Screenwriting Blog
Posted on by Courtney Meznarich

This Shift in Perspective Will Help Screenwriters Better Handle Rejection

A University of Michigan study shows that our brain feels rejection the same way it experiences physical pain. Rejection really hurts. And unfortunately, screenwriters have to prepare themselves to feel a lot of pain. How could you not, after you’ve left your heart and soul on your pages, only to have someone tell you it’s not good enough?

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While the sting of rejection may never get easier (it’s built into our wiring, after all), there are ways screenwriters can get better at bouncing back, and bouncing back is vital in the entertainment business.

We asked veteran TV writer and producer Ross Brown (“Step by Step,” “The Facts of Life,” “The Cosby Show”) how he trains his creative writing MFA students at Antioch University to bounce back, and he said it’s all in your mindset.

“I think you have to decide what you want to do is write, and therefore you’re successful already whether anybody’s buying it or not. Staying inspired when you’ve encountered a lot of rejection is really difficult. You’ll read a thousand stories out there about how many times Harry Potter was rejected, or how many rejection notices Stephen King got, but you already know those people became rich and famous and so on and so that’s easier to accept all the rejection because they’ve had success already," Ross said.

While those are examples of people with immense success, looking to smaller successes can help you overcome the initial pain, too.

Here’s a 5-step plan for screenwriters to overcome the pain of rejection.

How to Overcome the Pain of Screenwriting Rejection:

1. Accept that you’re human.

When someone rejects your screenplay, your attempt to network with them, or won’t give you the time of day, it is entirely normal to feel pain. So says science! Accept the pain. Feel the hurt. It’s only human.

2. Revive your self-esteem.

Whether one rejection or many, it’s crucial as a writer to remember why you write. What does it do for you? What has it done for others? List out all of the positive things about writing, and list out your positive qualities. Now, remember a time when someone else recognized the value of those qualities.

3. Disassociate yourself from your work

As our CEO Justin Couto likes to say, you are not what you do! Remember that losing a contest, being rejected by an agent, or getting a nasty comment from a critic on social media is not necessarily about you. It may be about something you produced, or it may be about another person’s own issues, bias, or needs. You are not your writing, even if you reveal a lot of your personal experience within it.

4. Surround yourself with people who value your work.

Whether that’s friends, family, or strangers on the internet, seek out the people who will build you back up and remind you why you write.

5.  Accept your responsibility in the rejection.

Once you get past the initial hurt, take a step back and try to understand where the rejection came from. It may not have been your fault at all, but maybe your writing wasn’t where it needed to be? Maybe you didn’t follow the submission rules 100%? Maybe your writing was excellent, but someone else’s was better?

“Someone at the Central Coast Writers Conference said rather than saying, “I’m a writer,” say, “I write,” Ross concluded. “Use the verb rather than the noun, and I thought that was good advice.”

Onward and upward,

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