Friday, November 24, 2006

You are rejected

Somewhere in the midst of my 1 day. 2 miracles. Maybe even 3. post I mentioned how I've been rejected.

It's occured to me that this is a worthwhile subject just by itself.

After all, there's a lot of it in my life. A lot.

And I don't think I'm any different from most other writers out there.

Though I suppose one reason I am a writer is because early on - ridiculously early on - I was not rejected. In fact, teachers, perhaps surprised that any male student might be attracted to anything besides how the Chicago Bears were doing, encouraged me over and over to continue writing short stories. And then, the first time I ever sought approval outside the classroom, I won a prize - the Senior Scholastic Short Story Competition - for a rite of passage story about a kid on foal watch at a yearling farm.

It was all downhill from there.

I sometimes dream that I'll frame all my rejection letters and hang them in the lobby of the theatre I hope to own some day. Until then they're all in a plastic portfolio envelope like this.


There are two kinds of rejection. Personal and not-so-personal.

By and large, most rejections are of the not-so-personal variety - form letters, with my name filled in at the top. They usually start by thanking me for my submission, occasionally naming the play, and then have a paragraph about how many plays they get and how few production slots the theatre actually has. "Regretfully we do not feel that your play is appropriate for our theatre at this time."

The "this time" thing always gets me because I'm pretty sure what is really meant is, "any time."

It's not uncommon to get a follow-up paragraph to this that is probably the single most disengenous thing you can get in a form letter. It usually goes something like this: This is not a reflection on the quality of your play or your writing.

Let's face it, while this may be true - a nod to the subjectivity of their judgement - if they thought your play had quality or merit for them, they'd make it.

Lately, some theatres and theatre groups have taken to email rejection. This, for some reason, strikes me as less personal though, generally speaking, it's nothing less than an electronic form letter. Still, it feels cruelly impersonal since, outside of reading the play, it cost the theatre nothing to send. I can be removed from their world of possibilities and considerations with a finger on a send button.

The more personal letters of rejection are, of course, the other kind and sometimes they are really just form letters with a personal addendum. Once, for instance, I recieved a letter from the Nicholls Fellowship saying one of my screenplays didn't make it. But I had two entries that year and in handwriting the words "Better news to follow" was scribbled in the margin.

Most personal rejections don't have that kind of message of hope, but they are almost all a sign that you got someone's attention. Ie, somebody in the organizaiton had some heart for your script. This can be exhilarating. But it can also be devastating, because you're still rejected.

My own personal reaction to these letters is proportional to the message itself and the organization that it's from - squared to the power of the amount of hope I have for the play. In fact, the more I love the play or believe in it, the harder these personalized rejections are.

Put another way: when a piece gets bounced with a letter that lets me know that the play "has great characters and dialog" or "is compelling and fascinating" and that I'm "clearly talented", I feel like the guy who manically scratched at the cliff edge before falling to his death. In mid-air, knowing the end is coming, I'm thinking, "Shit, maybe I shoulda stapled $5 to that one."

That's not to say that I feel completely bad about this kind of rejection. After all, I'm decidedly not dead at the bottom of a ravine. I will get up. I will write again. I will have my revenge.

And, since I think everything is about relationship, a rejection that goes, "I like you but I don't want to sleep with you" is always followed by a "Yet" in my mind. I'm a sick bastard this way. The turn down is essentially an invitation to send something else.

Oddly, acceptance, the few times I've gotten it, has always been less interesting. It's come in an email or a phone call. "We're interested in doing this" or "Congratulations, your peice was chosen from thousands" etc. Then I've usually found myself off in the details of what's next without much reflection on how truly astounding it may be that I'm a winner.

Obviously, I'll take this kind of deflation any day.

Fortunately, I've been accepted to a few things often enough to also get some perspective on why I've been rejected elsewhere. By seeing what's been chosen, I can see that quality really is not always a way to determine what's to be produced and what's not. Especially in short play competitions. Certain themes and ideas emerge that show you're not crazy.

There's actually a pattern of craziness.

Currently, I'm waiting for quite a few letters of rejection in the mail. My philosophy is to truly try not to think about a submission after I've dumped it in the mail. If I don't hear from someone, I don't hear from them.

As far as I'm concerned, I'm still being considered.

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