And it hurts more if you’ve invested months and years in a project and then it gets rejected over and over again. Add to that the struggle to pay rent, to keep a relationship together while you pour your soul into your work. So how can we cope?
1. Go ahead and take rejection personally – up to a point — then move on.
There’s no way you can’t take a rejection personally, so you might as well admit it. It hurts. It’s your screenplay, and you may have slaved over it for months or even years.
“Sit with your emotions,” as they say in psychology, or “process the rejection.” This just means, don’t fight it, or deny it, let it sink in, feel it authentically, and move past it.
You can’t let it crush your soul, or your next project will suffer. And maybe the next. So you have to be resilient. That’s the professional part. As a professional, you’ve got to think of rejection as “part of the process.”
2. Remember that everybody, even the best screenwriters, get rejected.
This goes back to what Einstein said about making mistakes. “If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not trying.”
This is especially true in a creative field where risk is often the key to success. You have to push the envelope or you’re not going to be relevant as an artist.
Risk naturally leads to mistakes. But it also leads to originality. Think of rejection as part of the process of growth, and of creating your own original voice.
3. Keep rejection in perspective with everything else in life.
This rejection didn’t happen in a vacuum. You’ve lived a long life, and you didn’t always get your way. You lost football games. Some other girl stole your date. You didn’t get accepted at USC Cinema. You survived.
Writing just happens to be what you’re most passionate about doing right now. So it stings a bit more. Remind yourself of all the rejections you survived.
4. Attempt to keep your expectations in check.
There are thousands of scripts submitted every year. How many get made? Maybe 200 studio films. Keep the odds in mind.
Another way to keep expectations in check is to have your screenplay evaluated by a professional writer, before submitting it to a studio. Get feedback and improve your script.
You can also enter screenwriting competitions. If your work gets high marks there, then you have a right to high expectations. More and more, writers in Hollywood make sure professional writers admire their work before even showing it to their agents.
5. Visualize your ongoing success as a screenwriter.
I think this is important for your writing career in general. Visualize yourself writing many great screenplays. Include in your vision, the image of working steadily, over months and years with many successes and occasional rejections.
One by-product of visualizing your success is a relaxed sense of professionalism. When a writer expects to succeed, it helps build confidence. Confidence enables the writer to take more risks, which can lead to more original works over time.
6. Look for potential lessons in the rejection.
Often, the criticism you receive from studios can be enlightening. If it’s worthwhile criticism, you may need to pay attention to it. For example, if the studio says “your characters feet a bit two dimensional,” you may want to rewrite the script with that in mind.
I was always told to add dimension, show the main characters at work, at home, and at play. Pay attention to what they want, their goals, what their attitudes are, and how they relate to other characters in the story. Give them an internal struggle that fits with the theme of your film.
7. Rejection can remind you to maintain an overall attitude of growth.
Remember; think of yourself as a growing writer. You’re getting better the more you write, which is absolutely true. Practice does help.
Don’t think of your next script as though it’s “the one” that’s going to win awards and make you rich. It’s another script in your increasing body of work. You’re committed to a lifetime of writing.
Think about the long view. This way, no matter if your script is optioned, made, or rejected, it will feel part of your personal growth.
8. Handling rejection well will keep you from burnout.
Writers can become so jaded, and frankly, afraid of the odds, that they stop writing. They think, the chances of me selling a screenplay are so low, why bother?
Another reason I tell people to write for web series, TV shows, indie films, shorts, graphic novels, and plays. You’re odds of being produced are much higher. Get some confidence as a working writer, then branch out.
9. Remember, everyone has a fear of being judged. It’s human nature.
It’s not just you. Every writer who ever lived has dealt with rejection. However sometimes it feels like you’re alone. If you get a string of rejections and it just has worn you down to the point where you’re just no longer excited about writing, I suggest therapy.
It’s always a minor miracle for a film to get produced. There are so many ways the deal can fall through –ways you can feel like you’ve failed. Even if you sell your screenplay, it can go through changes, and possibly die in development.
Financing may fall out, the suits at the studio or the actors in your film can change their minds. The executive who loved your script can get fired or replaced.
That’s why I encourage screenwriters to count their victories. If your script places highly in a contest, if it gets you an agent, if it gets you hired to write a script, if it gets optioned or bought, those are all successes. Savor the victories, even the small ones. Focus on them, not the failures –and keep writing.