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clockwork
03-25-2005, 08:25 PM
Thought I'd toss in my own experiences with rejection on the way to recently signing with an agent here in England. I'm a screenwriter and my agent is trying to help me get into television writing. This is my first post though I've enjoyed reading through the forums for ages. Apologies for length.

Most of the people in my life didn't understand what it was to be a writer. Writing, to them, was something someone did as a hobby, you know, after getting home from their REAL job. No-one could make a living as a writer because... well, it's not a career is it? (This despite the fact that everyone I know watches television, reads books, goes to see films, listens to the radio, and as we all know those things just make themselves, don't they?)

When I was 18 I finished my first screenplay. I knew I wanted to be a writer when I was 13 but didn't encounter a script until much later. It was called Nova and it was a cheerful story about the sun exploding. Stop laughing, I was young. It was very well written but nowhere near good enough. At the time though, I could see no reason why it wouldn't sell immediately. If I'd known it would take a further 7 years to get an agent, I probably would have taken a low-paying position in waste management.

Between then and now I went to university, lived life, but the whole time I continued writing and, most importantly, improving. I kept sending out the query letters and they were happily swapped for rejection letters. All this rejection definitely helped me in my personal life. Getting snubbed by a girl at a bar didn't seem that big a deal when you'd encountered a stern form letter from International Creative Management.

I finally got a break when my now agent offered to read a script of mine which he ended up liking. He asked to read more and he liked those too and then finally, about eight months after our first correspondence, he took me on. Seven years. I mean, what can you say?

The most surprising thing is, even though family and friends knew I wanted to be a writer, actually signing with an agent was met with a certain degree of incomprehension. The rejection actually continued! "Thatís great Chris, but whatís an agent? What does it mean?" Is what I usually got.

I'm sure most writers out there will be keenly aware of this. The lack of understanding from others. Only writers understand writers and the problems they deal with. They understand what it feels like to have a non-writer ask what you do, only to have that frustrating voice in your head say, "Don't do it! Don't say you're a writer because they won't understand and you'll get that look! You know the look! It hurts when they give you the look! You don't need that kind of rejection! You get enough rejection!" But usually I'd say I'm a screenwriter and usually I'd get the look.

I always promised myself that when I signed with an agent I'd take all my rejection letters and frame them up as a kind of "in your face" gesture to those who had rejected me. So I did this recently and I have to say it's a fantastic feeling. I showed it to my mum because I show everything to my mum but didn't expect any kind of reaction. But when she saw all those letters crammed together in this huge frame, something weird happened. She was stunned. She had no idea I'd had so many rejection letters over the years and no real idea of the effort involved.

It was then that I realised the real reason for framing these rejection letters up. It is the only physical proof you'll ever have of the distance you've travelled. Of the journey and the struggle. It is the only thing that non-writers are able to relate to and understand and help them towards appreciating that writing is hard enough but trying to market yourself to people who could give a s*** is harder.

So keep those rejection letters and when you get where you're going, frame them up. Direct non-writers to the wall where it's hanging if they have questions like, "Yeah but isn't writing more of a hobby than a career?" (Would you be willing to get slapped in the face by 30+ rejection letters over a hobby? Over tie-dyeing or needlepoint? Didn't think so!)

As for the rejection letters themselves, there were times when I'd received a couple I was counting on to get me somewhere that didn't and I reached a point where I had no idea what to do next and really started to despair. But there was always another way, always something else to be doing. It's difficult not to get disheartened and there's not a lot I can say to spin that because I know how it feels. I actually preferred the brief, sort of ruder rejection letters because they were so final and non-negotiable. It was the letters that told me I was a good writer, said my script was great but they weren't interested and wished me the best of luck that got me down because you're getting closer, you're almost there, it's possible - but not with us. I can't say much to make that feeling go away except there will be people who decide to stop fighting after their latest rejection letter. They give up on the dream because it's easier or because they can't stand the negativity. All I can say is, you don't want to be one of them. Reject rejection, struggle on. You can always fight it. Whatever's happening in your life at any time, in any circumstance, you can always fight it.

Don't want to ramble forever but my last words of wisdom if anyone's interested;
-Your first script/book/whatever is just not good enough. End of story.
-If you're constantly being rejected but people say your work is good, you will succeed. I heard this crap when I was trying to break in but it happened to me so I guess it's true.
-My success story was a slow trickle of developments. It won't be one giant explosion of fireworks when it does happen.
-Don't let friends and family get you down. They'll be supportive but they almost certainly won't understand what it's really like. Show them the framed rejection letters and they'll start to get it.
-Keep going. Try, try, try. You're fighting a war against all odds but trust me; when you get that writer's agreement/contract to sign, that one document annihilates every rejection letter you ever had and entirely strips them of their negative value. They're not rejection letters anymore; they're war-wounds, campaign medals you look back on and are proud to have.
-This is the hardest one. Tell people you're a writer and take pride in it. Accept you're going to get 'the look' but be pleased you're able to say it at all. How many people in the world can honestly say that at this point in their life, they're doing everything they possibly can to chase down their dream? We probably wouldn't even fill out Yankee stadium.

