Songs for the Struggling Artist


A Visit from The Rejection Fairy and The Missing Legitimacy Fairy

As I am, apparently, a glutton for punishment, I wrote another play for this Shakespeare’s New Contemporaries contest like I did last time. This new play is an interstitial Jane Austen style All’s Well that Ends Well. I think it’s pretty good. The people I read it with a few months ago thought so, too. One of the actors even called me a genius, which, you know, I liked very much.

So this play made it to the semi-finals – which is a nice mile marker on the submission marathon – and then this month, was rejected. When the rejection arrived I didn’t feel anything. When I get some rejections, I have an immediate heart-sinking sensation – a sudden wave of disappointment. This one felt like nothing at first. I just went, “Yeah. That’s logical. This play wasn’t really right for them. They probably couldn’t really do the style and it features way too many women for their company make-up.” And I moved on.

But as the day went on, I sank deeper and deeper into a funk. I was sometimes angry, sometimes hopelessly sad and sometimes self-flagellating. (“You should not have gotten your hopes up on this one. You knew it was foolish to imagine this would break you through. You’ve been burnt before. Don’t get too close to that fire of hope. Stop. Stop.”)

And it’s not about this particular no. This is the No that is triggering all this because I was pinning a hope or two on it. Whereas with other opportunities, I sort of apply and forget about them – this one, I’d set a little candle by it, metaphorically speaking. The candle got lit, I think, because the stakes of it are so life-alteringly high and because I have some ties to the organization. It’s a bit different from other things I apply for and so, of course, the rejection feels a bit different as well.

This particular opportunity, if one wins it, provides a production of the play and gives the writer more money than I’ve ever made in a year. Additionally, for me, it would also reunite me with my first theatrical employer and bring me back to my homeland. There’s a lot to be desired in there. But even more than the money and the homecoming and the production, winning a prize like that would offer the kind of legitimacy as a writer that I have never known. You win a thing a like that and no one can deny that you are an actual playwright.

Despite the fact that I’ve been writing plays for over twenty years, there is somehow no stamp of legitimacy on that aspect of my identity. Because I produced and directed my work myself, my plays are often seen as vanity instead of art.

So – what I think I am really mourning here through this loss, this latest rejection, is the hopelessness I feel at ever achieving legitimacy.

Now – what is legitimacy? Oh boy. Who knows?

If my MFA had been in Playwriting instead of Directing, would I be legitimate? I don’t really direct anymore – am I a legitimate director just because I have a master’s degree? I write plays constantly. Am I not a legitimate playwright just because few people want to produce my work but me?

I don’t know where the Legitimacy Fairy lives but I sure would like her to come visit and wave her wand over me. I know her magic doesn’t last for very long, even when she visits, but still – a visit would be nice.

Also, I must have really pissed off the Rejection Fairy because she’s over here almost every day, kicking up dust and making me cry.

If anyone knows the Legitimacy Fairy, would you make sure she has my address? In the case of this recent opportunity – I didn’t need the prize money (though of course I could use it) and I didn’t need the homecoming (though that would have been sweet) but I needed some legitimacy like nobody’s business and I’m running out of ways to imagine getting it.

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In my attempts to up my submissions/rejections, I applied for a lot of residencies this year. Two were almosts, which was nice but the Nos have been rolling in. I don’t have anything to really say about any of them. You reject me in the wrong season, you don’t even merit your own separate rejection post. Sorry. We received a record number of rejections this year we regret we cannot take on all of them. But farewell to Oak Springs Garden Foundation, Jan Michalski Foundation, Bloedel Reserve Creative Residency, Siena Art Institute and New Harmony.

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I got a rejection notice that did not state who it was from. It was signed The Submission team and the body of the letter/email was so generic, it really could have come from anyone. For a while there, I was submitting query letters almost every day so there was a long list of possible senders.

For a minute I thought I was going to have to reply to ask who it was – but then I noticed a legal notice at the bottom of their email and buried in at it was the name of the agency. Boy, they really make you work for those rejections, don’t they?

