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

This episode is brought to you by the Soapboxers, the official patrons of the Artist Soapbox. If you like these episodes and want more, get on the Soapbox! Podcast recorded at Shadowbox Studio in Durham, NC.

Connect and Follow!

Twitter = @artist_soapbox

Instagram = artistsoapbox

Facebook = https://www.facebook.com/artistsoapboxpodcast/

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

Artist Soapbox podcast is a listener supported podcast. If you listen, please support the podcast by sharing episodes with friends and contributing via our Patreon campaign.

If you have feedback, questions, suggestions, please email artistsoapbox@gmail.com. FEEDBACK IS EVERYTHING TO ASBX.

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

Leave a Reply