For me, getting a rejection letter is one of the worst experiences; no matter that I have hundreds of them, each one still hurts and I can remember vividly where and what I was doing when I received them. Poems I sent to The New Yorker freshman year of college? Some intern sent an e-mail to me (thanking me curtly for the submission but he couldn’t print it at this time) and I received it on a public computer in a lab. It was sunny and about 4:15 p.m. I am a bit obsessive about these things, and, well, I’ve received a lot of them. So, take it from me, I have dealt with rejection. And here’s my big advice: GET OVER IT! But still read the rest of the blog for more advice.
Here’s the rub: rejections will come most often from strangers. I say this because you will probably start your screenwriting career sending your stuff to strangers, whether a production company in Encinitas or a studio in Burbank. More often than not, these places will not even read your stuff. It’s not even worth it to get angry. Why? Because almost no one gets noticed throwing their screenplay over the transom. I have heard stories about this happening, but honestly, I could count on my hand the number of people I know who made this work.
Fine. Walt Disney probably will not produce your screenplay. But what about the people you do meet and are interested in reading your work? Why will they give you a rejection letter? Reason One: it is a recession. Reason two: it costs money to make a movie. Put those reasons together and you have a pretty good explanation for your best friend from high school Jimmy’s hesitancy to make your movie. So, again, get over it.
And finally, what of those people who know you and you know have the money to produce your feature? If you find these people, introduce them to me.
So now that you know, I hope you don’t feel as bad as about those little e-mails. There is life after your first sixty rejections, trust me. The next step is to make some friends. Make a lot of friends. Find friends who love your work and guess what, you have an audience. They may not comprise a stadium, but hopefully you did not become a writer for the bright lights and limousines, because I’m sorry, you are in the wrong business. I am lucky to have a few friends who read my work (and in return I read theirs), but I am always looking for new people, hence the blog. This is where you start as a writer, because as long as you have these friends, you will always be a writer, at least for them. Patton Oswalt talks about this in terms of stand-up for a podcast on “Comedy and Everything Else…” and you know, he’s a genius, right. As I am never tired of quoting, Julie Powell in the movie Julie and Julia always talks about how great it would be to be a writer, well, as her husband reminds her, the very act of picking up a pen makes her a writer. Maybe she is not a paid one, but even the successful among us are being fed peanuts these days.
OK? Feel better yet? And remember, you can always improve your work. Always read, always write, and always revise, in that order. Experience life and do not be afraid to do serious research on something that interests you. Trust me, good research makes a good screenplay great. Travel, but not necessarily to another continent like some rich yuppie on vacation, but to a new town, and take some notes. Great writers are great observers. Always meet new people, because who knows, they could be the poetry editor of The New Yorker, and then you would have an in, right?
And don’t let people, however high up on the totem pole tell you you’re not good enough to be a writer. Don’t let your mother tell you you’re not a writer, either, because she’s worried you’ll always be poor and unhappy. Let her know that you like being unhinged. You’re allowed to feel bitter about rejection, but you’re not allowed to let it affect you. Rely on your friends, on your writing, and finally on yourself for confidence. You have it in you to be great. Look at all the hacks who make it in Hollywood. You could very well be one of those hacks! Or you could be brilliant. Keep revising that screenplay. Take an extension course in screenwriting. Learn how to write a new genre. Remember what Cicero said, “While there’s life, there’s hope.”
And also remember, “Popularity is for dolls.” Know who said that? Not writerman22 on the artfulwriter forums, but Ralph Waldo Emerson. Remember that.