*Wondering why I’m telling you about rejections? Read my initial post about this here and my patron’s idea about that here.

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Applying to More Stuff Means More Rejections, Natch.
October 31, 2019, 12:41 am
Filed under: Rejections | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Because they don’t have deadlines, I’d gotten a little bit lax about submitting my book to literary agents. (Also, my fire for it kind of went out.) But I had a good chat with a fellow querying writer and it inspired me to get back to querying. Lately, I have been querying a new literary agent practically every day. I have found that habitualizing things is the only way to get stuff like this done.

I write everyday because I write every day. There are many other things that I do every day because I have set up that I do them every day. Querying literary agents can be one of those things.

If I can keep this up, I expect to reach my goal of 100 rejection notices this year before the year is out. But the question is CAN I keep this up?

The problem with this new habit is that it yields me a whole lot more rejections. Round about the fifth or sixth rejection, I sort of lost the will to keep doing this every day. I’m going to have to figure out a way to keep at it in bursts, I think.

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In other rejection news:

The Willapa Air rejection sent an email declaring some email trouble as the reason they were attaching their rejection rather than just sending it.

Just what I wanted – a two step rejection revealing process.

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I appreciate that the UCross rejection notice has the rejection right in the first line so I don’t even have to open the email to know it is a rejection. “We regret to inform you” is all I needed to know what was in there.

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I wrote a story about a circus because this contest wanted stories about circuses and it seemed like something I could do. So I did. Months after I submitted it, I still hadn’t heard anything so I went ahead and submitted that circus story to a publication with a ghost theme. (My circus story featured a lot of ghosts.) Still haven’t heard from the circus contest but the ghost publication has already sent their rejection notice.

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I entered a couple of writing contests for fiction. The Santa Fe Writers Project and Craft both sent their rejections recently. I had no expectation that I would win them but sometimes all the No can be a little bit relentless.

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*Wondering why I’m telling you about rejections? Read my initial post about this here and my patron’s idea about that here.

 

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Small Victories

I am so used to rejections that when I saw the email in my inbox, I thought, “I don’t think I can handle that rejection today.” So it took me a little minute to open it and read it and see that was actually an acknowledgement that the play is moving on to the semi-finals and woot!

Now – semi-finals are not particularly meaningful. It feels a little like I’m running a marathon and someone near the beginning of the route is cheering “You made it” but it’s only mile 5 of a 26 mile race. I haven’t quite MADE it but I am grateful for the acknowledgement and the support and the cheers. Usually when I get to mile 5, someone disqualifies me and I get pulled from the course. More than anything, it’s just so nice to receive good news rather than bad. And in a world with so much rejection, I have learned that I have to really celebrate the small victories as, generally, the big ones never come.

In other words, despite having run multiple marathons, I’ve never made it to the last mile. I get all the sweat, all the strain, all the effort but I never get the medal. And I don’t need a medal but I would like to get to the end of a race one of these days.

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In more actual not bad news, I am now an alternate for the Djerassi Residency. It falls into the category of a small victory – not as good as an actual acceptance, of course – but an encouraging bit of progress. I particularly appreciate where this encouragement is coming from because I did not think I stood a snowball’s chance in hell of getting this residency since it’s a fairly high prestige one. AND – and I did not know this when I applied – it was started (and named for) the guy who invented the birth control pill. I’m pretty tickled by that legacy. It would be pretty cool to go write some feminist theatre in a place created by a guy who did so much to help liberate women.

This is my second wait list this year. The first was for the Millay Colony which I’ve been applying to for years. So a Maybe there felt like a big win as well. I suppose I still MIGHT be able to go – it was for this winter – but I think that ship has probably sailed by now. Anyway – since this year has been a couple of Maybe/Almost, I’m hopeful that next year might become the Year of Yes.

