I got my rejection from The Lark today. Don’t worry, I wasn’t holding out hope. But it did get me thinking... Just how many rejections have I received this year?
So I started tabulating. I have a Microsoft Word document where I collect all of my submissions. I notate the competition’s name, the date of the submission, when the notifications are sent, and what the potential prize is. As the results start coming in, I either line through the submission if it’s a rejection or highlight the entry if it’s any other response. A blue highlight means semi-finalist status; a red highlight means finalist; and green, of course, means acceptance or winning.
I don’t have many greens on my sheet. In fact, I don’t have many blues or reds, either. Out of the 206 submissions on my sheet from the past two years (I lost a few when transferring computers), I have seven greens, three reds, and two blues. That gives me a return of 12 out of 206, or roughly a 5.85% return rate. To put that number into a different perspective, I have to submit to seventeen contests to get a single response, which might be a win or something else.
For those who have never submitted to a play contest, it’s hard, almost agonizing. Some contests require a full play sample with contact info, some require a full play sample void of any names (blinded), some want a resume, some want a 100 word bio, or a 50 word bio, or a full page synopsis, or none of those. Or all of those. On different documents. Or on the same document. As a PDF. As a Word doc. As a handwritten note in blood.
Okay, not really the last one. But almost. The whole process is maddening. And to do seventeen entrants to get one response almost seems like the definition of being insane: It’s doing the same thing over and over expecting a different response each time.
Make no mistake, though, every submission feels like it’s going to be the winning lottery ticket when I hit that “submit” button. Yes, this time!! They can’t deny me “X” number of times in a row, surely!
And then the rejection comes. Again. Sometimes on nice paper if it’s the O’Neill.
Like all types of grieving, my responses run in cycles. During the height of rejection season in mid-spring, I simply go numb. Sometimes three or four rejections come in over the course of a single day. On those days, I just hit delete and move on.
But there are other times when I hold out hope for an acceptance like I’m holding out hope of hearing from a long lost friend. For instance, when my play really fits the company’s mission statement or when the contest is accepting more than three or four playwrights (who almost surely will ALL be from NYC or Chicago or the Yale School of Drama.) And that’s when it really hurts. That’s when I just feel like collapsing and quitting, when I seriously question just what in the world I am doing. I know all occupations are this way. We all question our choices in life endlessly until we ultimately die and can’t question any longer.
But the difference is that being a playwright (or an artist) is contingent upon outside recognition. A plumber might question their choice to be a plumber, but no one questions whether they actually ARE a plumber. I could say, “Hey, I’m a plumber!” And you’d go, “Oh, that’s great.” And that would be the end of conversation. You wouldn’t ask whose house I had plumbed, how many bathrooms were in the house, or if that house belonged to my mother.
But with writing plays, the outside world finds it hard to believe someone is a playwright unless his or her work is being done. Without readings or productions or some sort of recognition, our title as a “playwright” or an “artist” is up for discussion, and people are free to assume that we’re just some guy or some woman sitting at their computer playing in a made up world, listening to made up characters have made up conversations, and deluding ourselves with the notion that we have talent (whatever talent means.)
That’s hard to take. Very hard to take. I mean, heck, I went to two years of graduate school to earn my degree in writing scripts. I’ve had productions. I’ve had readings. I’ve even had a script published. I should be able to proudly say I’m a playwright. And yet, I felt vulnerable in typing up this blog entry, because in so doing I had to admit how many times I’ve been rejected. It makes me feel like an imposter, and I hate that feeling.
I know it’s worth it. I know suffering for the sake of art is noble. I know fighting for our characters and voices and perspectives is mandatory, no matter what anyone else says.
But sometimes it takes a lot of guts to claim ownership of a title, to stand up and say, “You know what? I don’t give a sh*t. I’m an artist. And I don’t need your damn acceptance.”
It’s something to work on, anyway.