If I’d Listened to My Agent, I Never Would’ve Written It

Becoming a writer doesn’t seem real until an agent wants to sign us.  We look to them for guidance and to lead the way.  But sometimes agents can be wrong, and you shouldn’t listen to them at all.  If you ever have any doubts, look back to your beginnings, and remember why you first started to write.

I Hated Plays, But I Went Anyway

“You should write a play,” my creative writing teacher said to me one day in class.

“I hate plays!” I objected in my best 15-year-old impression of an angry adolescent.

“Have you ever seen a play?” he asked, knowing in his wisdom that I hadn’t.

“No,” I answered, sheepishly.  “But I still hate them!”

Brilliant teacher that he was, he gave me an assignment that I couldn’t turn down: Our high school was putting on “The Glass Managerie” and he made me go see it.

As I sat there in the anonymity of a darkened theater, I was certain every word Tennessee Williams had written was for me. I was transfixed, as my soul exited my body and floated across the seats, over the empty orchestra pit to slip into those characters, and into the life of that magnificent story.

I went home and started to write a play immediately. It was called, “The Merry-Go-Round” and it was about (surprise!) a 15 year-old who felt she couldn’t fit in with any of the peer groups in her high school.  I didn’t have to do any research at all.

Write What You Know – It’s Easier

At 15, what I knew best was alienation and loneliness. I decided to go with that.

I was shocked when my high school wanted to put on my play. The auditorium filled up with hundreds of students: they listened, they laughed, and most importantly, no one tried to ditch.  Afterwards, a girl I didn’t even know, but someone with a teenage life I could only envy (she was popular and smart) stopped me in the halls, and thanked me for writing the play.

“I never knew anyone felt that loneliness except for me,” she said.

Suddenly, I didn’t feel quite so alienated.

I filed that moment away until years later on a hot August night in L.A. when my life seemed to be going nowhere.  No job.  No boyfriend.  No money. I was angry, frustrated, and fed up.  I was someone who had followed all the rules I’d been handed as a good girl growing up, and for the first time I faced the fact that all those rules weren’t working. That night I was pissed off – I wanted to strike out and do something out of character, a little dangerous, and definitely life changing. So I picked up a pen and started writing Pizza Man.

Why Writers Need to Write and Ignore Everybody Else

I tell you all this not to promote my play (although another NYC production – the fourth one this year – opens April 26th at Theater 54, 244 W. 54th Street # 12, NYC, and I am giving a shout out to those actors because I know their hearts and dreams are in those upcoming performances). I bring up Pizza Man as a cautionary tale: If I’d listened to my agent, I never would’ve written it.

After the first act had poured out of me on that hot August night, I gave it to my agent to read.  She called me up and said she liked up.  And then added, “But no one ever makes any money from writing plays.”

Obviously, she was a Hollywood agent.  Nevertheless, I was heartbroken.

“Should I write the second act and finish it?” I asked her anxiously.

“I guess, if you want.” she said, stifling a yawn.

Not exactly words to motivate.

Sometimes It’s Not About the Money

I took a deep breath, didn’t argue with her, and finished writing the play anyway. I knew it would hurt too much not to complete it.  There was something in that story I needed to work through for myself.  I had to take control of my own destiny, in my own way.  And if that meant I didn’t sell it, I guess that was okay.  What I learned about myself and how that fit into my life’s journey was the importance in writing that play. As far as I was concerned, that was the wealth I’d receive from finishing it. And that would be plenty enough for me.

I think of that agent every time a royalty statement for Pizza Man arrives in the mail from Samuel French. The play’s monetary rewards have come in, little by little, consistently, year after year.  But what matters to me the most is that it’s been produced all over the world, in nine languages, and the fact that with every production (no matter how few performances or how small a theatre), every time an actor or actress says the lines onstage, or does a monologue for a college final or an audition, or an audience member sits in a darkened theatre, losing themselves in that manifestation of a hot, unbearable August night, I can almost hear them saying, “I never knew anyone else felt this way except for me.”

That’s the reason I write. And no one will ever make me forget that.

32 thoughts on “If I’d Listened to My Agent, I Never Would’ve Written It

  1. Darlene, your writing is so eloquent!! I envy your talent!! you know how much I love to read – I’d love to be able to write too — but alas, it’s not in my repertoire!

    • Thanks you so much, Lynne! You’re always so kind to come here and leave a comment. There are times now when I wonder if I should post something, and I’m feeling tired or unmotivated, but then I think, “Lynne might like this – I have to write it.” You’re becoming my muse!

    • I’m so glad you dropped by and read my post! I’m hoping those tears were of joy, and not sadness. Aren’t we lucky to be writers? There have been so many people who have told me over the years, “I wish I could write.” I feel so blessed that I can put words together and share thoughts and ideas with audiences, or readers. Writing can be lonely until you finish a story, a poem, a play, or a script. And then the sense of accomplishment fills you with so much pride, and such a sense of success. There’s no greater feeling in the world, and yes, that IS why we write.

