When I am frittering around on the Internet, trying to avoid writing, I sometimes come upon articles or discussions that get me…at least thinking about writing something.
On one of the boards I frequent, there was a discussion of cursive writing, or “joined up” writing, as Gilderoy Lockhart called it. I went to a Catholic school as a child, where the nuns and other teachers (who were, contrary to stereotype, very kind and never would have raised a hand to a child) made sure we learned the Palmer Method of Penmanship.
I noted that I still write in cursive (which is apparently becoming a lost art), especially when I send “thank you” notes. I had to go to the store yesterday to buy more when I ran out, and have noted (ha!) that it’s getting harder and harder to find them, with the exception of small pre-printed packets that pertain to babies or weddings.
Since I have had/am planning neither, I have to take whatever too-small glossy pink or green thing in a barely-suitable font is hanging in a packet of 8 on the endcap at the drugstore. Condoms come in more sizes. I’m also sorry to see that there are fewer beautiful blank cards. (Well, except for things with kittens on them, and I’m just not sending a card with a kitten on it. Shades of Dolores Umbridge!)
But getting back to both penmanship and thank you notes, I’ve dropped a steady pile of hand-addressed envelopes in the mailbox across the street in the last few days. If no one dumps snow or a suspicious package in the blue box, the cards will be headed to their destinations Monday. It’s not instantaneous, it’s not convenient, but it’s nice. People appreciate hand-written notes, usually with a level of positive response that more than covers the minimal effort to write them.
It’s a personal style that makes sense to carry over into a professional style: everyone appreciates a thank you, an apology, a “nice job,” whether the person who’s getting it is your sister or the director of your new play.
I’ve been working on a book about marketing for playwrights with Patrick Gabridge, a guy who knows a lot about these things, and as we put together the outline, I suggested we include a section on the importance of saying “thank you.” Each morning, when I’m planning my day, I make a note of anyone who needs to be thanked. Did a colleague create a really cool map on deadline? Did a fellow writer give good critique at Playwrights Circle? Did someone read a beautiful piece at Drunken! Careening! Writers!? (interrobang!)
So a line or two of thanks is in order, more if it was a big project. Detail is always appropriate: as in “your comments helped me figure out the first act” or “the character in your short story is someone I will think about for a long time,” or “I really, really liked the chocolate-covered bacon.”
And at the end of the year, along with totting up things like how many books I’ve edited, how many plays and stories I’ve submitted, how many readings I’ve curated, how many manuscripts I’ve screened, how many plays and novels I have unfinished, and how many birthdays I’ve forgotten, I try to remember if I’ve thanked everyone. (That’s one of the things that keeps me up at night, or wakes me up, along with scary dreams of giant animals attacking my pets. No, I don’t know what that means.)
There were many people to thank in 2010, especially because there some unpleasant surprises where people stepped up and stepped in, both personally and professionally.
As a playwright, I have to thank the folks at Upstart Productions in Colorado, the Universal Theatre in Provincetown, PlaySlam in Boston, Twenty Percent Theatre in Minneapolis, and The Women’s International Theatre Festival (also in Provincetown), Working Theatre Collecective in Portland (OR), Playwrights for Pets in NYC, and Vanguard Rep in Los Angeles, along with my alma mater, UMBC, for putting on/giving staged readings of my plays (and thank you, Dramatists Guild for representing my interests!)
Thank you Smith & Kraus, Applause, Samuel French, Dramatic Publishing and United Stages for publishing and keeping many of my plays, scenes and monologues in print. And of course, I must thank my home theaters EAT and TOSOS for making it possible for me to help put on a benefit for the Dublin Gay Theatre Festival last March (and all the artists who gave of their time and donated to the raffle), and for giving me a platform to hear my work read, and presenting staged readings by playwrights whose work I LOVE and often producing it.
Team Wombat (aka the team that put on the TOSOS production of The Five Lesbian Brothers’ “The Secretaries” at the NY Fringe and Fringe Extension) deserve “not over yet” thanks for one of the productions I’m most proud to have been part of in my career.
