004 through 2012, when he was named the Piedmont Laureate in the field of Playwriting and Screenwriting by the arts councils of central North Carolina.  He is the author of plays, including The Nature of the Nautilus (winner of the Kennedy Center’s 2002 Jean Kennedy Smith Award), And There Was War in Heaven (Finalist, O’Neil National Playwrights Conference), Native, The Greeks, 1960, Jude the Obscure,  Suspense, 11:50 and the Our Histories cycle of site-specific plays for Burning Coal.

Finley is also a theatre educator, regularly teaching classes for Burning Coal, the Cary Playwright’s Forum, the NC Writer’s Network and the OLLI program at NC State and Duke.  He serves as Head of Drama at Research Triangle High School, where he oversees a theatre program that involves over a quarter of the student body and produces four full productions and a season of improv each year.

Mentioned:  Episode 040: How do we build audiences for our work? Playwright Allan Maule considers marketing theatre in the Triangle

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Time break-down:

[0:00] Episode intro and bio for Ian Finley


[2:04] “A play is a machine and every gear has a purpose.” Ian has a tattoo of the dramatic structure on his shoulder for real.

[5:42] The six parts of dramatic structure.


[10:00] Revision is 75% of the work (which is generally not what we are taught!). Ian despise the romantic myth of divine inspiration. Greatness is next door to awful. You learn about your work by writing it and piling up the pages. The 1st draft is the outline.

[14:44] There’s no such thing as writer’s block. It’s fear and/or not having an outline. The “unwashed baby draft” — you have to listen to understand this! The revision process is perhaps joyful in it’s own way if you take the long view.


[23:49] Let the writing tell you what you need to research. The priority is to bring these historical people alive again.


[30:57] Ian’s personal writing practice (he’s so prolific — how does he do it?)

[34:54] What’s the value of arts education? How did Ian build the programs at Research Triangle High School and Burning Coal? “You can make art because you are human being.” Build slowly.

[42:50] Getting creative with how to be creative. Use what you have and JUST FINISH IT!

[46:00] Big things coming up for Ian Finley!

[48:50] Thank you and sign off

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Artist Soapbox

Artist Soapbox is a platform for original scripted audio fiction and an opportunity for artists to discuss their creative work in their own voices. We do this through our interview podcast, our blog, live events, and original audio dramas.

Artist Soapbox is an anti-racist organization. We believe Black Lives Matter. In addition, as a podcast production company, ASBX has signed the Equality in Audio Pact on Broccoli Content.

Artist Soapbox is more than just a podcast.

We lead writers groups, accountability support, workshops, and events. We produce and create audio dramas too! Listen to the Master BuilderThe New Colossus Audio Drama, Jesus Pancake, Declaration of Love, Food for Thought, and ASBX Shorts. Stay tuned to hear about more projects written by the Soapbox Audio Collective Writers’ Group.

Audio Dramas

Jesus (1400 × 1400 px)-2

Jesus Pancake

Jesus Pancake is the newest scripted audio fiction series from Artist Soapbox. Nine episodes of zany dark comedy.


The New Colossus

The New Colossus Audio Drama is a totally unhinged dark comedy reboot of Anton Chekhov’s classic play, THE SEAGULL.


Master Builder

This audio drama was adapted from Tamara’s 2018 stage play produced by Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern and inspired by Henrick Ibsen’s classic, The Master Builder published in 1892.


Declaration of Love

Co-producers Aurelia Belfield and Tamara Kissane of Artist Soapbox commissioned eleven NC playwrights to craft short audio scenes based on the prompt “Declaration of Love.”


Food for Thought

Three pilot episodes of new scripted audio fiction series inspired by the prompt Food for Thought.


ASBX Shorts

ASBX Shorts are six short audio fiction pieces created and produced by North Carolina artists. Artist Soapbox Shorts were specifically contributed by the artists to aid in fundraising and to get everyone excited about Jesus Pancake, our new audio fiction series in development.

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