People tend to put their best selves on the internet. Their positives. Their achievements. All the things that are going well in life. And I am no exception. I do not like to dwell on the negative as a rule. I tend to brush the bad aside as soon as I can and move forwards. Looking backwards only tells me where I have been and prevents me from seeing where I am going.
I started this post initially being grateful and counting my blessings in 2020. But then binned them all. The end of 2020 was hard. The pandemic prevented me getting on the stage for the entire year. I threw myself into writing.
Writing kept me sane. It kept me going. Gave me hope and the potential of maybe even getting something written and up on stage when the Covid restrictions are lifted enough to enable artists to thrive again.
But at the end of 2020, it all went a bit tits up…
So, I finished my first draft of my stage play, finally. That’s a positive! I can call myself a playwright now, right? Pen your own play they said. Put on your own work. It will be fun, they said. All well and good, until you hand your work out to someone. They read it and take the baby, that you have spent aeons nurturing and growing inside, then rip it to shreds with the claws of constructive criticism.
I cry. Feel worthless. Wonder why I put all that work into it. Call myself an imposter. What an ass I was to think I could be a playwright, just because I am an actor. Then, I decide to burn the whole world by writing another play and making everybody die in it… No? Just me then.
But seriously. When they, whoever they are, say “writing is hard”. I wonder whether they mean the writing itself is hard. Or whether it’s finding somebody who likes your story as much as you do, that is the actual challenge. Five people can love your story. But, it takes just one person to say that your antagonist (who you spent two years working on) is reminiscent of a Bond Villan, to scrunch up all of your hope into a tiny aluminium ball and ping it miles into the unreachable distance.
The subjective views of multiple people all seeing something else in your work. Different, qualified people reading it. One seeing a thing and thinking it is fab, another says it does not work. Another doesn’t think it is worth mentioning at all. You can’t please all the people all of the time.
Writing Rejection Reflection
The most recent wavering of confidence began over the Christmas holidays. Over a few weeks, I had been…
Rejected for a story I submitted for a literary magazine
Rejected for a story I entered into a short story competition
Rejected by a theatre for a women’s playwriting event
I was then waiting to hear back on some feedback for my full stage play. I had finally finished the first draft after spending two years trying to finish it. Excited about the opportunity to finally have someone read it, in its entirety for the first time, and feedback on it gave me the kick up the ass to finally tidy it up into a half-decent-ish first, draft.
Previous feedback on the first 30 pages had been promising. I’d been complimented on my ability at creating time, place and character. I was excited. This would lift my spirits. This is just what I needed.
Then it arrived. I can’t tell you much about it, other than it punched me out and I haven’t been able to get back up and re-read it again, not yet. Even though the feedback referred to me as “the playwright” throughout, the criticism, however constructive, forced fear from every pore and invited the imposter syndrome back, sniffing and snuffling at my insecurities at still being a relatively new writer.
They know you’re not a real writer it whispered at me as I read where the reviewer thought I had gone wrong. If they consider that a pivotal scene in the play can be removed without even being missed, how shit must the rest of your work be? You already removed an entire scene of exposition on your initial review. And, it took you two whole years to get it from start to finish. A real writer could have completed multiple novels in the time it took you to write that. Pathetic! No point starting on the new play now, is there? What is the point? No one is ever going to want to watch it now.
Pity Party like it’s 2021
And in the downs, the aftermath of multiple rejections over a short period of time, I forget the ups. I forget how far I had come. How much I had learnt during the process. The fallout of disappointment blinding me to all the good and the positives in the review. The steps I had made in the new year to get myself ‘out there’ and attend a recent Playwright meetup felt ethereal and unreal. The thrill I had in my new play idea, just a week or two ago, melted away. Every new idea now feels implausible. Daft. Pipe dreams.
Forbidden from the stage. Not good enough for the page. I am alone again. Locked down. Dejected.
I try to tell myself that I removed a favourite scene before. It was okay, once I had taken a bit of time to think it through. Once I had scavenged little treasures from the ruins and secreted them into other scenes of the play instead. Maybe, just maybe, no matter how pivotal the moment, I can figure out a way to do that again. I think.
But no, my precious. I cants be letting go. It’s mine! I wrotes it. I found all the words from the dark, deep depths. It’s mine! My precioussss. People likes it. They wants it. Now nasty little criticses wants to steeeeeal it from me.
Writing the Wrongs
I am not after sympathy. I have plenty for myself in my one-person pity party. I just need to get it out of my system. I am already donning my battle armour to take back the land my insecurities have bled all over.
It’s all good (I try to tell my self). I am resilient, after all. I am an actor. I have thick skin. I am used to auditioning and finding out that I’m unsuitable for a part I had thought I had been born to play. A few words on a piece of paper? Pah!
Am I going to let all this knock me back? Hell, no. I will do whatever it takes. If that is taking a day or two (or weeks) off, then I shall. Have a lay-in so I can catch up on my sleep deficit and refresh? Yes. Tick a few small wins off my to-do list? If that is what it takes to move forward. Focus on something else. Give myself some space. Hide away and not talk to people for a bit. Re-read some playwriting books. Go back and re-read my initial feedback report first. The feedback that had miraculously beat the imposter syndrome with a big stick. Then read the other feedback later, when I can sift through, recognise and lift out the positives and see what I can work with to make it better.
For now, I will stop listening to the voice in my head and feeling sorry for myself. I will steal this mantra from the video I just watched on imposter syndrome and tell myself
“I have talent. I am capable. I do belong”.
I must also tell myself, not to have imposter syndrome about having imposter syndrome. That is a whole different blog post.