I got my first rejection letter of 2010 yesterday. I kind of had a feeling it would be coming, but, nonetheless, there it was. Slim, little business envelope. It's like college application time all over again, though even worse.
With all the conversation about the fortunes of playwrights and whether we whine too much about said fortunes and everything, it's easy to forget how it feels to be a playwright, how it feels to work on a script (or, actually, in this case, two scripts) for months, years, do readings, do rewrites, get notes, take it to writers' groups, get more notes, give it to your colleagues, keep getting notes and ideas, do more rewrites and then, finally, send it out into the ether, wait six months (if you're lucky) and get back...a slim envelope with a form letter in it. Despite all the conversations about barriers to the gates of opportunity, the need for MFAs, the narrow tastes of the decision-makers being driven by market factors, all of that talk of the institutional issues facing our theatres and the roadblocks thrown up in the path of our writers, you know what the first thing I think is?
My plays weren't good enough.
And it's probably true.
Actually, in this particular case, I know it to be true. I got the letter from New Dramatists and when I worked there, I was involved in the admissions process. And I can attest that is exceedingly fair and well-structured and built to get as many playwrights as good a shot as possible. But, at the end of the day, if your work doesn't resonate with the committee, that's it. And my work didn't resonate.
Knowing how fair it is softens the blow...a little. But it's still a blow. And, for me, it makes me think, not of the unfairness of my lot in life, but of the work itself. Maybe if I'd done that rewrite I was thinking about, maybe if I'd submitted that other play, the slightly more polished one. Maybe, maybe, maybe...I don't wish that I had some different personal background, or went to a different school. I honestly just wished I'd written better.
I doubt that I' m alone among writers in keeping a fairly thick file of rejection letters (I don't keep copies of bad reviews; I have those etched in my heart). I don't look at it often, just file them away. This will go in the file and I won't look at it for a long while. When I do, probably the next time I'm moving and thinking about cleaning out my files, I'll look at it and think, Well, this isn't so bad. Why was I so upset by it? The pain part will fade, burn out, and leave behind this: Write better.