So, once upon a time, a looooooong time ago, I started a theatre company with my best friend. A children’s theatre company. We had big dreams about creating magic and possibilities in kids’ lives, and a budget that was barely enough to buy a cup of coffee. Paying the royalty fees for a play would have eaten up almost all of it, so I decided to write the play myself.
Yep, I wanted to save a couple hundred bucks, so I decided to become a playwright. I had, up until that point, taken one writing class and written one, one-act play, and gotten a C on it. So, to decide to write the play for our nascent theatre’s first professional production was a, to put it mildly, a bold choice.
It was a choice that opened the floodgates to a world of doubts. “Who did I think I was?” “How could I do this with so little experience?” “What if the other theatres in town thought I was an amateur?” “What if the story was boring?” “What if the dialogue sucked?” “What if, what if, what if.” As I sat down at the keyboard each night, these thoughts rained down on me in a consistent shower.
And they were compelling, these thoughts. One would lead to another. “What if the story was unoriginal?” would lead to, “What if the audiences would dismiss it?” would lead to, “Maybe I should just cut my losses now and . . .” I don’t know why, but when I have a doubt, the voice of it sounds so reasonable and commanding, whereas my dreams often sound breathy and high-pitched – so much harder to trust. In the courtroom of my mind, the jury votes for my doubts nine times out of ten.
So, night after night I spent, in front of the keyboard, with doubts pouring down. Some nights the doubts were too loud, and I surrendered to the succor of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” reruns and popcorn with too much seasoning salt. But the next night I would go back and write. One word, and then another. One line. One scene, and then another. And as I continued to force myself past my doubts and into the world of the play – with what at the time felt like an excruciatingly-slow pace and humiliating awkwardness – the sketches of characters I was thinking about, and the outlines of scenes I had dreamt up, became fascinating people for whom I cared deeply, on gripping adventures whose endings I was desperate to know.
In this world, these characters became real and beautiful and so much more interesting than the two-dimensional doubts that were still clamoring for my attention. We had left the sterile courtroom of my fears and entered a brave new land with gardens growing in junkyards and fairy godmothers name Peter. After a few weeks – which isn’t that long when you think about it – the beauty of my dreams had ensorcelled me so completely that my doubts couldn’t stand a chance. It ceased to matter if the play was good or bad. It was just important that this world existed and that I share it with others.
So, I bet you’re expecting the happy ending now. Against all odds, I wrote an award-winning script, played it to sold out houses, and transformed the lives of thousands, right? Well, not so much. But I did write a play that made my Dad proud and sometimes played to houses as big as twenty people. It was a less-than-glamourous start, but when I watched those actors manifest the world I had imagined in my head, I thought it was beautiful and worthy.
Since then, I’ve written many more plays. I made people cry and others laugh in the places I was hoping they’d cry and laugh. I played to larger and larger audiences, sometimes even sold out. From that doubt-filled beginning, I ended up making my living by typing up the worlds in my head and having people perform them – from a C student to a professional, working playwright. Who’da thunk?
My skills might have grown, and experience has taught me a new trick or two, but there’s one thing I learned during that first play that I’ll never change: Focus your attention on creating worlds that you find beautiful, and leave others to the business of deciding if they’re good enough. You can’t control the latter, no matter how smart or talented you are, but you can create a life of rare beauty and joy by pursuing the former.