So I write a piece about the ups and downs of the writing life--receiving rejections, specifically--so naturally, I received a clutch of mondo cool theatres (which shall remain nameless unless some great happens) asking to see my work. Never fails (except when it does).
Also in the Department of Great Things, I just got word that "The Centering," a one-man show I wrote with Portland actor extraordinaire Chris Harder, gets a two-week extension at CoHo Theatre after a three-week stand at Portland's Shoebox Theatre...and to top it off, The Oregonian gives it the kind of review that goes down like a hot buttered rum on a freezing day:
You got to crank up every pitch
You got to crank up every pitch
This is the Season of the Bitch
Ah, writing. At last count, I've been doing it seriously for...(pause for math)...36 years. (Not counting the short story I spontaneously wrote, unbiddened, at age six, and then demanded my mother type up. Which she did. That's a mom.) In general, the first four or five years of writing turned out crap. Then, for the next ten years, it turned out more ambitious, somewhat better-crafted crap.
After about 15 years, I started writing for the stage, found my form, and put my apprenticeship behind me. I'd achieved what I'd more or less decided to do when I was, uh...six. I became a writer. Which essentially meant I'd found my way out of one maze and entered another.
In the process, I've experienced some incredible highs, weathered some dark stretches (when I seriously wondered if it was worth it) and some bleak streaks (when I had no ideas or just didn't feel like picking up a pen), and received more rejections--I prefer the word "bounces"--than I can count. Seriously.
I used to decorate the walls of my office--whatever space I'd set aside for writing--with rejection slips. It seemed like a defiant gestures--something a Writer would do. After awhile, the decor lost its charm, took on the stench of self-pity, and felt slightly masochistic. Now, production posters and cast photos cover the office walls. And, you know, there are a bunch of them. They're a lot easier on the eyes and psyche because they say: you've done it before, you'll do it again. That comes in handy when one enters the Season of the Bitch.
Which is to say, over the last month or so, I've submitted a shitload (to use the writer's technical term) of work after a long stretch of basically non-stop writing (you have to grab the work when it's hot and coming in, else it'll spurn you, and you'll lose it), and the little letters and e-mails have started trickling in. One picks up an envelope armed with a letter opener (I prefer a antique Mexican switchblade, compadres) and a bag full of rationalizations: these are tough times; everybody's having a hard time getting produced; there are a ton of good playwrights out there and a limited number of slots; getting bounced means you're in the game; and, as the posters attest, getting produced is not impossible.
These help to push away the darker thoughts, which still have a way of sneaking in when you're tired, bummed, or overwhelmed. The game's rigged. Your work's too weird (non-commercial, non-linear, dark, unconventionally structured, and about 100 other choices you've deliberately made). You don't live in New York City. You're not paying off a more or less useless MFA in theatre. And the killer: You suck and you're kidding yourself.
If that last one kicks in, it can paralyze you as quick as a curare dart to the neck. Then you have to: distract yourself (in my case, do something creative just for pleasure, but there are plenty of other options available...some of which won't kill you); get back to work with a big, neon FUCK YOU sign flashing over your head; or crank up some fast, furious rock'n'roll and crawl back into the submission machine. If you can do all three without getting lost, the process can actually feel somewhat manageable.
Lightning eventually strikes, but, the longer between flashes, the more tempted one is to wise up and get the hell out of the rain. You can, or course. Sometimes you must to dry out. But, if you want to see the process through, inevitably you're going to have to bundle up and head back into the storm.
As for the don'ts....
Don't take it out on whoever responds to you. They're doing a job, may have limited clout, and are prey to circumstances you can only guess at. If they're taking time to read scripts, they love theatre and new work just as much as you do, and they may well be another writer dreading the mail/e-mail when they get home. And, brass tacks, they may not like the kind of plays you write...which means you don't want to be produced there anyway.
Don't take it out on other playwrights, sucessful or otherwise.They have worn the very same impossible shoes hurting your feet, and, though they might be having a hot year, they might be lacing up the torture shoes 12 months later.
Don't take it out on family or friends.They really can't understand how you feel, and, whatever they say, they probably think they're being helpful. That's called love, and should be accepted as such. Also don't avoid them because you think you'll bum them out. Honestly, they're just as eager to tell you all the stuff that's pissing them off; it's a symbiotic relationship.
Don't take it out on the job you have to work to pay the bills. They haven't a clue, could care less, and you're lucky to have a gig these days.
Society. Yeah, you can take it out on them. But it won't do a damned bit of good, they don't care what you say or do, and it can lead you back into "lost cause" wilderness.
And...don't blame yourself.At the moment, you have enough problems. Just try to write as well as you can, and keep going.
So. For writers beginning and otherwise (and, I suppose, any artist--and anyone looking for a job). Do you ever get used to those oh-so-polite kicks to the nuts? Nope. Are they avoidable? Not if you want to play. Should you take it personally? No. Will you? A little, even if you won't own up to it.
Steve Patterson has written over 50 plays, with works staged in Portland, Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, Austin, Tampa, and other U.S. cities as well as in Canada and New Zealand. His works include: Waiting on Sean Flynn, Next of Kin, Farmhouse, Malaria, Shelter, Altered States of America, The Continuing Adventures of Mr. Grandamnus, Bluer Than Midnight, Bombardment, Dead of Winter, and Delusion of Darkness. In 2006, his bittersweet Lost Wavelengths was a mainstage selection at Portland Center Stage's JAW/West festival, and, in 2008, won the Oregon Book Award (he also was an OBA finalist in 1992 and 2002). In 1997, he won the inaugural Portland Civic Theatre Guild Fellowship for his play Turquoise and Obsidian.