Thanks to all the talented writers who participated in Drunken! Careening! Writers!, and to KGB Bar, which continues to host the series for an eighth consecutive year. And thanks also to the hot writers (and guest judge Lea DeLaria) who made editing Best Lesbian Erotica a sweaty joy (and all the people at Cleis, who continue to back this series!)
Huge, great thanks to all the bloggers (and the Extra Criticum blog, where I endeavor to blog on occasion!), journalists, photographers, editors, artistic directors, directors of marketing and publicity, and fellow travelers who list the events I host and plays I have produced, and books I edit, and give of their time, talent, knowledge and wisdom.
Thanks as always to mentors and friends from Tina Howe to Kaylie Jones to Doric Wilson, Mark Finley, Paul Adams, Carol Rosenfeld, PENolan and so many others. And if I haven’t thanked you this particular time, expect to hear from me soon & often.
I’ve just ordered some new thank you notes from Vistaprint, which are much nicer than the ones at the drugstore.
Oh, and before I close, I should tell that you can say “thank you” in an infinite variety of ways. The only constant is that when you say it, you have to mean it.
I’m very busy figuring out ways to market and publicize Best Lesbian Erotica2011, of which I’m the series editor. The part I like best about being editor is sending word to the people whose stories have been chosen that they are in the book…particularly if I know the person who wrote the story.
What’s not as much fun, but is also necessary, is to notify the people who didn’t get in this year.
I don’t like doing it, and I don’t like getting those notes myself (particularly if I know the person sending it).
The first time I sent out a short story, I was 14 or 15, and I think the magazine was American Girl. I typed up my cover letter, and put my story in the envelope. (I believe it was called “The President’s Papergirl.”) I debated with myself on whether to send a return envelope: I hated to waste the postage, because I was sure I’d be getting an acceptance by return mail. Surprisingly, American Girl did not publish my story! I think it was eventually published in a newspaper carriers’ newsletter. (I delivered the evening paper, The Columbia Record, which I later wrote for. Now it’s gone to newspaper heaven).
The lesson I learned early is that even if one publication has the temerity not to accept your work, surely there’s another one out there that will like it, if you keep sending it out.
Before the internet, when phones still plugged into walls and postal carriers delivered “letters,” it required a bit more effort to find submission opportunities and you had to wait a lot longer to get word of your rejection. Prose writers combed “Writer’s Market” for magazines, contests and anthologies, and playwrights picked up The Dramatists Sourcebook. When I sent out my first full-length play, every time I got a rejection letter, I put it in a folder, and vowed not to look at them until I got a production…and when the fine folks at Trustus finally produced my play, I looked: 35 rejections. These days, that’s minuscule. Now we can Google our way to instant rejection hundreds more times! This is progress?
I don’t know that you have to be a better writer than people were in decades past to get your work published or produced these days, but you certainly have to have a stronger stomach for it. (And in a weird corollary to the instant contact of the ‘net, I’ve noticed that the percentage of people who don’t reply has gone up. I used to be able to count on a letter after a certain number of months or even years; now, I’d say at least one-third of my submissions, which are mostly done by email these days, go unanswered).
I did get a response last night from a festival I was hoping to get into; my play was not selected for production this year. And for a moment, I was 15 again: what do you MEAN my perfectly lovely work didn’t get in? Well that just sucks. I’m going to sulk about it for awhile…awhile being about five minutes. At most. (And, well, maybe a little bit today.)
By admitting that, I’m actually breaking a self-imposed rule that I have never to mention rejections in public. I might grouse to a fellow writer about them (after checking to make sure the fellow-writer didn’t have anything to do with the rejection). But other than that, nada. It goes on the spreadsheet, in the “responses received” email folder, and it’s on to the next thing.
As a writer, I’m sure this has saved my sanity many times over. I think, over the years, about some writers I know who are very good, but who have essentially dropped out of it, or haven’t been able to share their great talent with the world because of rejection, or fear of it, more than anything else. Other people I know who are not geniuses, but solid, focused pros (or maybe their genius lies in stubbornness), have made careers for themselves because they can steel themselves to go on to the next submission, the next production, the next CHANCE for acceptance (though more likely rejection).
