By Don Nguyen, member of the 2008 Emerging Writers Group
Looking at all the twists and turns I’ve taken in my life, I’m truly in awe of where I am now. I’m considered an emerging playwright to whatever extent you want to use that term. You might be wondering “you’re almost four decades into your life and you’re still an emerging playwright?”
Yes. It seems I’m a late bloomer. Always have been. I did gymnastics in high school and I loved it. But competing at the Olympic or even the collegiate level would never be in the cards for me. I had some raw talent but I didn’t have the other element needed: time. Most elite gymnasts come out of the private clubs, where the average beginning gymnast is age 6. I unfortunately didn’t discover gymnastics until I was fifteen. In college I discovered acting. I loved it and felt at home with my fellow thespians. But I would soon discover that many of my actor friends had been doing theater since they were 10 or 11. And here I was at the ripe old age of 20 and they already had almost a decade of experience on me. So when I finally moved into the realm of serious playwriting at the age of 35, I thought I was fairly safe from these overachievers. I was so happy to have finally found a profession where it didn’t matter if you were young or old! Because a writer can be any age, right?
Then I noticed something about the majority of my playwright peers. Their resumes are big as a battleship. Most have graduated from an Ivy League college or other highly regarded training program. Many have studied under legendary playwrights who’s names rhyme with Shmedward Shmalbee and Shmaula Shmogel. Many have worked or completed internships at major theater organizations. Many are receiving commissions and other big name awards. And dammit, many of them are a decade younger than me! All my life, I feel like I’m a decade late to everything.
People believe the most basic component to success is ability and that somehow, ability is hard wired to the brain. But ability can take time to develop. I would argue that the experiences in your life help shape and improve your ability and that, in turn, sets the stage for you to bloom.
So I have to ask myself “Self, because you discovered your path in life late in the game, does that mean you are less likely to change the world?” My answer is NO. It just means I now need to work my ASS OFF more than anyone else.
Personally, what’s great about me starting so late in the game is that I feel much better equipped to handle the ins and outs of this crazy industry. Had I moved to New York in my early twenties I would not have lasted long at all. My money management skills were nonexistent back then. I’m glad I moved here when I did. I’m a much more responsible adult than I was in my early twenties and I actually have a stable job. I have a little bit of savings and I can afford to eat out every once and a while.
Others have studied more than me, hold more degrees than I have, have written more plays, etc. You’ll go crazy comparing yourself to others. Don’t do it. Or don’t do it as often as you do. Because it’s really an individual journey and there’s no quantifiable measure of success in this field.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Public Theater’s Emerging Writers Group and what that opportunity gave me. The selection was not about how many degrees you had and where you earned them. It was not about what agent you had. It was not about what professional work you’ve had produced. And it certainly was not about how young or old you are. I believe it was about what kind of voice you had and if it was a voice to get behind. How do I know this? Because that’s all I had when I applied. My voice. And that (thankfully) took years to develop.
So the next time you get depressed because all your peers seemed to have accomplished so much more than you in the same amount of time or less, take comfort in the fact that Julia Child did not even learn how to cook until she was 40. Stan Lee was 43 when he started drawing his legendary superheroes. And even the Bard believes “better once than never, for never too late.”
I may be a late bloomer, but that’s okay with me. I’m having the time of my life doing it.
Don Nguyen is a member of the 2008 Emerging Writers Group, The Civilians 2010 R&D Group and the Ma-Yi Writers Lab. Don is the recipient of the 2012 Founders Award from New York Stage and Film, given to an Emerging Playwright which includes a one month residency at Vassar College. During the residency, Don completed a first draft of his new play THE COMMENCEMENT OF WILLIAM TAN. For more information on Don, please visit his website: thenuge.com.
This post is part of a weekly series from the Emerging Writers Group community of playwrights. The EWG is two-year playwriting fellowship at The Public Theater seeking to target playwrights at the earliest stages of their careers. In so doing, The Public hopes to create an artistic home for a diverse and exceptionally talented group of up-and-coming playwrights.