When You Wanna Shoot Rejection In The Face

Dealing with rejection
Do you really wanna go down there?
If you've been feeding scripts into the Hollywood machine for any length of time at all, you are more than familiar with the vomit-inducing bitch that goes by the name of rejection.  Hell, she's done things to you that would be considered illegal in at least seven states.
 
But you keep coming back for more.


You keep right on writing, perfecting your craft, honing your marketing skills, knowing that all it takes is getting the right script into the right hands at the right time.  But all that rejection?!  It still sucks nasty donkey butt.

I've been hard on you guys. 

 "Suck it up.  You suck.  Why did you think this would be easier for you?!"

There's a reason for that.  And it's not to tear you down or to demoralize you, or to make fun of you for my own perverse pleasure (no matter how much that last bit rings true).  I do it to give you insight into what you've actually stepped into, so you'll be fully prepared for the road ahead.  (Not that I, in any way, have a clear view of the road ahead.  Hell, if you're following me, I hope your life insurance is up to date, you own a chainsaw, and you buy tetanus shots in bulk.)  

But back to the road.  It's not a nice afternoon drive in the country with big easy-to-read road signs, clean bathrooms along the way, and a good supply of guaranteed-zero-nutritional-value road-trip food.  It's not even a hard road that will tear the crap out of the underside of your SUV if you're stupid enough to drive on it.  It's not a road at all.

It's a labyrinth from hell and rejection is your tour guide.  It's a place where the rules constantly change, and every inch is rigged with deadly booby traps and torture devices that make Hellraiser look like a fun family film.

If it were just a matter of getting through the labyrinth, rejection wouldn't be so bad.  There would be light at the end of the tunnel where, on the other side, everything would be flowers and puppy dogs once you fight your way through the demons and outsmart all of the tests.  Only it's not a test.  And there ain't no light.  And rejection's still there.

Rejection doesn't settle for merely hanging out with beginners waiting to cull the herd with her razor sharp stilettos.  She's in it for the long haul.  She's in it for life.  She doesn't go away when you land your first rep, or you have a script optioned, or you make a sale, or your script goes into production, or you win an award.  She sticks around because she knows what you're only just now about to discover --  survive the labyrinth, go into the light, and BAM!, you find yourself in yet another labyrinth.  It's harder, uglier, like a bad video game that never ends.

Sure, the scenery changes, and you think everything is hunky dory for a while, but rejection is still there every step of the way.  You can't ditch her.  And on some level you gotta like what she does to you.  Really like it in a sick way.  Or be able to flip it on its head and use it to fuel you on. 

Rejection isn't just a challenge to be overcome in Level One.  She's the Big Bad in a rigged game where she always wins.

She's easy to take at first because you're new and you expect her to show up. But after a script or twelve, you get to a point where you know what you're doing and you know you've got some talent.  It's around this time you start getting read requests and you think things are going to get easier.  COOL!  You're going to be famous!  Not so fast.  Roll over and look who's lying in bed beside you.  That's right.  It's rejection.  This is the point where you hear those words from bigger players, "What else you got?"  You check your email three times a minute and convince yourself that your phone is on the fritz.  And you wait.  And you wait.  Some contacts you'll never hear back from, others will politely decline with perhaps an invitation to submit in the future.  And rejection scores yet again.  And it's harder to take now because you've actually sweat blood and tears and various other bodily fluids.

Then suddenly you break through the secret wall you've been searching for --

"We love it!  We want it!  But --

And land right into the next labyrinth.

Producer notes, director notes, actor notes, notes from the kid in the mail room, notes from some guy you're not even sure is associated in any way with the production, rewrites, meetings, bending yourself into a pretzel to please everyone, maybe a paycheck, maybe not - all telling you it's not good enough and, oh by the way, YOU SUCK!  

But, like we tell gay teens struggling to survive the hell that is high school -

IT GETS BETTER

Unlike what we tell gay teens, when it comes to screenwriting, the above encouragement is a total fabrication.

Next labyrinth - You get something made.  You get a paycheck.  Maybe it does well, wins an award,  and you only have to take how much you suck from critics, losers, your wife, your kids, and half the people with an assh*le on the net  who all think they could have done it better than you (the other half are too busy kissing yours.)  Or it bombs, and you're only as good as your last picture and by the way, you SUCK!

