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Coping with Rejection

BBC Writersroom

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There is no getting around it: having your work rejected is horrible. The email arrives and you scan it for those tell tale phrases: ‘difficult decision’, ‘high standard of work’, followed by the giveaway: ‘Unfortunately’. It hits you like a blow to the stomach… But where do you go from here? Below are a few ideas for coping with that most common writer experience…

1. Feel bad but not for too long.

You’ve had bad news so allow yourself to experience it: bitterness, hatred, self-pity, wearing baggy black jumpers, are all fine… just don’t wallow in it for more than a day.

2. Get back up.

  • Big yourself up.

Remind yourself of all the good things people have said about your work, reread those nice emails and reviews, get reassurance from friends, massage that ego…

  • Remember that judging scripts is always going to be subjective.

Though your work may not have fitted the criteria of this competition, or be suited to that producer’s taste, don’t give up, there are likely to be other people out there who will be interested in it.

  • Remember that even the best writers face rejection.

George Orwell received a ‘thanks but no thanks’ for Animal Farm from T.S. Eliot when he worked at Faber and it took Pulitzer prize winner, Elizabeth Strout, over 15 years to get her first novel published. J.K. Rowling recently posted her rejection letters for her first Robert Galbraith novel on Twitter, in solidarity with all writers who have ever been rejected – i.e. all of them.

  • Don’t do something you’ll regret.

Take a deep breath and don’t write an angry reply. It’s like signing a contract guaranteeing you will never ever work for that company. Remember that a big part of whether producers will want to employ you as a writer is based on how pleasant you will be to work with.

  • Suck it up.

The truth is that even writers at the top of their game get kicked off big films and series. You’ll need to develop a thick skin throughout your career – so see this as good practice.

  • Use it to your advantage

How can you take something positive from the experience? As irritating as this may sound, every rejection is an opportunity to improve your writing. Ask for feedback. If you can’t get it from the first source, give your work to other people whose taste you trust and ask them for critical feedback. You won’t get better without it. Writing for film, TV and radio is a collaborative process after all.

3. Now you’ve licked your wounds it’s time to get back to writing.

  • Believe in yourself.

Keep pushing to tell the stories you want to tell and that mean something to you. You are the only person who can tell those stories after all. Getting rejected is a nasty reminder of how difficult writing is – so make it worth it and write what you feel most passionate about. If you found out you only had three months to live, what would you most urgently want to write about?

  • Transform your anger and pain at rejection into great writing.

Let it be your fuel! As P.D. James said ‘nothing that happens to a writer – however happy, however tragic – is wasted’

  • Change the medium

If you’ve just had a TV script rejected – try switching up and writing a play or a radio drama instead

  • Keep your plates spinning

Make sure you have more than one idea on the go at any one time – so if one idea gets rejected you can keep moving forward with the next thing

And most importantly, don’t give up.
Remember you love writing – it wouldn’t be worth it if you didn’t.

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