Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Embrace rejection

When I speak to students, one of the main points I try to make is not to fear rejection, but to embrace it.

That may sound like a strange, even horribly wrong, philosophy. After all, our competitive society teaches us that failure is bad. Success should be our one and only goal.

But if you want to be successful in writing, acting or any field, it's important not just to seek success but to seek rejection.

Why? Because it means you're trying.

When I first starting writing--I was writing short stories and middle-grade novels then--I was afraid of rejection. So I didn't submit. I kept my stories to myself. Unmailed. Unrejected. Unread.

That was a eight-lane freeway to nowhere. I didn't start to succeed until I adopted the opposite philosophy. Instead of fearing rejection, I decided to pursue it.

It was all because of an article I'd read. I don't know where I saw the article or even who had written it. But it opened my eyes to a new, life-affirming philosophy. And it goes like this.

Each of us has a certain number of rejections to get through before we see our first success. We don't know what that number is, but it's a fixed number, and once we reach it, the world will open up to us and acceptances will start pouring in.

This may seem like a small philosophical change, but it's actually huge. And that's because it does a 180 on your behavior. Instead of avoiding rejection, you seek it out. Instead of refraining from submitting, you submit like crazy.

Once I adopted this philosophy, I started submitting dozens of times a month. And shortly after, I started receiving rejections dozens of times a month (when I received a response at all). But I started getting something else too. I started getting nibbles.

A publisher would reject my manuscript but invite me to send more. Or they would reject my manuscript and tell me how to improve. Or they would reject my manuscript but tell me I had come this close to receiving a publishing contract.

No, not acceptances. Not yet. But close enough to acceptances that it convinced me I was on the right track.

My number turned out to be 220 or so (I wasn't obsessive enough to calculate that number exactly). I received my first publishing contract. And after that, as I had hoped, the acceptances started coming in a steay  (this was after I had switched to writing plays).

I still get rejections. In fact, I get more rejections than acceptances. But I get more acceptances than I used to. And I wouldn't be having any success at all unless had I first learned not to fear rejection, but to embrace it.

Here's a similar take from Kim Liao, a short story writer who has aimed for 100 rejections a year for each of the last few years. That's not as easy as it sounds, and she hasn't made it yet. But she's on the right track. And I have no doubt that, with her passionate embrace of rejection in all its many forms, she'll eventually achieve the success she currently only dreams of.

Don't fear rejection. Embrace it.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Butler in Oman

I was excited to see photos from last week's production of The Butler Did It! by the Aspirations Players in Muscat, Oman--the 9th country my plays have appeared in. It was, in fact, the first production this group has ever done, and I feel honored that they decided to perform one of my shows.

Great job, all! I hope you have a long, successful future!

Monday, June 6, 2016

RIP Peter Shaffer

The man who was our greatest living playwright died today. Sir Peter Shaffer passed away peacefully at a hospice on County Cork, Ireland.

I had the great good fortune of meeting Sir Peter in 2007 when he came to Colorado Springs for the new-defunct Colorado Festival of World Theatre. The festival was featuring his rarely performed one-act farce Black Comedy and, as part of the festivities, he agreed to give a brief talk for a small group of devoted theatregoers.

The talk was, as expected, smart, funny, and insightful, and afterwards, I gathered my courage to say hello. He was unfailingly gracious, speaking to me for several glorious, uninterrupted minutes until his handler whisked him away. I wish I remembered everything we talked about, but what stood out to me most was that, even at the age of 81, he was still very much plugged into the world of contemporary theatre. When I asked him which emerging playwrights he was most excited about, he rattled off four or five names with barely a pause.

Sir Peter was a brilliant writer, one who excelled in both comedy and drama. Equus may be the greatest psychological drama in the English language, and Amadeus (for which he won the Academy Award) is one of the greatest films ever made.

Less well known is the aforementioned Black Comedy. I don't know if it's the funniest play ever written, but it's the funniest play I've ever seen (take that, Noises Off). In fact, it's the play that has most influenced me in my own writing. Black Comedy was the first true farce I'd ever seen and the intense, almost balletic, physicality of the piece is what opened my eyes to the possibilities of physical humor in the theatre.

Thank you, Peter. You lived on this earth for 90 years, but your works will live forever.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016


They say theatre is the most collaborative of art forms, and from my own experience, I can tell that it's a wonderful way to work. Every play of mine that I've collaborated on was made better by the process.

But it's also a luxury, especially when you're writing for youth. Many schools can't take a chance on an unknown play. Or if they can, they don't have the time and resources to develop it.

Which is why I was really happy to hear from Josh Belk recently. Josh is the theatre director at Palmer Ridge High School in Monument, Colorado--10 miles north of my home in Colorado Springs--and he emailed me to let me know that was was ready to work with me on a new play.

We originally got in touch last October. I saw that the school had won honors in Stage Directions magazine, and I emailed Josh congratulating him. I also mentioned that I was a published playwright and that if he ever wanted to develop a new play, I would love to work with him. He was intrigued by the idea, and although he didn't have space in that year's schedule, when the new school year rolled around, he decided to take a leap of faith and carved out a spot in March for me.

I have collaborated once before. In 2014, Million Dollar Meatballs was premiered at Discovery Canyon Campus High School in Colorado Springs. But that collaboration worked a little differently. I had already finished the play by the time theatre director Amy Keating agreed to do the play. Yes, the school contributed hugely to the final version of the play, beefing up jokes, coming up with many good lines on their own and, most importantly, helping me fix a dead spot in the show by moving one scene earlier. But the script was pretty much done before they ever laid eyes on it.

This time, I don't even have a synopsis. So we met today to bat some ideas around. His one requirement was that the play not be a farce, since the school performed one last year. But everything else was fair game. He especially liked my suggestion of doing a murder mystery set at a 1940's movie studio.

Next step? I'm going to put together five titles and synopses and let him and his students decide which play they'd like to do.

I guess I'd better get writing.