Wishing all writers the very best,

Chris

aka eraser
03-25-2005, 08:47 PM
Great post Chris. It should warm the cockles of the many-rejected. And congrats to you!

MacAllister
03-25-2005, 08:55 PM
Wow--terrific post, Chris. And welcome to AW--I'm glad you came out of lurkdom.

rich
03-25-2005, 09:02 PM
Good stuff, Chris.

My writing consists of short stories, essays, etc. I'd have to frame my rejections on an outside structure--maybe on the suspension cables of the Brooklyn Bridge.

awatkins
03-25-2005, 09:04 PM
I enjoyed your post very much, Chris. And welcome! Glad you joined us. :welcome:

Rose
03-25-2005, 09:08 PM
I'm not quite ready to frame my rejection letter collection, but I am going to print out clock_work9's post, frame it, and hang it over my desk.

mommie4a
03-25-2005, 09:09 PM
Can't improve on your great and real-life advice and comments. Thanks for sharing and WELCOME!

clockwork
03-26-2005, 01:47 AM
I appreciate your support, it's nice to be amongst people who know what being a writer is all about. Of course what I wrote above is just my opinion and my experience. I'd be really interested to hear how other people keep their spirits up on the way to breaking in.

Chris

Jamesaritchie
03-26-2005, 08:18 PM
Thought I'd toss in my own experiences with rejection on the way to recently signing with an agent here in England. I'm a screenwriter and my agent is trying to help me get into television writing. This is my first post though I've enjoyed reading through the forums for ages. Apologies for length.

Most of the people in my life didn't understand what it was to be a writer. Writing, to them, was something someone did as a hobby, you know, after getting home from their REAL job. No-one could make a living as a writer because... well, it's not a career is it? (This despite the fact that everyone I know watches television, reads books, goes to see films, listens to the radio, and as we all know those things just make themselves, don't they?)

When I was 18 I finished my first screenplay. I knew I wanted to be a writer when I was 13 but didn't encounter a script until much later. It was called Nova and it was a cheerful story about the sun exploding. Stop laughing, I was young. It was very well written but nowhere near good enough. At the time though, I could see no reason why it wouldn't sell immediately. If I'd known it would take a further 7 years to get an agent, I probably would have taken a low-paying position in waste management.

Between then and now I went to university, lived life, but the whole time I continued writing and, most importantly, improving. I kept sending out the query letters and they were happily swapped for rejection letters. All this rejection definitely helped me in my personal life. Getting snubbed by a girl at a bar didn't seem that big a deal when you'd encountered a stern form letter from International Creative Management.

I finally got a break when my now agent offered to read a script of mine which he ended up liking. He asked to read more and he liked those too and then finally, about eight months after our first correspondence, he took me on. Seven years. I mean, what can you say?

The most surprising thing is, even though family and friends knew I wanted to be a writer, actually signing with an agent was met with a certain degree of incomprehension. The rejection actually continued! "Thatís great Chris, but whatís an agent? What does it mean?" Is what I usually got.

I'm sure most writers out there will be keenly aware of this. The lack of understanding from others. Only writers understand writers and the problems they deal with. They understand what it feels like to have a non-writer ask what you do, only to have that frustrating voice in your head say, "Don't do it! Don't say you're a writer because they won't understand and you'll get that look! You know the look! It hurts when they give you the look! You don't need that kind of rejection! You get enough rejection!" But usually I'd say I'm a screenwriter and usually I'd get the look.

I always promised myself that when I signed with an agent I'd take all my rejection letters and frame them up as a kind of "in your face" gesture to those who had rejected me. So I did this recently and I have to say it's a fantastic feeling. I showed it to my mum because I show everything to my mum but didn't expect any kind of reaction. But when she saw all those letters crammed together in this huge frame, something weird happened. She was stunned. She had no idea I'd had so many rejection letters over the years and no real idea of the effort involved.

It was then that I realised the real reason for framing these rejection letters up. It is the only physical proof you'll ever have of the distance you've travelled. Of the journey and the struggle. It is the only thing that non-writers are able to relate to and understand and help them towards appreciating that writing is hard enough but trying to market yourself to people who could give a s*** is harder.

