The Worst Thing Ever and the Best Thing Ever

blackout poem“What is the worst thing anyone has ever said about your writing?”

Gary Garrison, Creative Director of the Dramatist’s Guild asked that question a couple of  years ago at the Last Frontier Theatre Conference in Valdez, Alaska. He was talking to a room of us playwrights, our notebooks open on our laps to jot down his advice to us on how to be a playwright, but really he was talking to us about how to just be.

So we wrote it down, the worst thing, the most hurtful judgment anyone ever had the balls to say to our face.

–You always write poetry.

I really don’t remember who said it, or even what play it was about, but it came in those exact words. And I have a clear memory image of a hand tossing my script on a table they way you take your grocery receipt out of the bag and toss it in the garbage as you put away the milk. My play was difficult, weird, had too many monologues (I know! I know!) and was just a bunch of writing. This person had had enough of my wordy birdy ways. It was poetry. It wasn’t a play.

I was a young playwright so of course I apologized and went home wishing I could just quit that poetry shit and write a real play. And believe me I have written plenty of plays that are difficult, weird, had way too many monologues and were just a bunch of writing. Yeah. I’ve even showed that crap to people. Yikes.

Garrison didn’t leave us there, brow beaten under someone else’s opinion–indeed, the state of brow-beatedness does not even exist in Garrison’s universe. Do yourself a favor, and look him up, if you don’t know him.

“Now write down the best thing anyone has ever said about your writing?”

–You always write poetry. 

I didn’t know it until he asked us to put into words. The worst thing anyone ever has ever said to me about my writing is also the best thing anyone has ever said to me about my writing. My strength is my weakness. My weakness my strength. Something like that. A two-sided coin. A two-headed monster. Two-Face, the nemesis of Batman. Two roads diverging in a yellow wood.

See what I did there?

It all comes down to the coin toss. Heads: I write poetry/Tails: you read poetry.

3 Comments on “The Worst Thing Ever and the Best Thing Ever

  1. Strengths and weaknesses. Can’t have one without the other.
    Like tea and scones.
    You can totally have tea without scones, but scones without tea??
    Unheard of.


  2. We are taught to grow rhino skin. It is one of Dawson’s strongest messages. (2 different plays) Two worst things ever said about my writing: BEFORE RHINO SKIN: (1) “You are an American woman in suburbia with not only no experience but also with no right to write this.” (said the self-proclaimed cultural expert who did not know me or my research at all) AFTER RHINO SKIN: (2) “This is not how it is. I played your character and it was the most disgusting thing I have ever done, hideous and I would never do it again. you have insulted a whole religion that is NEVER like that and I hate your play. I don’t really know if you are evil. But this play is evil” –okay, but YOU did the play . . . BINGO– this tells me I have hit a nerve that needs to be played like a violin string. thanks for the input. I will expand to full length.

    I don’t know why this happens to even level headed people sometimes, loosing hold on open thought process to carry such self-entitlement in artistic jurisdiction. Why do people have these outbursts? We can never really know although we can examine and make assumptions about their own issues and it’s like reading graffiti about yourself. You have to read it no matter if you are in the mood or not. Does it tell you something about the writing?– something indirect, yes. What I don’t understand is why they get right in your face to do this, mono y mono sick satisfaction. Hence the need to be solid and well-dressed. Whatever the season, I prefer full-length Rhino. Accessorize with horned boots (for well placed kicks right up the ass) And matching purse to swat with.


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