What To Do When Your Script Gets Rejected

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"I'm in a glass case of emotion!" Anchorman, 2004. Photo courtesy: DreamWorks

“I’m in a glass case of emotion!” Anchorman, 2004. Photo courtesy: DreamWorks

5 Ways to Beat Rejection

Rejection is the worst. Every writer who has ever shown their work to someone else knows this. Sharing your most personal creations puts you at risk for the most terrible sort of pain. Unless you’re standing on a boat, scribbling pages and tossing them into the sea, sharing your work means there’s a chance you’ll face rejection. And everyone, everyone in Hollywood gets rejected at some point. Yes, everyone.

One of my favorite Hollywood mentors once told me the best predictor of a writer’s success was how that person handles despair. This sounds depressing at first but it’s actually powerful advice: those who handle rejection well inevitably succeed because they keep at it — and the most important thing is to keep at it. As Ray Bradbury once said, “you fail only if you stop writing.” Knowing how to survive rejection is part of what makes a successful writer, so let’s thinks about some ways to cope with it.

Elle Woods taking a minute. Legally Blonde, 2001. Photo courtesy: MGM

Elle Woods taking a minute. Legally Blonde, 2001. Photo courtesy: MGM

No 1 – Give Yourself A Time Limit For Wallowing

Notice that I did not suggest you forego wallowing entirely. Up to a point, wallowing is an extremely healthy way to respond to emotional pain. But letting it go on indefinitely can be destructive. Give yourself a time limit — say, one full day — and then decide that you’ll move on. It gives you a little taste of what you need without letting it ruin you. Sort of like having one cupcake but not eating everything in the bakery until you barf. Small doses.

The ultimate posse. Ghostbusters, 2016. Photo courtesy: Columbia Pictures

The ultimate posse. Ghostbusters, 2016. Photo courtesy: Columbia Pictures

No 2 – Get A Posse

If you don’t have a writing group or a friend who also writes, get one stat. Sure, relationships with other writers can be complicated — writers can be jealous and vain. But they also know exactly what it feels like to pour hours and hours of hard work into something that a Hollywood producer passes on after a ten minute read. It’s excruciating. Find a friend who nods knowingly and tells you you’re going to be okay. Because you really, really will.

Grassy moment of reflection. Boyhood, 2014. Photo courtesy: Universal

Grassy moment of reflection. Boyhood, 2014. Photo courtesy: Universal

No 3 – Get Away From It All

Exercise should be written out as a prescription for writers. It doesn’t work for everyone, but there are a lot of writers who swear by the endorphins. Even if it’s just a quick walk around the block, getting away from your desk can help you clear your head. Look at the pretty birds and remember that one rejection isn’t the end of the world. You’re more than one script. You’re a whole person, and if you stay determined, you can do this.

Get those quills scratching. Shakespeare In Love, 1998. Photo courtesy: Miramar

Get those quills scratching. Shakespeare In Love, 1998. Photo courtesy: Miramar

No 4 – Distract Yourself

One of the best ways to handle rejection is to pretend it’s not happening. You read that correctly. The way to do it? As soon as you send something out, open a new document. Force yourself to free write. Push yourself to outline. If you’re busy writing the next thing, you have less brain space to fret about rejection. It’s not foolproof, but it helps. It also helps to see a good movie and eat ice cream and a large tub of popcorn and a candy bar. Possibly.

Be the dragon. Enter The Dragon, 1973. Photo courtesy: Warner Bros

Be the dragon. Enter The Dragon, 1973. Photo courtesy: Warner Bros

No 5 – Get Up Off The Mat

Another favorite mentor of mine likened Hollywood to a boxing match. You are going to get knocked down — that’s for sure. The important thing is to get back up off the mat. If you get up, it’s not over. You’ve still got a fighting chance.

So if/when you get that next rejection: take it on the chin, then GET UP OFF THE MAT. Go back for more. Your future as a writer depends on it.

 

author-avatar

Jennie Evenson is the author of "Shakespeare for Screenwriters" (Michael Wiese, 2013) and the forthcoming "Storytelling Secrets of the Masters." As a writer in LA, Evenson worked as a consultant for Netflix and developed ideas at production houses from DreamWorks to Focus Features. You can follow her on Twitter: @JM_Evenson

14 Replies to "What To Do When Your Script Gets Rejected"

  • comment-avatar
    Michael Faunce-Brown June 9, 2016 (7:05 pm)

    I expect to be rejected. So no pain. But each re-write takes each script forward, and one day someone will read them, after I’m dead and burnt,
    and hopefully my off-spring will be rich. Analysts are getting enthusiastic, so at least they are happy!

