Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Advice to the graduates--and to writers

Garry Marshall
At the Lafayette College graduation ceremony last Saturday, famed producer/director/writer/actor Garry Marshall was the speaker. You might expect an entertaining speech, and would not be disappointed, but he also had a message that's good for graduates and for writers: "You gotta know that sometimes you're gonna get whacked, something's going to go wrong, and you gotta bounce back," (You can see a video of Garry Marshall's speech here.)

Mr. Marshall is known for his numerous successes as a producer of the iconic sitcoms of the 1970s and 1980s Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley (starring his sister Penny Marshall), and Mork and Mindy. He wrote for The Lucy Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show, and The Odd Couple. He directed hit movies including Pretty Woman, Beaches, Runaway Bride, and The Princess Diaries. It's tempting to think that he was lucky, that he got all the breaks, that he never knew what it was to struggle. Other people's successes often look easy. On the contrary. he said he was once "fired by a piece of cloth" when Shari Lewis's hand puppet Lambchop told him to hit the bricks.

And he is far from alone. Nearly all artists get whacked repeatedly along the way. According to, Meg Cabot, the author of The Princess Diaries on which Garry Marshall's movie was based, collected her rejection letters in a mailbag she stored under her bed. She had planned, once she was published, to use it as a visual aid to take to schools to inspire children to never give up on their dreams, but she received so many rejections that the bag is too heavy for her to lift.

A half-written novel shoved in a drawer, a completed draft that everyone thinks needs a rewrite but no one agrees on why, distractions from loved ones and life's trials, rejections from agents and/or publishers--each of these can "whack" a writer, sending him or her off track, thinking about the advantages of almost any other line of work. And even when a writer doesn't give up and finds a publisher and sells a book, the per-hour wage most authors earn is less than the guy washing windshields at the traffic light. And he doesn't have to give 15% to an agent. And he gets to work outside.

The life of any artist is one of getting whacked. The life of a successful artist is one of  bouncing back.

What are your strategies for bouncing back after you get "whacked"?