Or ‘Learning to Love Rejection’.
One of the more important aspects of whether you’ll make it or not is your ability to deal with rejection. There’s no denying that it sucks, and it hurts, and it is very personal (just not personal to the person rejecting you), but it’s how you dust yourself off and keep writing that will determine whether you can cut it in the biz. You’ll need a steely resolve, a desire to improve, belief that you can make it, that you really do have talent, and the humility to accept that you might not succeed, despite having all the necessary qualities to do so.
There’s a fine line between determination and delusion, unfortunately. You can tell yourself that ‘I’m gonna make it, no matter what’, and have all the will in the world, and perhaps even some talent, but the chips may not fall your way and the effects can be damaging. ‘Successful writers have one thing in common, they didn’t give up’. True. But it wasn’t JUST their desire to succeed that got them where they are today. They knew, even when they were getting rejected for the 100th time, that they had what it takes, and nobody was going to stop them from writing. For most of us, talent and determination will get you so far, while Lady Luck will have a strong say on which side of the fence you fall.
Making a living as a screenwriter is going to take time. It’s not going to happen overnight, or within a few months. You’ll be extremely lucky if it happens within a few years. Yes, there are those who can jump straight into the professional pool but these success stories are the ones you read in the paper, and are few and far between. The real success stories are the writers who toil away at their craft and their scripts, hoping one day something will break, and that it won’t be their hearts.
If you’re in it for the money, forget it, it’s not going to happen. There is good money to be made but it’s not just handed out willy nilly. You have to earn your place in the system, and work hard for your reward. In the early days of your career, if you’re lucky enough to get a few breaks, the money won’t be regular, and it will be a struggle to survive. That’s when you realise that even when you’re ‘making it’, it’s still just as hard as before, if not harder, as you have to maintain momentum, create more stories and find more work.
It’s exhausting. Physically and mentally. Did you see Eamonn McCabe's "Writers’ Rooms portraits" recently, and there’s one where the writer has a bad back and has to lie on an orthapaedic chair in order to write. She writes facing the ceiling. Now, I’ve got a bad back and have had a couple of operations but – ouch! – at least I can sit upright and focus on the computer. Imagine the will and desire that’s needed to lie down and write. Every day.
There is one positive about rejection. It means you’re doing the right thing. You’re writing, and sending your scripts out into the world. Rejection is the norm but some knock backs are more crushing than others. It will make you question whether you want to continue, and poke you with bothering doubts about your talent. It takes a brave person to know when they’ve been beaten, and to hang up their spurs. It takes a braver one to continue, knowing that they’re going to make it. Some day.
On a personal note, some notable rejections that hit me hard (although the list is endless). The Writers' Academy. Not just the once, which I blogged about, but twice (2nd time not even shortlisted, even after direct encouragement to apply again). Then, I was given a crack at EastEnders. Confident and excited! Did the trial episode. Rejected. Blimey. At least I had ideas at Doctors that were awaiting commission but they were spiked and not used. 2006 was a bad year, and I hit an all time low. I very nearly got a 'proper job'. But no. I stuck at it, and got a few promising breaks along the way. This year, EastEnders gave me another go at a trial episode. I did it, determined not to miss this time, and have just been offered a commission! Get in! I start this Friday. CAN. NOT. WAIT.