  2. Darlene, I remember reading Pizza Man over the Memorial Day holiday shortly after we met and laughing at parts while sun bathing at the lake. I remember disliking reading plays in high school, despite frequenting the theater with my mother and really enjoying live performance. I remember reading Tennessee Williams at the suggestion of a teacher and friend and realizing maybe it wasn’t plays I disliked reading, just Shakespeare (don’t tell Phil). As you know I was very moved by [url=http://lc.lincolncenter.org/shows/203905?show_date=2012-04-20%2020:00:00]Other Desert Cities[/url] and still think about it often. I am grateful for technology that allows me to connect with writers, and tell them how much their work has moved me, thank them for putting in the time and effort and the highs and lows of writing. Thank You for your many contributions 🙂

    • Thanks for that beautiful comment. I can’t tell you how much it means to me (and to all writers) to hear from people who have experienced our work. Whether it be a film, play, or book that’s been written, that content put the writer in a room away from the world to write it. And it can get so lonely doing that type of work! But knowing we’ve made contact through our words, that we’ve connected with another human being, well, that makes those lonely, recluse times worth it.

  3. You don’t need me to tell you that you are talented, creative & warm-hearted ~ but I will anyway. The wonderful thing about being a writer (to me) is having the ability to give back to all the writers who made my life bearable when I didn’t want to live anymore. Writers gave me someplace else to go when I was too terrified to ‘stay’ in the home I lived in, when I was too frightened to tell anyone about it, when I felt so small that I thought I didn’t matter.
    I always think that if I can give some of that to someone else…. well, that’s fulfillment.
    Thank you for the gift of your blog, your writing & your obvious compassion.

  4. Damn, Darlene – you hit this one square on. There is no greater confidence that a writer can find than to look at what they’ve written and know that if their agent doesn’t like it, the fault is with the eyes of they agent and not with the work itself. Unfortunately, there are a lot of writers who are more deluded than confident, and their agents are perfectly right, but that’s another topic of another post, isn’t it?

  5. Keep writing Darlene. Pizza Man is starting to pay off monetarily, but creatively the benefits will live forever. There are so many stories where an agent didn’t like an author’s work and then boom…a blockbuster. We must always write from an intelligent heart. It is the only way. ~ Peggy

  6. Pingback: Quick post to say WOW! « writermummy

    • Thanks so much for writing your wonderful blog post about me and this website. I’m speechless – as well as blushing. I appreciate all of your kind words, and your readership. I look forward to following your blog, and your writing.

  7. Great post Darlene!! I’m happy for you making your own decisions! Which proves to me that even the opinion of “experts” sometimes just don’t matter! *chuckle*
    Thank you for that blog post!

  8. Hi Darlene,
    I’m a newcomer to this idea of “blogging” and needless to say, a little nervous in reaching out to someone over the Internet whom I have only had the chance to meet through her writing. However, when I read your play Pizza Man, I knew I had to reach out to you– the universe was telling me that there was a great possibility for a friendship to form. Your play is beautifully written and shows a women who is incredibly intelligent and witty with a pen– I couldn’t stop laughing the first time I picked up the play (if you knew me, you would know what an incredible thing that was). However, it was the meaning behind those words that really struck a chord with me (especially with certain events that have taken place in my life quite recently) and is the reason I am compelled to reach out to you– I wonder if I could ask you a couple of questions about the play, especially about Alice Meyerlink, who has held my attention for quite some time.

      • No, thank you for your kind words– please keep writing. I cannot begin to express to you what a profound effect your play has had on my life in such a short period of time. I’ve struggled for the longest time to find my voice in this world, but your play has given me the strength and the courage to speak out and be heard.

        In regards to Alice, I was just curious to know, is there any connection between her and Alice Paul? Also, in all seriousness, why pizza?

        Thank you so much for being generous with your time and responding to my comments. It is really a very exciting thing to be able to connect with a playwright you admire so deeply in this sort of fashion.

      • “Alice Meyerlink” really has no connection to Alice Paul. That’s just the name my imagination chose for the character. I’m a very instinctive writer, and never know why I make the choices I make when I write. Only later do I dare look and examine those choices.

        Why “pizza?” 1) Alice was binge eating to forget her problems. 2) There was no food in the house. 3) Pizza was the perfect combination of carbs and someone who would conveniently deliver those carbs. Don’t we always turn to pizza as comfort food? Or is it just me? Moo Shu Pork never calms me down as quickly as a Hawaiian Special with anchovies.

  9. Darlene,
    I just started exploring your blog. This article really resonated with me. As I revisit the plays that sit in my drawers and start the process of revision, I remember why I write – because I need to. Thank you for sharing your story and the journey of “Pizza Man”. I am going to send this article to my Facebook page and to the Passage Theatre Playwrights Lab page. Thanks.

    • Welcome! Thanks so much for coming by and for taking the time to comment. Yes, I think this article resonates with many writers. Sometimes we get so busy with the commercial marketing of our words we sometimes forget why we started writing in the first place. Starting this blog – and writing this article – rekindled my love affair with words again. Please share it on your Facebook page – Just remember to spell my name correctly 😉

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