Sure, the view is better when you get here, and having some coin makes it easier to distract yourself from the negativity.  But is it really better?!  Instead of a handful of YOU SUCKS, you now hear and see it everywhere from millions of voices.  And if you're like every other screenwriter alive, you are always second-guessing yourself to the point where you'll be sitting at the red carpet premiere of your film still rewriting the damn Second Act in your head because you think YOU SUCK and could do better.

But writers have a secret weapon in the never-ending battle against rejection.  It's called passion.  We're gonna do it anyway no matter what rejection throws at us because... it's what we do.  But it's hard sometimes.   Like writing in a war-zone of soul scraping misery.  Some days we should get a metal for just getting out of bed.

If you're having a day or year like that, pat yourself on the back for still being in the game rather than beat yourself up.  Rejection is more than willing to do that for you, so why give her extra help?!

*****

Phew!  I hope that long winded rant cleared up the fact that rejection NEVER STOPS no matter how good you are, how many sales you've made, how many produced credits you have -- It never ends.  You're always hustling, working, trying to pull the next miracle out of your ass, and it's always going to be an uphill battle.

And that's a good thing.  It makes you fight for it.  It makes you want it more.  It will eventually make you great.

BUT
(You knew there was a but, right...?)

How the hell do you deal with all this lousy cut-my-heart-out-and-violate-my-still-warm-corpse-while-also-putting-it-to-my-mother rejection?!  How does anybody without going insane?!

No wonder there are so many whiny-bitch public meltdowns on writing forums.  We're all friggin' walking time bombs.  Try to avoid this ugly route.  Please.

But in private?  Breakdowns are totally cool and necessary.  I'd go as far as saying if you don't have a good half a dozen a year, you're not working hard enough.

Family and friend support is great, but if they're not in the industry, they really can't relate.

Nurturing a vice sometimes helps.  It won't get you anywhere, and may actually hurt you, but it will ease the pain (unless kinky pain is the vice you cultivate, in which case, carry on.)  But eventually vices lose their pain-muting power, and melting down with only your vice for company only ends up eventually getting you committed for 72 hours.  So what's the long term solution for a case of long term YOU SUCK?

You need a private (stress the private) support group or three full of writers.  They get your pain.  They've been bent over by rejection too. (She gets around.  Bitch.)

Scream, cry, freak-out about how you have no clue how you're going to pay last month's rent (let alone feed yourself).  Wail at the powers that be.  Curse.  Throw a pity party.  Why not?  You've worked hard and have taken the same YOU SUCK crap over and over, and smiled and liked it and asked for more.  You deserve a safe space to work through the pain and frustration.  And it's much cheaper than therapy.

And on the flip side, it's also a great place to celebrate and cheer on the small victories which are sometimes few and far between, but are big and should be celebrated, damn it!

Don't belittle your successes, and don't let rejection use nasty Jedi mind tricks on your spirit.  Team up with fellow writers and take the bitch down (at least for a little while).

We don't write because we like it.  We write because we were made to.   

Screw rejection.  She's a mean bitch, but she can't stop you. 


Stunning pic by Luca Rossato

3 comments:

  1. Thank you for yet another insightful article about the screenwriter's journey. I totally agree and every aspiring writer should be ready for rejection. You state it so eloquently: "... rejection NEVER STOPS no matter how good you are, how many sales you've made, how many produced credits you have -- It never ends." It's a long slog and a journey not for the faint of heart or
    thin-skinned, but we'd have it no other way!

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  2. I'm glad you liked my little rant, Scriptcat. I'm not sure if the planets are out of alignment, or Justin Beiber grew facial hair, but this past week has dished a good amount of rejection to many fellow peeps. From simple rejection letters to entire projects falling apart; it's been a crazy madhouse of emotions flying everywhere.

    My long-winded post was really just a reminder (mostly to myself) that while rejection sometimes makes it harder to see the forest for the trees, it is only a small part of the big picture. We write because we can't not write. And rejection only makes the victories that much more sweet.

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  3. Amen, sister! I had a big project fall apart over Christmas and it was a blow to say the least. Contracts signed and everything! Oh, well we solider on and you're right: We write because we can't not write! That is what separates writers from non-writers and producers. No one enjoys being up at 2 am trying to fix a story problem that isn't working... only the writer who loves the act of writing. I get the vibe from many producers who feel writing is the grunt work of the whole process -- they bestow their genius ideas and we are there just to collect them in a large net and put them on paper. Bullsh*t. They can't do what we do!

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