Write What You Love

I loved this advice from authors from the LA Times book festival.

Read a lot, write a lot, and don’t expect to make any money.

I heed this advice as I dive back into a genre not generally known for being lucrative: playwriting. When I was in high school, I was lucky to attend a public performing arts school. I was in the creative writing program and in my senior year, we wrote plays. Our teacher submitted them to a state-wide contest and my play was chosen to be performed in New York City. I met a director, talked to actors, and watched an audience react to my work. And that’s when the playwriting bug bit me.

So I applied to New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, got accepted into the Dramatic Writing program, and wrote plays. I was praised, won contests, interned at theaters, and loved it all. I got my BFA and MFA in playwriting and wrote a thesis play to graduate.

I sent my thesis play about adopted daughters to 10 of my favorite theaters and got rejected by all of them. The weight of rejection completely paralyzed me and led me to stop writing plays even though I loved the theater. I tried everything else under the sun—short stories, fiction, non-fiction—but my best feedback ever on those pieces was that my dialogue was great (ah, theater!).

Then I thought back to when I was a kid and what I loved reading—Sassy magazine, Sweet Valley High, and The Baby-Sitters Club. So I started pursuing magazine writing and YA books. And you know what? I found success and rejection in those areas, but the main difference was that I kept going and pursuing both, despite being told “no” initially.

So now I’m slowly tiptoeing back to playwriting. I’ve been seeing plays at Berkeley Rep and other Bay Area theaters and I realize how much I miss it. And whether I “make” it or not, theater makes me happy.

What makes you happy? What would you write if money were no object?

12 Comments on “Write What You Love

  1. Excellent point about writing in the face of rejection. And for me, the medium of choice is comic books. I’ll happily write comics for no money, which is good since that’s usually the case.

  2. Congrats on getting back into playwriting–very cool that you’ve come full circle, back to your “first love”. 🙂

    As for me, realistic YA makes me happy, and magic realism and other slightly weird word wanderings makes me happy.

    • Thanks Shari! My first love is a perfect description.

      I love magic realism. Have you read Aimee Bender or Gabriel Garcia Marquez? My favorite authors of that genre.

      How’s your writing going? What are working on lately?

      • I’ve read some of GGM, but not Aimee Bender — will have a look! I love Sarah Addison Allen’s books, and some of Isabel Allende’s, too.

        Writing’s going well. I have a ms I’ve started to sub & have had some great feedback from agents, but no takers yet. 😉 And I recently pulled out an old contemp YA to dust off & see if I can breathe new life into it — we’ll see how it goes!

      • Just looked up Aimee Bender — I have read one of hers (Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake). Didn’t finish it. I really wanted to like it…I think I may need to give it another go. (You know how sometimes when you read something, it’s just the wrong time or you’re in the wrong mood for it? I’m thinking it must’ve been such a time, because it really appeals to me.)

      • Totally! I felt that way about 100 Years of Solitude. I took me three tries before I fell in love with it. I actually love Aimee Bender’s short story collections way more. The Girl with the Flammable Skirt is my favorite. She writes such a tight short story. I’ll have to check out Sarah Addison Allen.

        Nice work on getting back out there and it’s great when agents are positive to your work! Keep it up!

      • I hate when I really want to like a book or a movie and people have recommended it but I just can’t get into it. It’s true, though, timing is a huge part of it.

  3. Thanks for this! Writing itself is what I love – so whatever the idea I’m working on, I try to match it to its appropriate form from poetry to screenwriting to blog to short story. If the idea or the story or the characters compel me, then I love writing no matter the medium or the payday. I’ve had to learn a lot more than I ever thought I would, though.

  4. I love this, Jenn! I’m so excited for you, and think you’re going about things in a really smart way! Also, I can’t wait to see one of your plays, whether it’s in my den (as you know, it makes for fantastic staging!) or on Broadway!

    I’ve been thinking about this more and more, and been practicing my TV writing! Anyway, this is inspirational, I’m with you, girl!

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