Overcoming Rejection

We are at the end of the year (and what a year!), the time when we cannot but look back on the achievements and failures encountered on our paths. However fun, we all know writing can be a bumpy ride. Some things are great, others pretty hard to swallow.

Among the bad things, having a script rejected is undoubtedly one of the toughest. You might be a newbie or a pro. You might have entered a screenplay competition or sent your script to an agent. It doesn’t matter. When you’re chasing a dream, fuelled up with passion, determination, and commitment, a negative reply can always be a nasty thorn in the side. But let me stop you right here. A rejection doesn’t have to be how your ride reaches its end.

However hopeless your situation might seem, you should remember that, since that failure, most things haven’t changed at all. The film and TV industries are still out there making stuff. The world is always filled with fantastic people who share your same passions. You can’t physically run out of ideas. And yes, you still know how to write a damn screenplay, which alone distinguishes you from the millions of people who want to write but never do.

Because you don’t have much control over these things, you should focus on the one you can actually affect— namely, yourself. Although this may sound cliché, it is quite accurate in this profession. Writing is a one-person journey that starts with a blank page and finishes with a story. Alone you write, alone you face the consequences. But cheer up! Nothing stops you from working on yourself. Maybe you can’t learn how to accept rejection every single time, but indeed there are many ways of coping with it. Below, you can find three things you should keep in mind when facing rejection as a screenwriter, things that might help you find hope again in your journey as a writer.

#1 It’s Not Personal

Once I had a friend who, every time somebody criticised a project of theirs, they would give up that idea and move onto something new in the blink of an eye. Sometimes they would even say they weren’t good enough to write it. Honestly, they simply didn’t know how to accept feedback and lacked self-confidence.

Negative feedback on your script isn’t negative feedback on you as an individual or your chances to write a good story. It’s an assessment of your project and how your abilities come across through your writing. The same kind of argument applies especially when sending a script to production companies and agents. Sometimes, a rejection could simply mean that the person reading your script isn’t interested in that genre, that type of story, or doesn’t have the budget or contacts to kick your project off the ground.

Another problematic thing here is that negative feedback doesn’t consider how much time you worked on your project. It can be weeks, months, or even years. The higher the stakes, the harder to accept a failure. However, that time spent on writing doesn’t change the nature of the criticism and shouldn’t affect your self-confidence. You know how good you are, how far you’ve come, and how to get better. Just keep believing in yourself!

#2 Put Things in Perspective

A dose of realism never hurts. Breaking into the industry is tough, and even when you’re in, it may still be quite hard to pay the bills or keep projects coming in. When it comes to the mainstream screenplay competitions, it is common knowledge that a rough 90-95 per cent of scripts never make it to the top. Director Yorgos Lanthimos waited about twenty years to see his Oscar-winning film The Favourite on the big screen. Charlie Kaufman, one of the most talented contemporary screenwriters, hadn’t made a film in ten years before his last project I’m Thinking of Ending Things. Do you know what he said in his interview with Variety? “I’m going to make something I want and not worry if this will lead to another job. If I get to do it again, it’s gravy for me.”

Keeping these facts and figures in mind doesn’t mean you need to abandon your dream, but that you shouldn’t be too hard on yourself if your script gets rejected. Also, remembering that you chose a tough path helps you find strength in the beauty of your stories. As Kaufman teaches, if you love writing stories, you just won’t stop because the circumstances aren’t favourable.

Before moving onto the next piece of advice, there’s also another perspective from where you can consider your rejection. In a friendly chat, a producer once told me that they believe the film and TV industries are the most glamorous and seductive in human history. They’re made of millions of people dreaming of money and fame. Some make it to the top, and from there, they seem to shine with a prestigious light of their own forever. This is even truer now that we’re constantly bombarded with images of stardom on social media. But the same producer also told me that, if you don’t focus on the things that truly matter to you, you will get dazzled by all the glamour. Again, keep writing and searching for your voice, regardless of what other people are saying or doing. It will surely help you find the courage to keep pushing.

#3 It’s just a Process

If you feel your self-confidence and passion haven’t been affected much by a rejected script, but you still feel hopeless, directionless, or just pessimistic, there’s one last piece of advice to consider that might help you. As it happens in many aspects of life, facing rejection is just a process.

I’m no psychologist, but humans indeed have similar ways of coping with failures. When you get that rejection email, you may be in denial (there must be some mistake), angry (these people don’t know what they’re losing), or demoralised (I’ll never break into the industry). Ultimately, many of you will accept it, while for others, it might take more time. So, how do you get there quicker?

Take some time away from your rejected project. If writing is your second job, focus on some other activity. If writing is your means of living, try to move onto another project. Sometimes, taking a break is the only way to free yourself from the loop of denial-anger-hopelessness. You can use this time to play with new ideas or find a plan B for your project (maybe you’ve written a film and you realise the same concept could work better as a TV series or a theatre piece). After some time, you’ll find it much easier to work again on that rejected project or something new. You will take a sigh of relief and understand that, after all, rejection is just part of the game, and you’ve beaten those feelings without even realising it.