How do they do it? The hell if I know…
In my case, I stay active in writers’ workshops or peer groups. There’s nothing like a deadline to make me produce pages (a habit I picked up working in newspapers). And as for submitting…well, I started the En Avant board out of enlightened self-interest: if I could find and catalog the opportunities to submit my work, then I might actually do it myself. I’m also part of the regular Playwrights Binge Yahoo group, founded by Pat Gabridge, who has honed his submission process to a (quantifiable) science, and from whom I’ve borrowed some of his techniques to track my own submissions.
All of which leads to, the occasional production or publication…and more rejection.
From a writer’s point of view, I’m not sure which is worse: the form rejection which tells you how many submissions there were (with the occasional attached personal comment, like: “keep trying!” or “almost!”; the personal rejection from someone you know, or from an especially kind editor/screener, which says you ALMOST made it; or that special hell: getting accepted to a festival, anthology, or magazine, and having them go bust before they can publish or produce your work.
From an editor’s point of view, I can tell you that a followup note from the writer can be a good thing, or more likely a bad thing.When I receive a note thanking me for my time and attention, I am grateful that the person understands how it went down; that’s a good note to send, building relationships with artistic directors, literary managers and editors is part of our job as writers.
On the other hand…I’ve been, and friends of mine who screen, edit and judge, have been the recipients of vicious tongue-lashings from writers who are very, very angry that their work was not selected. We are clearly stupid, idiotic, lying hacks and cheats, who do not know our jobs, are log-rolling for our friends, and deserve to be sued or publicly chastised, lose our funding, and have mean things posted about us on the Internet.
If you want to burn a bridge, go right ahead. Sometimes you have to, if a group, producer, or editor is just an idiot. But mostly they aren’t, and a poisonous screed, or even a long, public, moan of self-pity just identifies you as someone NOT to work with. And while it might feel very good (for a moment) to get all that off your chest, in the long run, it’s bad for you, because if you really begin to believe that everyone is Out to Get You, and No One Understands You & Your Genius, that’s a train of thought that can lead to all kinds of bad endings.
Rejection is personal, because it’s YOUR work that’s being rejected. Depending on how you handle it, you can keep it from ruining your vision, and let it focus that vision on how to get your work to people who just might get you.
Or, and I recommend this to all the writers who have the stamina for it, you can take your vision and make it happen yourself: produce your own work, publish your own prose, create a scene when you can’t find one that has room for you. It’s a HUGE amount of work, but it can be done.
Even if you only do it once, it’ll teach you things you might never have learned if you’d left the power to publish or produce you in others’ hands. Or, you might find that you’re actually good at it, and like doing it, and the rest of us have one more place that might accept our work.
If you do end up editing an anthology, starting a magazine, or a theater festival, please let me know, and I’ll send you something. And I promise not to yell at you if you don’t take my work.
Look at the menu on the left. I keep busy. I've been contemplating blogging for awhile. I feel like the truly interesting blogs have a topic (or two).
Then again, I have several topics: plays and playwriting, my reading series, my dayjob, editing Best Lesbian Erotica, and the various other writing and producing jobs I do in the theater, on the 'net, and just bothering people on the street sometimes.
I've always sold myself and my projects via one-to-one marketing: that is, calling or emailing a friend, acquaintance, or someone I'd like to work with. I'm still not sure I get the energy of Twitter. I love Constant Contact.
I have a friend, a wonderful musician, who once said to me: after my first couple years touring, I realized I couldn't just count on my friends showing up to fill the houses, I had to build a real fanbase with my WORK.
So I consider this the next step in reaching out, saying "here I am, this is what I do." For someone who has been on the internet since the early 90s, when it was all boys and AOL didn't have a browser, I'm being awfully Luddite, don't you think?
So I'll post about specific tasks and projects, both to publicize them, and maybe some thoughts on how I think a process is going, how it should be done, and commentary on how I work.
And if it looks as though it's the kind of thing that will take off, then I might get over to blogspot or wordpress (where I've already done a couple of project-specific blogs).
So welcome to my too-busy, overcrowded, but still fun world, and if you like it, stick around.