  • comment-avatar
    Jack Comeau June 9, 2016 (8:16 pm)

    Rejections are just pot holes on the way to success. You can’t take that road without hitting a few.

  • comment-avatar
    Borden Davis June 9, 2016 (10:02 pm)

    All of life is resistance, starting with gravity. You lift weights for stronger muscles, no resistance, no strength. You will get stronger and more successful day by day. It’s wonderful if you have support. Most of the time we have to be our own support. Life is not picking on us it’s picking on everybody. Sometimes you just have to wear life out. There was only one person who was perfect and they crucified him. The answer? Love yourself. Realize you must fight life all alone sometimes. Stop and think, let go of your ego, keep your thoughts simple. Is what I’m after decent? Have others succeeded? If you are willing to pay the price, work smart, not only hard, have self discipline. Bottom line, if you are willing to pay the price for what you want, no matter what the outcome, you will learn something, and that’s all you can ask of life. In my humble opinion, the word ‘life’ should be changed to ‘learning’ then everything makes sense.

    • comment-avatar
      R Paukner June 9, 2016 (10:27 pm)

      I love your last sentence. Can I quote you?

    • comment-avatar
      Rick McCormick June 9, 2016 (11:51 pm)

      Borden, those might be the best comments I’ve ever read on the Internet. You are a writer! No doubt about it.

      Best wishes always,
      Rick McCormick, screenwriter, The Fifth Plane

    • comment-avatar
      Rick McCormick June 9, 2016 (11:55 pm)

      Borden, those might be the best comments I’ve ever read on the Internet. You are a writer! No doubt about it.

      Best wishes always,
      Rick McCormick, screenwriter, The Fifth Plane

  • comment-avatar
    william sowles June 10, 2016 (3:25 am)

    The best way to get over rejection is to submit it to many other producers, directors and actors. By the law of averages, after about 60 submittals you should get a yes. After all, a ‘pass’ is as good as a ‘yes.’

  • comment-avatar
    Ambalal Chauhan June 10, 2016 (4:01 am)

    Good advice – almost all know that .

  • comment-avatar
    Shirley Hassen June 10, 2016 (4:15 am)

    Shirley Hassen
    I have had eight books, paperback/ eBook/ P.O.D. Xlibris eight years now with little Royalties . Before P.O.D. I have had rejections and at 81 years young, I intend writing until I am recognised. I have a book contract with Austin McCauley Publishers (England) So I will see how my book goes. I write in many genre/ scripted some of my books. Some standard publisher/ producer might find me … I will just keep writing and editing.

  • comment-avatar
    Merlin Stone June 10, 2016 (9:47 am)

    If you are rejected it only means that you are one step closer to success (Or you can look at it as; one less insensitive, uneducated, uncreative, moron that can not recognize true genius). LOL 😉

    Merlin

  • comment-avatar
    Patti June 10, 2016 (7:49 pm)

    I know an easy way to handle rejection. Keep one’s priorities straight and know what’s really important and what’s just ‘nice’ to have. When you’ve lost someone you love and you come smack dab in the face with your own mortality, a rejection here and there is not really that important. Knowing there are far worse hurts out there can help keep rejections in perspective. I’ve learnt that after the death of our 6-year-old daughter from cancer. NOTHING hurts more. Rejections from publishers – no big deal. Just keep trying.

  • comment-avatar
    David June 11, 2016 (3:09 am)

    This is good advice esp. for a lot of young / new writers that are just starting off and maybe have had a lot of coddling but
    most pro writers get it. You will get a lot more rejections and “no” then you will a “yes” in this industry. But its very on the surface.

    I think the better thing to do is try and understand WHY you were rejected in the first place and it could be a TON of different
    things. Did you make a boneheaded typo error on the first page? We’ve all heard the horror stories of the Producer just tossing a script because of that.
    Are you sending your script to the right people? Probably 90 percent of all producers/prod. companies have a mandate and if they mainly deal in horror, why
    would you send them your rom-com? Is your script even good? Interesting set up, good characters/dialogue, strong plot/story?

    Like it said, have good friends and mentors that can really give you the cold hard truth about your material so you can improve it
    and hopefully then, at least you may get a meeting!?!

  • comment-avatar
    Richard Rivera June 15, 2016 (10:28 pm)

    Love the article and how very true.

    BUT

    You forgot the other problem many writers face: What happens when no one wants to read your script? The old “no unsolicited material accepted.” We don’t even get out of the gate most of the time. Even if we’re willing an agreement.

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