“I couldn’t get past the readers in the studios. The minute the people, actually at the studios who read boring scripts all the time, actually read my scripts they’re like –this shit is awesome, send it right to us. But the readers would never let it get there.” –-Quentin Tarantino
Rejection. It’s important to remember that it’s happened to every screenwriter. No one magically starts writing great screenplays. It’s a process of trial and error. You learn, you try things, you learn from your mistakes, you try it again.
How do writers stay confident in the face of rejection? It’s not easy. And it may be the greatest challenge any writer will have to face. You will have to start a screenplay knowing full well that up to a year of your life may go into it – yet, it may not sell. In fact, the odds are pretty much against it.
What are some ways to cope with the difficult odds? What do you tell yourself when you sit down to write?
How about this? I can always raise money through crowdfunding and produce the film myself. Another. I can always rewrite this as a novel and self-publish. One more. I can always sell this someday as a TV series. Why not? It happens all the time.
Another way. Remind yourself, it’s not always about selling your script. No matter where you are in your career, a great writing sample is essential. You don’t need to sell this script.
You have to clear your mind to write anything. You can’t have a million racing thoughts in your head as you write FADE IN. So, when you sit down to write, clear your mind of all thoughts that get in the way of writing. And that includes the odds of rejection. Forget about it. That will not help in any way. It’s a Jedi Mind Trick.
Fool yourself into thinking writing is fun, despite the odds of selling. It’s not a lie, writing can actually be fun. It’s like putting a big, giant, time-consuming puzzle together. Some people like to do the Sudoku or the Jumble. Consider the screenplay your puzzle.
What else? Another Mind Trick. Remember that your writing gets better the more your write. How else do writers improve? Right? Another way to think about it; you’re keeping your mind active, and therefore combating the onset of dementia. You’re keeping yourself out of trouble and off the streets.
And finally, of course; you write because writer’s write. That’s what they do. It can be that simple. What else are you going to do? You decided to be a screenwriter.
Whatever mind trick you use to keep you going, know that you’re in good company. Everyone else who’s toiling over a screenplay is doing exactly the same thing.
And if you’re still having trouble facing the keyboard in the face of rejection, I’ve gathered some quotes, by well known screenwriters on the subject. They share their experiences, their observations and in some cases, their advice on dealing with rejection. You might find some of them inspiring.
“You have to put one foot in front of the other and keep going. Put blinders on and plow right ahead.” – George Lucas
“The good ideas will survive.” –Quentin Tarantino
“Everybody passed on Memento. It was a really unique road. I don’t think I’ll ever have a moment like that in my career. We took a huge knock, back as far as we could go. But we came back from it with sheer good fortune.” — Christopher Nolan
“If you’re not failing now and again, it’s a sign you’re not doing anything very innovative.”
“To aspiring writers, I would tell them that we live in a wonderful time where you’re able to make your work visible, easily. If you think about it, even ten years ago or twenty years ago there was a middle man, there was a publisher, there were studios, there was this world of rejection letters. Now we’re in a place where we have the technology and the ability to go shoot our own movies or put stuff on YouTube, or a blog, if you’re a writer, or self-publish.” –Diablo Cody
“Often, you have to fail as a writer before you write that bestselling novel or ground-breaking memoir. If you’re failing as a writer – which it definitely feels like when you’re struggling to write regularly or can’t seem to earn a living as a freelance writer – maybe you need to take a long-term perspective.” – J.K. Rowling
“You only fail if you stop writing — Ray Bradbury
“I take rejection as someone blowing a bugle in my ear to wake me up and get going, rather than retreat.”– Sylvester Stallone
“If I went by all the rejection I’ve had in my career, I should have given up a long time ago. — Mike Myers
“The first rejection that ‘Dexter’ got, I was like, ‘OK. This hasn’t worked. Let’s try something else. I’ll go get a teaching job or something.” — Jeff Lindsay
“We all learn lessons in life. Some stick, some don’t. I have always learned more from rejection and failure than from acceptance and success.” –Henry Rollins
“It’s probably not a good idea to put too much of your self-esteem on something like this, because, really, you can make a bad movie and it can be well received, and you can make a good movie and it can be badly received.” – Wes Anderson
“Don’t lose faith in what you are trying to do, even though you will get pummeled emotionally left and right. There are a lot of NOs to any YES. And that’s OK.” – Jennifer Lee
“John [Cassavettes] was rejected by studios, he borrowed money and did movies with his own money. You’re either courageous or not. You have to find a way.” – Ben Gazzara
“You have to know how to accept rejection and reject acceptance.” – Ray Bradbury
“Any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae.” – Kurt Vonnegut
“Don’t give up. You’re going to get kicked in the teeth. A lot. Learn to take a hit, then pick yourself up off the floor. Resilience is the true key to success.” — Melissa Rosenberg
If nothing else, these quotes will reinforce the notion that rejection is just part of the process. All writers live with it daily. What made these writers different? Somehow, they were able to stay focused, shake off the knocks, and continue to do their best work. Resilience appears to be the key.
If you’re having trouble finishing a draft, or a re-write, feel free to talk with me, a produced screenwriter, at 310-850-4707.
Image credit: Creative Commons, Quentin Tarantino auf dem Berlin FilmFestival ’09, 2013, by Nils Sautter, is licensed under CC By 2.