Audiences and Alien Abduction

February 2, 2014






When we’re in the midst of creating something, thinking too much about audiences can be limiting and obstructive—especially as our minds tend to go toward the negative, and internally it’s seldom, “Everyone will love this!” and much more likely, “Everyone will think this is the worst ever.”

But once our work is out in the world, we have more opportunities to connect.  Someone will come up after a show or a reading, or ask a question during a panel, or send us an email about our work.  (I’m not talking about reviewers, here, but just regular audience members.) These responses can be wonderful, enlightening, depressing or just perplexing.  Once someone came up to me after a performance of my science fiction opera with Anthony Davis, Under the Double Moon, completely convinced that I had shared her experience of being abducted by aliens.  (For the record, I’ve had the good fortune to have never been abducted by aliens, or anyone else.) People have also told me the stories of their ill-fated love affairs, failed patent applications, and rejected manuscripts.  They also often compare something I’ve written to something I’ve never heard of, convinced that my work was somehow derived from it.


Even if, like me, you aren’t famous at all, it’s always a little bit of a crush after a public appearance of any kind, but I try and listen to everyone who comes up to me, because every comment, no matter how seemingly out-of-the-blue, is a response to my work. I am happy people have been touched, or interested, or even aggravated, by what I created.

The greatest enjoyment for me is in creating the work, not presenting it.  This is true whether I’m working on something alone and the ideas are actually flowing, or sitting down with my long-time collaborators to bring something to life together.  And if it is a performance work, the rehearsals are always a happier and more involving experience than the actual performance itself, which goes by too quickly, and during which you are always listening for the audience’s response. But there is nonetheless something completely gratifying about hearing an audience laugh (when they are supposed to) or to see someone look like they are about to cry when the hero dies. You’ve hit the mark; they got it. 

And then it doesn’t matter if afterwards they ask you about your personal experiences on Alpha Centauri; they wouldn’t be asking if you hadn’t touched them.

Follow me on Twitter @DatherToo.

Applause Photo courtesy of Princess Theater—Raising the Curtain via Creative Commons License. Some rights reserved. 

UFO Photo Courtesy of  Dommeruk Creator:Dominic Harris via Creative Commons License. Some rights reserved.


Coping with the Disappointment

October 4, 2010

by Leslie Zeigler

In this blog there have been posts about the inevitable part of being creative that involves rejection and disappointment.  Whether it is receiving  another rejection in your attempt to find an agent  for your novel,  or being turned down for the 66th time on your most recent audition to become an actor, or being told that your photograph is not going to be accepted at a particular gallery, the question is how do you deal with the feelings?   Do you fantasize about crawling under the covers and not coming out for months?  It’s only natural that you might feel that way.  Perhaps you feel an urge to turn to drinking a bit too much or overeating–or maybe your drug of choice is retail therapy.  At any rate,  what are some helpful ways to think to help you get thru those difficult moments when you feel like giving up even though you know that you won’t? 

In reading Pema Chodron’s book Taking the Leap  I began to think that her ideas could be very helpful to anyone involved in the creative process.   Pema Chodron is an American Buddhist, who writes often about how to deal with life.  I am not a Buddhist and you don’t need to be one in order to benefit from her heart-centered wisdom.  Her concept of  “shenpa”   is potentially useful in the context of  expanding your options in coping with your disappointment.  She describes it as “the itch and it’s also the urge to scratch.”  She gives examples of how it is natural to be drawn to an unhealthy habit, such as reaching for a cigarette or some other such habit.   She describes SHENPA   as preverbal but it breeds thoughts and emotions very quickly. She suggests becoming aware of this feeling .  Basically her advice is to become aware of this feeling without acting on it.  It is very similar  to what I learned as a therapist, which is to encourage people to become aware of what their feelings  are and learn to sit with them and tolerate them rather than turning to a negative habit.

This advice might sound simplistic, yet we live in a culture where doing and being productive and turning to action is so prevalent that the notion of not doing can seem weird and actually hard to implement.

