Screenwriting Blog
Posted on by Courtney Meznarich

How to Better Handle Rejection

"Writing in television is all about rejection. You're going to be rejected again, and again, and again. And you just can't take that personally, which is very, very hard. The people who make it are the ones who are prolific, those who can create more and more things and never stop writing."

Script Coordinator and TV Writer Marc Gaffen 

Writers need hard talent but also a number of soft skills if they're going to make it in this business. Learning how to handle rejection is key because, unfortunately, rejection comes often. Whether it's professional, personal, or romantic rejection, the sting is surprisingly the same. 

The bad news? Rejection doesn't get easier. Creatives especially experience chronic rejection. But there's more good news than bad when it comes to rejection. You will get stronger. Coping mechanisms can be universal, so learning them now will help you with all sorts of rejection that you're bound to face in your everyday life. And we ALL face some sort of rejection in our lives, so you are not in this alone.

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To demonstrate that point, script coordinator Marc Gaffen joins us to make us feel a little less alone in our sulking. Marc has been working in Hollywood for two decades (as a script coordinator, TV writer, graphic novelist, and more), so he's an expert in getting the brush-off. And to be clear, he's REALLY good at his job, but the point is that no one is immune. 

"I know a person who is a co-EP on a very successful TV show. They were hired to write three pilots, and in the end, all three pilots were not picked up. And so, basically, they're still stuck where they are. I know people who are showrunners. I know people who are executive producers. I know people just like me, and we're all still crawling and pushing our way to try to get what we have in our minds on TV or on movies. It's tough. It's very, very tough. It's rejection, after rejection, after rejection. We've all had our moments of screaming into pillows and crying because something we [worked] so hard on for years is suddenly rejected and dead. You're going to have those really dark days when you feel like no one's going to buy what you want and no one's going to be listening to you." 

Physical Pain and Psychological Effects of Social Rejection

Research shows that the pain of rejection can be felt just as we feel physical pain. 

But social rejection also has severe implications for an individual's psychological state and society in general. Feelings of rejection can influence emotion, cognition, and even physical health. Ostracized people sometimes become aggressive and can turn to violence. We can see these signs of rejection on the news every day. 

Just as we have needs for food and water, we also have needs for positive interactions and relationships. It's rooted deep in evolution. This is a critical point to remember when you're feeling down. You're not alone. We've literally ALL developed this exact reaction to social pain. 

Can Rejection Be Good For You?

While rejection is painful, there is a silver lining, and we can increase our ability to see the good in it if we can decrease our rejection sensitivity.

Rejection motivates us all to do better, even if doing poorly was not the reason for being rejected in the first place. We analyze the situation and try to figure out how we can perform better next time. It reminds us that we're only human. It teaches us to be patient and resilient. It forces us to figure out a new way to proceed and forge new paths. It makes us reconsider what we really want, and it makes us stronger. Adversity always makes us grow. 

How Do you Deal with Rejection and Social Pain?

Rejection is inevitable. It's part of life. But how you react to it can make or break your career. Here are some tips to help you rejection-sensitive creatives get past the pain of it all. 

Remember that: 

  1. Rejection is part of life.

  2. It's okay to feel rejected.

  3. Rejection is temporary.

  4. Rejection is a learning experience.

  5. You can learn from your mistakes.

  6. Patience with yourself is vital. 

Just Say "NO" to Self-Criticism 

Rejection is not about you. In fact, most things are not about you, but that's a topic for another blog and another day. As tempting as it is to spiral into self-loathing after we face someone saying "no" to us, you need to have zero tolerance for critiquing yourself in the aftermath of rejection. You're going to weave a story about yourself that's just not true, so step back and remind yourself that this is a time for zero-tolerance of negative self-talk. 

Take Note of Everything Awesome About You

When your self-esteem takes hits, it is essential to remind yourself of who you are and what you can do. The best way to boost your feelings of self-worth is to affirm aspects of your personality that you know are valuable. You may be surprised at how many things you can think of that make you unique and valuable.

Make a list of five qualities that you have that are important to others. These can be qualities that are important to your relationships, friends, or employees. If the list is not enough, expand on those qualities with a full paragraph about why these qualities or skills are important and how you would have used them in the scenario at hand. It's essential to write this stuff down and not just think about it in your head because we're trying to get as far out of our heads as possible to bring some rationality back to the situation. 

Connect with Others

As social animals, we need people to want us and value us. When they don't, we feel unsettled and disconnected. We need to remind ourselves that people appreciate us and love us to feel more comfortable and connected. If an agent rejects your query or a competition doesn't move you into the next round, meet up with a writing friend who can commiserate. If a producer doesn't call you back, call your grandparents and talk to them instead. Communication doesn't have to be one for one, but it is integral to feel that connection with someone - anyone. Rejection is never fun, but knowing how to limit its impact and how to rebuild your sense of self-worth when it happens will help you recover faster and move on with confidence.

Keep Writing

"Keep on going for it. As soon as you finish one script, fantastic, good for you, now move on to the next. Come up with the next idea because you're going to get rejection, after rejection, after rejection. The first thing you write, you're going to think it's fantastic, it's the best thing I've ever done. It's probably not, but you get better with each time you write. And it's a muscle you have to keep on strengthening. And one of these days, hopefully, you're going to find someone who likes the same ideas you do. If they want to make one series of something you wrote, they're going to ask, "What else do you have?" And you're going to have in your back pocket five or six other ideas that you can pitch to them that hopefully move forward.”

In short, if you keep working hard, eventually, you'll start getting results.

There is no such thing as failure. There is only feedback. Learn from every rejection experience and use it to grow stronger. Remember that people reject creative work because it wasn't right for them, but they are not everyone! You should take comfort in knowing that they even read your stuff. It's their job to sort through the work they get to decide if it's a good fit for their companies. 

"It happens for a long time, and then suddenly all you need is just one thing to break through," Marc concluded.

Don't take no for an answer,

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