So keep those rejection letters and when you get where you're going, frame them up. Direct non-writers to the wall where it's hanging if they have questions like, "Yeah but isn't writing more of a hobby than a career?" (Would you be willing to get slapped in the face by 30+ rejection letters over a hobby? Over tie-dyeing or needlepoint? Didn't think so!)

As for the rejection letters themselves, there were times when I'd received a couple I was counting on to get me somewhere that didn't and I reached a point where I had no idea what to do next and really started to despair. But there was always another way, always something else to be doing. It's difficult not to get disheartened and there's not a lot I can say to spin that because I know how it feels. I actually preferred the brief, sort of ruder rejection letters because they were so final and non-negotiable. It was the letters that told me I was a good writer, said my script was great but they weren't interested and wished me the best of luck that got me down because you're getting closer, you're almost there, it's possible - but not with us. I can't say much to make that feeling go away except there will be people who decide to stop fighting after their latest rejection letter. They give up on the dream because it's easier or because they can't stand the negativity. All I can say is, you don't want to be one of them. Reject rejection, struggle on. You can always fight it. Whatever's happening in your life at any time, in any circumstance, you can always fight it.

Don't want to ramble forever but my last words of wisdom if anyone's interested;
-Your first script/book/whatever is just not good enough. End of story.
-If you're constantly being rejected but people say your work is good, you will succeed. I heard this crap when I was trying to break in but it happened to me so I guess it's true.
-My success story was a slow trickle of developments. It won't be one giant explosion of fireworks when it does happen.
-Don't let friends and family get you down. They'll be supportive but they almost certainly won't understand what it's really like. Show them the framed rejection letters and they'll start to get it.
-Keep going. Try, try, try. You're fighting a war against all odds but trust me; when you get that writer's agreement/contract to sign, that one document annihilates every rejection letter you ever had and entirely strips them of their negative value. They're not rejection letters anymore; they're war-wounds, campaign medals you look back on and are proud to have.
-This is the hardest one. Tell people you're a writer and take pride in it. Accept you're going to get 'the look' but be pleased you're able to say it at all. How many people in the world can honestly say that at this point in their life, they're doing everything they possibly can to chase down their dream? We probably wouldn't even fill out Yankee stadium.

Wishing all writers the very best,

Chris

Great stuff. Just one quibble. Sometimes, just now and then, a first book or script or short story IS god enough. It's rare, I suppose, but I can name a few writers who sold their first story, their first book, etc. I'm one of them. So a writer should be aware that a first effort probably isn't good enough, even a fifth effort may not be good enough, or even a fiftieth effort may not be good enough (William Saroyan received 4,000 rejections before selling anything), but don't give up on early efforts too soon. Sometimes they are good. Sometimes editors grab first short stories, and sometimes agents and publishers grab first novels, and now and then, a first screenplay sells, as well.

So while it's wise to assume your first effort isn't good enough, it's also wise to keep it in the mail until there's nowhere left to send it.

Selling the first things you write has one drawback, of course. You have no rejection slips to save and frame. I've received a few rejections over the years, but when you're selling regularly, rejections lack much sting.

In some ways, I envy writers who have to go through that struggle, and I certainly respect the ones who manage to get through years of rejections without giving up. I'm not at all sure I would have done that. I enjoy writing, but had that first short story not sold, I really think I would have quit and looked for another way to earn money.

clockwork
03-26-2005, 10:08 PM
Yes, that's a fair point. I should have said I was referring to screenwriting for film and tv and to the novices amongst us. I just can't imagine an unknown writer's first attempt at penning a screenplay being good enough to sell unless they've come from a world of writing beforehand - short stories, novels, journalism etc.

The thing is I meet a lot of people who hear about what I do and say things like, 'I could give screenwriting a go.' They come up with an idea, fall head over heals in love with it, write a terrible first and final draft and think it's good to go. I should know, it happened to me more than once. I thought my first script was better than Network.

I'm not saying that those first attempts aren't good enough for anything; clearly they're highly personal and were written for a good reason. But it's important to get past your first attempt because there are bigger and better projects to be working on and any number of ways to improve.

I'd also say that rejection is a given when trying to break into screenwriting. The stakes are so highly stacked against you that I can't see it not happening, you know? At its basest level a script is an invitation for a producer to eat thirty million + dollars. They have to be sure.

But I certainly take your point; it is possible to sell your first writing attempt but if your first attempt is screenwriting I wouldn't hold your breath.

dragonjax
03-27-2005, 05:36 AM
Awesome, Chris! Many thanks for sharing.