Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Importance of Being Patient

I will admit that it annoys me that this annoys me. Being upset with other people’s inexperience is irrational because it is sensible and innocent enough.


Recently I read a post on Facebook where someone asked a friend of mine if she could get her play into the theatre my buddy was working at. Of course the answer is no. I don’t care if you have the full support of a board member, trying to get a nonprofit theatre to agree on anything is impossible, especially when asking for them to take a chance on an unpublished and college aged playwright. Though age is not an actual direct indicator of talent (having read the first work of sixty year olds, I can attest to that), there is a stigma on it, meaning that, especially when dealing with people who are in the midst of their midlife crisis, age is a mark against judgment.

But my dear friend, bless her heart, answers the question the best she can—by making up something that sounds right. Yes, there are some places that are willing to allow plays to come in for half the ticket sales, but it’s not all that common, and it usually requires some charisma to negotiate it. For various reasons, it’s not something that many people want to do. They are now blocked out of the space, still have to pay for electricity and air conditioning, (which, considering the volume of lights and area actually is a decent chunk of change) and still have their name attached to whatever is being produced. Add that with the ego of most artists, and very few people want to deal with it.

She also adds, however, that the seasons are chosen a year in advance, which makes sense for advertisement reasons. And is typically par the course. When, however, my friend tells the inspiring playwright that, the response is, “ok wow I have to wait a whole year?”

I don’t want to be irritated. Her feelings are understandable, her naivety is not malicious, and, quite frankly, the indigence is something I probably read into it. Lastly, although I don’t remember it, I’m sure I once upon a time I have had a similar reaction to something of the like. It doesn’t mean that people should be angry with me, or her, for that matter.


The number one way that artists hurt themselves is by a sense of entitlement. It isn’t all bad; feeling humble and selfless is not the way to have a successful career in anything remotely competitive. Believing in your own specialness and destiny allows for us to overcome overwhelming odds. On the flip side though, it is important to recognize that “God” helps people who help themselves. Whether it’s destiny or fate or religion or genetics that we use to define “gift,” believing that nothing can happen without hard work and diligence will counteract the stagnancy that will come with believing in innate talent.

That being said, I am not advocating humility. Forced humility is rarely beneficial, neither is, for that matter, humility itself. Being purely selfish and humble doesn’t lend to success. I am advocating patience and sacrifice. Desire for immediate satisfaction is the number one reason that people don’t chase their dreams.

I’ve seen people pick up a pencil, be dismayed at what comes out and quit. They want to be innately talented.

I’ve seen people get one bad critique and throw away a script. They want the good to be immediately recognized.

I’ve seen people get told by one bitter teacher that they won’t succeed and they believe it. They want to know that they’re not wasting their time.

But becoming a writer takes time; it takes time to finish a book, to get better, to get an agent, to get a publisher, to be published, and no matter how abnormal a path we choose to take, it isn’t likely that it will be much quicker.

I do support trying to make it happen as quickly as possible, and not just surrendering yourself to the fact that it will probably take forever; that will make it take even longer. But when an opportunity arises, it is important to take it no matter how small or far away it seems to be.

I guess what bothers me about her saying this has more to do with her motivation; e.g. I’m not sure what it is. What did she expect to happen when she said, “I have to wait a year!?”

“Oh, well if that doesn’t work for you, we can probably make it sooner.”

 It was probably a reaction of surprise, in reality, just a response for response’s sake. But this gut perception of motivation is one of those things that authors have to contend with all the time. The reader reacts based on what she thinks the writer is trying to do without even a conscious realization of it. My gut said she was trying to talk her way out of the norm by behaving it was not the norm. So I unconsciously perceived it as manipulative, and that put me on edge.

A writing career takes years and years of work. If you are lucky, you may pull a Stephanie Meyer and get something written in three months, published in two years, and be on the best sellers within the month, but then you’d still have to a) write it in three months, b) query it within a year, and c) wait. A year’s worth of time to see something come of your work is a comparatively small amount of time.

For someone still in academia, it seems long. Because the educational system makes “next year” feel like a totally different world, it seems that it’s eternity. On the other hand, here is my prediction for what will happen if she were to, a) get it made in a year or b) not get it made in a year (based on my own personal experience):

She manages to maneuver her play into a spot, she waits for twelve months without doing another project and then, low and behold, finds herself into a show when, amazingly enough, she is still in a dead moment of her career.

Or she either doesn’t submit or the submission isn’t accepted, she waits for twelve months without doing another project and then, low and behold, is still doing nothing.

Dry spells happen. Working in those dry spells, writing and submitting will lead to a sudden burst of events later on. One October, I made myself a month of short story writing and submitting. For the next year I would find myself with a new publication every month. Sure, some of the prints were less than read, but it was better than a whole lot of nothing.

Being successful means taking unappealing jobs. Whether it be journals no one reads, short films that no one sees, commissions with regulations, or any of the thousands of undesirable options, it’s important that, with some exceptions, to take work as it comes and treat it seriously no matter how little or unimportant it is. Of course, sacrificing morals, or, to a small extent, even image, can be a mistake, but defining the difference between being stubborn, snobby, or lazy with being savvy and self-assertive will open many more doors than shutting down every time something outside of what you want to be doing opens up. Writing is a competitive field and that requires going above and beyond passed just what gives us immediate satisfaction.

Her reaction didn’t indicate that she wasn’t going to do it. But by the fact that she chose to talk about it on Facebook and not ask her in person, was surprised by the time frame, didn’t ask for, say, a meeting or a way to submit, but rather asked her friend to do all the leg work for her, and then allowed the conversation to end as abruptly as it started, indicated a lack of commitment. As authors, it’s okay to not know how the system works—waiting around until you do know what to do will just mean you’re waiting around all your life—but remembering to have a certain amount of decorum, professionalism, and obvious passion is the first step to compensating for naivety, i.e. don’t post plugs on Facebook.