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.