On Wednesday, Bren blogged about stage fright. Her story and those shared by others got me thinking about how often we battle fears and obstacles in order to do something we love and/or to attain a goal.
I’m not sure if I’ve ever suffered genuine stage fright. Anxiety, yes. Fright no. Whether it be singing, dancing or acting, I love the rush of performing live in front of people. Or at least I used to. After 30-some years in the performing arts, I no longer burn to sing. I burn to write. However, the similarities between the entertainment and publishing business are vast. For instance . . . auditions and submissions.
Looking back, I had it easy when I first started performing. I didn’t have to audition for my first singing gig. My dad worked as the food and beverage manager at a local Holiday Inn. He talked the leader of the house band into letting me come up and sing a song. I didn’t want to. Well, I did, but I was scared. Okay. I’ll confess to stage fright that time, but then I performed and people applauded and I was hooked. After a few times of ‘sitting in’ for a couple of songs, the hotel hired me to sing with the band every weekend. I was fourteen.
When I was seventeen, I left home and went ‘on the road’ with a band. We performed in hotel lounges and nightclubs all over the Midwest. We worked approximately 50 weeks out of the year. We never had to ‘audition’ live for a job. We had an agent who booked us using a promo shot and demo tape. Sometimes we weren’t a perfect match for a club, and yes, I’ve been fired—not fun—but I didn’t know how easy I had it until I settled in Atlantic City eight years later. I didn’t want to travel anymore. I wanted to perform exclusively in the casinos. That meant auditioning . . . over and over and over.
Plainly put, auditioning sucks. In my case, usually it took place in the middle of the day, on a stage, in an empty room. No audience to feed off of. Just an entertainment director, or maybe the entertainment director plus a few suits from marketing or accounting, sitting at a table, watching and judging. Sometimes leaning in and whispering to each other. Sometimes looking bored. Meanwhile, you’re trying to perform your heart out. You want them to like you, to hire you. You need to pay the bills. You need to feed your passion. I don’t think I was ever at my best during an audition. I was always nervous. Sometimes my mouth got so dry, my lips stuck to my teeth.
For you writers out there, imagine sitting in the same room while an editor reads the manuscript you just handed him/her. Being right there while they judged your work. When they decided to either contract you or reject you. Worse, what if someone from the marketing department and PR department were there, too. Imagine how you’d feel when they leaned in and whispered to each other about your story. In front of you.
Back to performing…. Generally I wouldn’t find out until a day or two (or sometime a week) later whether I got the gig. The entertainment director would notify my agent of his/her decision. The agent would call me and either I’d whoop for joy or cry. Rejection stung. Big time. The absolute worst was losing out on a job, not because you weren’t talented enough, but because of the way you looked. I’ve known singers who lost gigs because their hips were too big. One, because her ankles were too fat. Yes, that really happened. Once I lost a job because of what I was wearing. The casino president was there and said I looked like I should be standing on Pacific Avenue. For those of you not familiar with Atlantic City, that’s where the hookers hang out.
A) I was wearing a customized dress that I spent a lot of money on. A design copied from a dress in Vogue magazine. Sexy, not slutty.
B) If you liked my performing, how about just asking me not to wear that dress Mr. Stick-Up-the-Butt? I had a ton of costumes in my closet. Ah, but that would be too logical.
As you might have guessed from the above tone, I grew cynical over the years. But I also developed a pretty thick skin. So much so, that when I received my first rejection letter from a publisher for a manuscript I’d submitted, I didn’t cry. I was disappointed. Really disappointed, but I wasn’t crushed. At least I hadn’t been sitting in that room when the editor read and judged my manuscript. Don’t get me wrong, rejection is never fun. Especially when your work gets rejected time and time again. However, I wanted to see my work in print so badly… I so very much wanted to pursue a career as a published author… that I continued to ‘audition’ over and over until I finally landed ‘the gig’.
Years later, even with several books under my belt, I still ‘audition’ every time I submit a new proposal. And then there’s the added risk of reader rejection. Not every reader will like your work and some will have no problem trashing you all over the Internet. Do I feel a sting from bad reviews? Absolutely. But from someone who used to make a living on stage and survived hecklers, drunks, and plain rude people who had no problem saying something like “You suck” right to my face… I can endure a snarky written review. I can even take it when someone says to my face, “I don’t read those kind of books” or the ever popular, “Oh. You write those trashy bodice rippers.” (The latter really burns my buns, but that’s another post.)
The point to my ramble here is that it’s rare that we’re handed our dream on a platter. Most of us have to pay our dues, and that often involves rejection in some form or another. The trick is to feel the sting then let it go. Taste is subjective. If you want something, go for it. Fight for it. Hone your craft and never give up.
When all else fails just remind yourself that opinions are like buttholes. Everybody has one.
What about you? How do you handle rejection?
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