When I was in college, I wrote a farce for the stage. It was weak, at best, because I couldn’t come up with a decent ending. I don’t want to destroy my reputation here, but the first ending had an alien kidnapping the protagonist during Christmas Eve dinner. (Please don’t delete me from your network. I was only 21 and likely under the influence.)
Knowing it was a bullshit ending, I threw my stage play in a box with some other scribblings where it sat for 15 years. In that time I worked as a television reporter and anchor in the city of Syracuse, chasing criminals and crooked politicians, all the while pretending that writing two-minute news stories twice a day was enough to satisfy my muse.
It was not.
I should tell you that since I boxed my play up in 1997, I’d been thinking of an ending to bring my play full circle. For 15 years, I pondered it. I’m not even kidding. I mean, I wasn’t obsessed with it, but when the holidays would roll around I would look for the magical ending. I even went so far as to ask people, “What is the strangest thing you’ve ever had happen to you during a family holiday meal?”
The most I got was someone’s aunt falling down the stairs. Pfft.
Then one day during a zumba class, the ending came to me. I don’t know why, it wasn’t even Christmas. I don’t think I was even thinking about the script as I bounced around that room, but I will tell you I couldn’t get out of there fast enough to write it down. I keep paper and pen in my car, so the second I got behind the wheel, I wrote it down.
That was in 2012.
In November of that year, I spent all of Thanksgiving break rewriting the entire script, new ending included.
In January of 2013, I submitted my play to five theatres: two in New York, two in Buffalo and one in Syracuse.
In the summer of 2013, the head director of the CNY Playhouse in Syracuse sent me a message to tell me one of the other directors wanted to direct my play Christmas of 2014.
I nearly died.
One of the greatest things we experience as writers of stage and screen is the moment we are able to watch our work unfold. That’s why we write, right?
(I’ve been dying to put those two words together like that.)Well, I got that opportunity. VISITING BAMMY LEWIS: A SILLY LITTLE CHRISTMAS STORY only ran two weekends (six shows), but to date, it is one of the highest selling shows the Playhouse has produced. It also got a standing ovation on two of those six nights and I’m proud of that. I consider that a win. That means people liked it.
Some people didn’t like it. I mean, there was that one night you couldn’t have moved that audience with a string of live firecrackers. No one laughed. That killed me, but that’s par for the course. Some will love your work, some will not.
Now, I will tell you that I was sick to my stomach just about every show. I chose to watch everyone, taking notes as all 11 actors tumbled about on the stage, either delivering my puns with perfection or dumping lines like good actors do.
When the show closed, I rewrote it. Then I submitted the updated version to contests and more theatres. Soon thereafter I was offered the opportunity to join a local playwriting group. The caveat was that the current members had to do a cold reading of my play (with me present) and critique it. I was wide open to this, after all, I wanted my play to be the best it could be.
They ripped it to shreds.
They didn’t even start off with what they liked about it which is, typically, in my humble opinion, how one should begin a critique. I heard things like:
“There is no solid story line.”
“It’s too loose.”
You insult your characters a lot. Why, do you really need to?”
“I’m left with too many questions.”
"Why do you leave the children in the car the whole time?”
Why are they almost always all on stage together?”
“The story arc is lacking completely.”
“What is the point of this?”
I sat there and listened. I took notes, but all the while I wanted to say, “If this sucks so bad, why did the Playhouse choose to produce it? Why did people stand and applaud? How did it come to be that it is one of the highest selling shows at that theatre?”, but I didn’t. I ate the carrot cake and grapes in front of me instead and when it was over I smiled, shook their hands and left.
I share this story with you because you will, undoubtedly, get punched in the gut and face things like this over and over again as you write. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been hit. After I published my first book, I took the editor to dinner and before the appetizers even came she said, “About your book… I would stick to speaking for a living if I were you. Writing isn’t your thing.”
That’s nice. It was already published and on shelves in bookstores. (Sigh.)
But it didn’t matter. I knew what I wanted. I still know what I want. I want to write. I want to meet the challenge of the words and engage the reader until the end. I want them to laugh. To cry. To remember or forget.
I’m good at this writing gig, too. Every word I write makes me better. It makes someone else better. I am happiest when I’m writing. It’s friggin’ magical, considering how many years I denied myself the right to write.
(See that? I did it again.)
I’m not too old and I’m not in the wrong place.
My head isn’t in a cloud and it’s not a fallacy that I can make money as a writer.
I was born to write and I know, I KNOW you were too. That’s why you’re here. That’s why we gather and share at Stage32.
Please don’t give up.
If you already did, don’t. You can’t. Pick it back up.
You weren’t given the fire to write just to ignore it because someone ripped you to shreds, or told you that you sucked. Like it or not, criticism is part of this gig. That’s how we grow and improve. Any good writer knows that, but the best of writers don’t care about the punches, they write anyway. Be that kind of writer and write anyway.
There is a goldmine in you. Keep digging until you reach it and when someone rips you to shreds and punches you in the gut, take it like the kick-ass writer you are, then stand up, hit the keys and finish that masterpiece, even if it’s taken you 15 years to finish it.
Some will love your work, some will not.
About Joleene Moody:
Today's post comes from Joleene Moody, a screenwriter, actor, and author based in upstate New York.
Joleene is also a Stage 32 Content Curator.
(Which means if you have a post idea, you really should reach out to her. She's looking forward to hearing from you.)
Learn more about Joleene at: http://joleenemoody.com/
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