But meanwhile, here are some more rejections:

Bemis and Newtown Rejections

I applied for so many residencies this year – and a lot of them were new ones – so I have ZERO memory of what this Bemis one is. I didn’t get it, of course. But if I had, I’d have had a much clearer idea of what the heck I’d applied for.

My rejection from Newtown Literary is a first in that I don’t think I had every submitted a short story to anything before and literary magazines are pretty far out of my wheelhouse. Submitting short stories has a sort of different flavor than submitting plays and novels. You know that they probably at least read the whole thing. That is, at least, the saving grace. You were rejected on the whole thing not an excerpt or selection.

I have been starting to write more short fiction – not for strategic reasons – just because stories are emerging more often. But it is smart strategically, too. I’m given to understand.

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The Julie Harris Playwriting Award is one of the few remaining paper submissions. And they ask for a full printed play, which no one asks for anymore. Every play I submit to stuff has a collection of files of varying lengths – the 10 page, the 15 page, the 20 page, the 30 page. I don’t really know why digital submissions can’t just ask for the whole play. If they only want to read 15 pages, that’s their business. It would save me a whole lot of trouble to not have to make multiple files for all the plays. But I digress.

The Julie Harris asks for a full printed play. Which is a whole different animal. And, in the end, rather expensive to mail. On top of the submission fee, it ended up costing as much to submit to them as some of the more fee heavy residencies.

But the rejection letter was actual paper, which I always appreciate. I like having an object I can crumble or tear if I want to. I didn’t. I will just file it in the rejection file. But I like knowing I COULD crumble it if I wanted to. And when I get enough of them, maybe I’ll do some rejection papier mache.

*Wondering why I’m telling you about rejections? Read my initial post about this here and my patron’s idea about that here.

 

This post was brought to you by my generous patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Want to help me celebrate the small victories?

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How Blind Are Blind Submissions?

There was a booklet of the winners. It featured their credits and productions. The winners seemed to share a commonality of relative success. They had – more or less – won the same awards, been given the same grants, been produced by the same theatres. I realized as soon as I read through this booklet that I did not stand a chance of being accepted there.

Then I saw that the application asked for blind submissions – that is – the plays submitted would be read without their author’s names attached. I thought, “Well – in a blind process I might stand a chance” and went ahead and applied, just because it’s always best to take a shot, even if it’s a wild one.

But I kept thinking about the Blind Submission process and who ends up selected. How is it that something that seems to be structured to focus only on quality yield a group of winners who seem to be chosen on their credits?

You could assume that the system is entirely meritocratic and that all of the best plays are chosen by the award committees and theatres and such – that there is a direct match up between quality of work and opportunities. But I have seen too many amazing unrecognized writers’ work and too many terrible plays in fancy theatres to ever believe this, however.

So…this blind submission process is somehow still yielding the same sorts of plays that unblind submissions do. Why? How?

In this particular case – only the first part of the selection process was blind – the rest of it involved looking at resume/bio and a statement. So it’s possible that all the amazing people without fancy credits are weeded out at that stage.

But even in more strictly blind situations, there is a sameyness that runs through the winners. It could, I imagine, reflect the sameyness of tastes of the people who make these decisions – that is, they like what they like and when they see more of the same, they reward it.

Or they like something because it is sort of familiar – the way current pop songs are designed to remind you of other pop songs you liked before so you have a happy resonance of familiarity when you hear it the first time.

Of course, it is a question of who is reading and what they are reading for. Are they choosing plays they like or plays they feel they should like or that they’d like to be seen liking?

Possibly, given that the winners have all achieved a good measure of success, the readers are already familiar with many of the plays they read – making them impossible to be truly blind and also get the boost of familiarity. If the readers have seen productions of those plays, they will have had the benefit of being able to vividly picture what is on the page.

I think, in the end, that very few blind submission processes are truly blind. Depending on the circumstances, there is a lot of information hanging off a play that does not require a name on it to glean.