So the next time you come home from your  acting audition, or receive your letter of rejection for your screenplay or find out that you were not accepted for a particular painting class,  just as the Beatles say,

Let yourself  Be.


September 10, 2010
by Deborah Atherton

September is here, and it’s that time of year for many of us – time to send out proposals, time to submit our work to editors or galleries or agents or producers.  I’ve been sending out my work for many years, and no matter how many positive responses I’ve received, it’s the negative ones that stick with me.  The power of positive thinking seems to shrivel when confronted with my deep distaste for handing my work over to someone else to accept or reject.

Why does one rejection send us into a spiral of misery? One of my favorite positive psychologists, Tal Ben-Shahar, has something to say about that:  “When we fail to attain a desired outcome, we often extrapolate from that experience the belief that we have no control over our lives or over certain parts of it. That thinking leads to despair.”

Despair describes the feeling I get on opening an envelope with yet another rejection slip pretty perfectly.  But how can we combat it, that feeling that no one will ever be interested in the work that takes up all the waking minutes we might otherwise be more profitably spending on, say, actually making a profit?

Habit. It just has to be a habit.  We have to know that despite the ten rejections we got this month, we are going to send out ten more poems, or sets of slides, or CDs, next month.  Our creative work sometimes has to wait on inspiration; our submission of it can not.  If we send out a piece this month, and wait for the response, we most likely won’t be sending out a piece next month.  (For one thing, NOBODY will get back to you in just a month.)

It takes 30 days for a habit to take root within us; and, honestly, if you’ve had years of haphazard submissions and rejections, it is probably going to take longer than that.  Writers’ Relief, the selective writers submission service, tells us that for writers (and these are all writers who are copyedited and can spell), 1 in 99 submissions is accepted.  (I don’t have statistics on other art forms, but observation tells me this is pretty close to what composers, visual artists, and others face.)

So that’s the story, folks.  Maybe you can assign one otherwise depressing Monday night a month to gritting your teeth and shipping out your work.  Maybe, if you’ve got a strong stomach, you can do it more often than that. But if it doesn’t become a habit, it won’t get done at all.

And just think how wonderful you’ll feel the day following your 99th rejection when you get that email or note or phone call saying: you’re in!

And now that you’ve made a habit, you won’t let that stop you either (unless of course this is your magnum opus, and its acceptance means your life work is done) on the next appointed Monday, when you will send your work out again.

Who are We Writing For?

July 23, 2009
99 out of 100

99 out of 100

Posted by Deborah Atherton

All creative writers, no matter what their genre or area of interest, get a little caught up in the issue of how salable our ideas are. It’s a very tricky and emotional topic, and writers vary widely in their viewpoints. There are writers on one end of the spectrum who say, “I won’t write it unless someone will pay me for it!” And the writers who take the opposite position will tell you, “Money doesn’t influence me at all. I write for myself.”

Although both sides believe deeply in their position, I suspect that even the most successful commercial writer has limits to the tampering he or she will allow editors for the sake of sales. And however pure the intent of the artist who writes not for the audience, but for him or herself, I sincerely doubt that artist would turn down a check for the finished product.

Gail wrote a lovely children’s board book in response to a perceived market need. She went about it really intelligently, researching the market, finding the right prospective publishers, and soliciting one with a very satisfactory query letter. However, probably in the meantime, the publisher had put out a book on the same subject. This was Gail’s first professional submission, and even though she’d done absolutely everything right, it didn’t work out, and she naturally became discouraged.

The very difficult truth is that 99 out of 100 submissions to editors or agents are rejected, which may mean that you have to submit your work repeatedly before it is accepted. That’s a lot of “no thank yous” for our psyches to accept. It’s really really hard to have something you’ve worked on and know is good turned down for purely market reasons.

But because Gail is a good and committed writer, she may decide (with a little coaching!) not only to submit her book to more publishers, but to think about writing a new one – maybe one that comes first from her own passionate interests and ideas.