The Welcome Letter
When I set out to write my own Artistic Handbook last April, I had no idea where to start. I knew what I wanted to include in my handbook — I had a list as long as my arm that featured everything from the phrase “standard operating hours” to “play ideas” to “working out of town.” I had a ton of rules for how I’d operate in the American theatre landscape, all of which I’d broken at some point or another. And I had an overwhelming task ahead of me: a 70+ page artistic handbook that was fully searchable, fully functional, and fully me.
So, rather than weigh myself down in my own anxiety, I came up with a plan. I’d work on this handbook every day for 100 days. And I would start with the welcome letter.
Every company worth their salt has a welcome letter to boost employee morale and usher in new recruits. I was already the CEO of my own artistic practice, so why not rally my only employee — me! — with a motivating letter?
I just read my Welcome Letter for the first time in a year. And do you know what my first thought was? I like this person. I like them a lot. I made some minor changes; April 2019 Danielle is even better than the April 2018 version. I wanted to share that welcome with all of you. Because I like being a little vulnerable. I like being vulnerable with all of you.
What a weird way to start. Welcome! This is your handbook and I am you and you are me. This is a safe and private space to write up career demands, sketch out playwriting goals, make space for life, and stay motivated.
You are an artist. No matter what. Full stop.
I know, I know. It feels obvious. But I’ve watched too many friends belittle their own artistry. It’s an easy thing to do. It’s easy to rely on outside forces to tell you that you’re not an artist, not anymore. Have we seen anything you’ve made? Have you shared anything in this city? What about New York? (Skeptics love to ask about New York.) But you can’t possibly be working. You have too many other things going on. You have too many other obligations — to your paid work, to your family, to your perfect social media life.
And it’s easy to let these outside factors bog you down. It’s easy to start a conversation with these naysayers. You’re right. I’m not good enough. I don’t deserve it. I should just give up.
Stop, stop. You’re an artist.
“Not good enough.” “Don’t deserve it.” These phrases are so laden in shame. So it probably goes without saying that the bulk of my friends who belittle their art — myself included; I have been there too — are women. I don’t have any empirical proof to back this up, but I would be willing to bet my computer (my most prized possession) this line of thinking isn’t an outlier. It’s a trend. Don’t let the patriarchy swallow you whole, Mohlman. And don’t let it swallow your friends either.
Here’s some advice I recently gave a friend: It’s nearly impossible to stop being a writer. It’s not something that can be lost. Do you know why? It’s because a major part of writing is living. It’s gathering stories and interrogating the world. So as long as you keep doing that, you’re a writer. Even if you haven’t written anything all day. Even if it’s been weeks. Or months.
There will be times when life makes it impossible to create art at the clip you’ve grown accustomed to. You’re not always going to be able to write one to two plays a year. That’s okay. What isn’t okay is getting down on yourself for being slower. Or less productive. Or so challenged that the pages come in small increments. Or not at all. The writing will always be there. And it’ll be stronger than ever because you’ll have given yourself room to live a full and fruitful life.
This handbook is a piece of encouragement. But it’s more than that. It’s protective armor. It’s a map of where you’ve been. It will evolve constantly. And it will never truly be “finished.” It’s just like you in that way. That’s the beauty in it.
So welcome! Go forth and create art!
(a pretty rad woman)