The spirit of a blind submission process is probably well intentioned. The blindness idea is to be like the screens that hide musicians auditioning for orchestras. That process has helped orchestras radically transform the gender bias that had previously prevented gender parity. But, as I recently learned, there is still a great deal a trained ear can hear when listening to a classical musician auditioning. It will likely be clear, to the trained ear, with whom the musician trained and therefore also their age and location. Even these famous “blind” screen auditions are full of information.

Which is not to say we shouldn’t do them. The implementation of the screens for orchestras was incredibly successful at evening out a gender gap – but of course it doesn’t address any gaps that happened on their way to that audition. By the time you’re auditioning for a major orchestra, you are already in the top echelon of musicianship. Everyone playing is capable of doing the job. But along the way, I’m sure there are major gaps in accessibility – be they economic, racial, ableist or geographical.

So what does this mean for all these blind submissions I do? Not much, probably. I was sort of temporarily comforted and lulled into applying for something I am unlikely to get because of the illusion of a blind submission. I think that is why we continue to have them. They make people on both sides of a submission process feel like a meritocracy is at work. It isn’t. Meritocracy doesn’t work. (See this lecture.) But…perhaps we need to pretend it does. And pretending didn’t do anything but encourage me to apply for something I am unlikely to get. That’s fine. I collect rejections like stamps. Keep ‘em coming. I can take it.

This post was brought to you by my generous patrons on Patreon.

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You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Two Rejections Named for Ladies

Jane Chambers Feminist Playwriting Award

They didn’t actually send me a rejection. What they did was send me the list of winners, twice, and I guess just assumed I’d realize I wasn’t on the winner’s list. It’s not the BEST way to be rejected. It feels a little like they just didn’t feel like bothering to grapple with the difficulties of framing a rejection letter. I almost just deleted the email because it was titled Announcing the 2019 Jane Chambers Winners! and I knew a friend of mine had been told she was a finalist and then had the status revoked due to some technicalities. So I knew I wasn’t among the finalists – but at the last minute, I decided to actually read the email and while I’d thought it was a sort of spammy we’ve-added-you-to-our-mailing-list style of email, it turned out to be TO playwrights. They thanked us for our support of the award with “annual submissions of new and innovative work.”
So it was seemingly standing in for a rejection letter. And therefore kind of a first.

Princess Grace Rejection

I went to a New Dramatist reading and so I got a copy of their program, which lists all the current New Dramatist writers. Last on the list is the Princess Grace writer – since this award is administered by New Dramatists now. (At least I THINK that’s the relationship between the two.) I read through the program from start to finish and by the time I got to the Princess Grace awardee, I not only knew it would be YEARS before I ever stood a chance at New Dramatists but also that I stood no chance at that Princess Grace award, like, ever.

I’ve been going about things all the wrong way for these kinds of opportunities to be within my reach. I’m not sure I have it in me to go about things the right way, though. I’ll probably keep applying – because you have to, right? Anyway – I got the Princess Grace rejection recently – along with almost every other playwright in America.

*Wondering why I’m telling you about rejections? Read my initial post about this here and my patron’s idea about that here.

This post was brought to you by my generous patrons on Patreon.

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You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Some Summer Rejections
July 5, 2019, 11:00 pm
Filed under: Rejections | Tags: , ,

Just a handful of some of the latest rejections*. I’ve got a couple more but I haven’t written them up yet. Rejections are for all seasons!

*Wondering why I’m telling you about rejections? Read my initial post about this here and my patron’s idea about that here.

Bethany Arts Center

I have a feeling that the folks at Bethany Arts Center had been happily kicking along with their program until this year when they put out a national call for their artist residency and then the flood gates opened.

Every message I received from them since I applied a few months ago has suggested an organization drowning in applications and utterly flummoxed about what to do about it.
I can imagine.
Like – if you’re just happily providing space for local artists and you think, “Oh, wouldn’t it be nice to open this up to a wider pool of artists?” And then you do and you are suddenly neck deep in the words and work of every artist in the country just looking for a break – which is most of us – and probably also the sometimes palpable need and desperation that cannot help but make its way into such things.

