Dealing with Rejection

by Julie Gray

It comes around every year right around the same time inHollywood. Script competition season. See, we don’t have summer, fall, winter and spring. No, in La-La Land we have competition season, awards and festival season, we’re-on-vacation season and television spec season. 

In the screenwriting world, competition season is always accompanied by a nasty little side effect called rejection. 

The hot wave of disappointment and anger that comes with rejection is like molten lava. But it gets better. Breathe it out.  Especially during competition season when hopes are high – and have so far to fall. 

Was it a waste of time or money to enter this writing competition? Was that agent unfair or subjective in assessing your work? Does this rejection predict that you will never get an acceptance letter or a competition win? 

No, of course, and no. 

Trying to meet a submission deadline, whether it’s for a screenwriting or prose competition or a literary magazine’s submission season motivates you to make a deadline. It gets your juices flowing and your wheels turning.  And you might just win, too. 

Are competitions and literary agents and editors fair? Well – let go of the word “fair” right away. Opinions, judgments and rankings of your writing are inherently subjective. They have to be. Most submissions get thrown out immediately because the work simply isn’t executed professionally by any stretch. Then, as the reader or editor digs deeper, subjectivity rears its head. But that’s the way it has to be – at least it is until they invent the Automatic Reader/Editor 9000. 

Specifically, readers for screenwriting competitions are generally much less experienced than other readers - the pay is quite low - and they also have absolutely no mandate, no real measure. They just rate the scripts a bit arbitrarily on a scale of one to five in categories like: premise, dialogue, character, structure and storyline. Of course, all manner of subjectivity comes into it — but then — it always does. Competition or not. Welcome to Hollywood. Welcome to being a writer. 

Because of this subjectivity, not placing well in one competition actually has no bearing on how you'll do in another. And if you don't place well in any competition, you have a wonderful lesson there too; maybe your work is just not ready yet. 

Rejection is not just a part of being a writer - it's a huge part of being a writer. If you can't take the heat - get out of the kitchen. This is not to say it's not normal to feel disappointed, maybe even a bit mad about it, but take those feelings, let them breathe a bit, and get back to work. How you handle rejection is a great indicator of how you will handle being a professional writer full stop. 

Getting truly, deeply madly upset at rejection happens - but it's also the mark of a beginner. Why? Because the longer you've been writing, the more accustomed to rejection you are. In other words, the more you get rejected, the less it upsets you. When you get used to it, you lose the emotion around it. And when you lose the emotion around it, you are better equipped to be a writer. Strong emotion gets in the way of true greatness. 

Being an aspiring writer is like being in boot camp. Go ahead - crawl through the mud and ring the bell if you want to go home. Nobody will stop you. OR you can use rejection to make you stronger. You can use that uncontainable creativity and determination to go the distance. What - are you gonna go down because you got one knock on the chin? Cue up the Eye of the Tiger, guys.

Julie Gray’s Anti-Whining About Rejection Recipe:

One part: Perspective

Two parts: Determination

Three parts: The realization that if writing and getting published or sold  were a fair or easy business, everyone would be doing it.