London Screenwriters' Festival

Rejection: Get Over It and Get On

Posted on: August 31st, 2010 by Lucy V Hay 2 Comments

Rejection is something every writer must get used to, not just newbies. Even the likes of Tony Jordan, Steven Moffatt, Shane Black, Joss Whedon, *insert your favourite writer here* gets rejected. It’s just the way of it – there simply is not enough money or space to include EVERYONE’S work, so it’s inevitable that even very good projects will fall by the wayside.

This is why I get angry when I hear writers doing one another down: “What’s s/he EVER done??” Just because you haven’t seen someone’s name on the credits or a DVD box does not mean they “haven’t been doing anything”… If you’re a professional writer, you know there’s every chance the writer in question HAS been writing – even been paid for it! – it’s just not made it out of development or distribution hell. We all hear the horror stories: the writer whose treatment gets optioned, but the feature gets dashed at the last minute because of a lack of funding for the whole thing; the team who develops a fantastic new drama series at a network, only for the very LAST  Yes man/woman to say “no”. The team that MAKES a whole TV pilot or feature but can’t get it picked up anywhere. It’s not unusual – and the last thing those hard-working people need is their peers questioning their efforts.

I watched a screenwriter talk once on a Youtube video – I forget his name, but he was a bigwig in Hollywood – and he claimed he was “lucky” he had 15 projects out of 45 greenlit and made. You read it right – FIFTEEN OUT OF FORTY FIVE is considered “lucky”. You will write far more projects than will ever, or can ever, be made: most of the scripts on your desktop will essentially stay there. Ipso fatso, as Bart Simpson would say.

But how do you cope with this? Here’s my thoughts on the matter:

1) Tell yourself your entire portfolio is just a “sample” – any that sell then, is a BONUS. I have plenty of friends and Bang2writers who work on this basis and it appears to work very well for them. After all, if you expect nothing and get something, the outcome can only ever be positive. A note of caution: it appears to work best for those writers who want to do corporate work – video games, adverts, virals and the like – and those writers who want to work in television, who expect to have to write someone else’s idea.

2) Have many irons in the fire. This is my own personal rejection strategy, though plenty of others use it too: if one project is rejected, but you’re yet to hear from a variety of other places (on that, or other projects), then your hope is not CRUSHED UNDERFOOT like a beetle. A note of caution: spreading yourself too thin can hinder progress.

3) Share your disappointment with your friends and social network. Chatting about your rejection with other writers who have felt the sting too can really help, especially if they happen to have read the script that has just been rejected. A note of caution: be careful if the people who rejected you happen to be your friends on Facebook, follow you on Twitter or read the same message boards etc; you don’t want to be known as a whinger.

4) Ignore it. That’s right – don’t even think about it. This takes experience and practice. I am always in awe of a friend who seems to have the thickest skin imaginable; he says, “If I get rejected, who cares? I just carry on.” AND HE REALLY DOES (and does very well). I could not figure out how he did this as little as two years ago, yet now I find myself shrugging a lot more at rejection, “Whatever”. A note of caution: If you are continuously rejected for a good reason, you DO need to take note.

5) Keep writing. However you deal with rejection, whether it’s any of the above and/or stuffing yourself with chocolate or drinking booze until your brain explodes, this is the most important: KEEP ON KEEPING ON. Rejection isn’t personal, it’s just the way of things. Note of caution: If you quit though? You’ve made it personal – and the only one who loses it out is you.

2 Responses

  1. peter says:

    Dead right on every count. In fact, in Hollywood, over ONE THIRD of WGA writers MAKING A LIVING writing have NEVER had anything filmed! Absolutely true.

    I always try to have three projects ahead of me. I’ve sold scripts that will in most likelihood never be filmed, I’ve sold pitches that might never even get to script. Rejection? Just shrug it off and keep moving.

  2. The Simpsons says:

    A awesome Show to be fair.

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