I can imagine that a well meaning arts organization might find itself a little overwhelmed.
Probably they were so overwhelmed, they couldn’t recognize how awesome I am. Which is surely why they rejected me.

Ox Bow Residency

I applied to so many new residencies, I can barely remember which one is which. This is one that I had never applied to before. So this is my first rejection from them. I don’t really have a relationship with applying to them yet. I don’t even recall where this one is. I think it was meant to be reputable.

Dramatists Guild Fellowship

Here’s one I was very confident I would not get. I joined the Guild last year when I started to get to the semi-finals in some serious situations. I thought – well, just in case any of these actually happens, I better have the Guild to turn to when I get a contract. Turns out, that wasn’t a concern. No contracts have been forthcoming. I don’t regret joining the Guild, though. It is as close to a Union as anything I’m involved in and I believe in that collective power. The readiness to respond to group issues is as important to me as having a resource to turn to when negotiating an artistic contract.

Anyway – I’m a member. I applied to be a fellow with them but I did not expect to receive it. Not at all. Got the word in the email box – no fellowship for me this year! It would have been great to get, for sure – but would have also wholly unexpected.

This post was brought to you by my generous patrons on Patreon.

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A Rejection in a Decadent World

The theatre company that rejected me most recently is one that was founded a year or two after mine. I know this because they interviewed my puppet designer for one of their first productions. They didn’t hire her (their loss) but due to their timing and their mission, I have followed their journey pretty closely.

They do good work. Let me say that, first. But I have always felt like they had some leg up when they began that I could not quite identify at the time. (I can guess now that it’s probably mostly being male. The leg up was maleness. Man-osity. Boy-i-tude.) I resented them for a long while – because I felt like they came up behind me driving a hot rod trike while I was running a three-legged race and they surged ahead before I even knew what the game was. But they won that race so long ago now, I’m finally over myself and I swallowed my resentment and pride to write them a ten minute play on spec for their short New Play Festival. I don’t do this usually – but – like I said before – they do good work and fundamentally that is the most important thing to me. More and more, I feel I don’t have the will to produce my own work the way I used to, so I have my eye on people who do good work. Anyway, despite my little play’s “high merits from our readers” it did not make the final round.

This letter concluded with my old (least) favorite: Keep Writing!

The problem with the specificity of the requirements of this short play festival is that it means the play I wrote for them is really not likely to be to the taste of anyone else. I mean – maybe I’m wrong and someone out there is dying for a ten minute companion piece to The Changeling by Thomas Middleton. (Don’t all come clamoring at once!)

Asking for these kinds of things feels like the height of decadence – the ultimate artistic rent seeking (this is an economic concept I’ve talked about before) and in this case it is for such a small reward. Because here’s the thing – I’m almost certain my little play (“The Apothecary’s Daughter”) will never see the light of day anywhere else – which is fine, I have a lot of plays like that. But I can’t help thinking of the other ten minute companion pieces that other writers wrote for ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore and Women Beware Women and The Spanish Tragedy and such and how every year “record numbers” of playwrights churn out a record number of plays in this vein and how there’s just a storehouse of Jacobean themed ten minute plays sitting in the files of playwrights around the country and more are added to that rather useless collection EVERY YEAR.

And this is just one tiny short play festival. All around the country there are multitudes of other plays written for other people’s highly specific specifications that then go on to accumulate dusty storage deaths and I don’t know – this is one hell of a decadent world to ask so much of a bunch of theatre people without a lot of open doors available to them.

Anyway – I guess I’ll keep writing anyway since the producer of this short festival told me to but I’m feeling a little sad for all those lost short plays out there. Not sad enough to produce them myself, mind you. But sad.

*Wondering why I’m telling you about rejections? Read my initial post about this here and my patron’s idea about that here.

This post was brought to you by my generous patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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