How do you handle criticism, rejection, and failure on your screenwriting journey?
June 29, 2017 § Leave a comment
The big three... criticism, rejection, and failure. How have you been dealing with them? Do you bristle at every note or suggested change to your screenplay? Are you defensive about your screenwriting? If you start working professionally with this attitude, you will be branded as “difficult” and probably will find it hard to work again. What about rejection? Nobody likes to have their hard work rejected, but let’s face it… it’s a competitive business and that’s why it’s called the “film business.” It’s a business with all of the concerns and planning that any business requires. And how about failure? Who likes to fail? Especially at something we love to do like screenwriting. Failure is the Yin to the Yang of success. You can’t have one without the other, so get used to the ups and downs that a screenwriting career brings.
Screenwriting is a sweat equity task as you write your specs, but it changes to financial equity when you get paid professionally. The only way to become an excellent screenwriter is to take the criticism, rejection, and failure and learn from it. If you stay open and want to grow, you will use these perceived setbacks as opportunities to learn and come back stronger the next time. You’ll have to overcome these hurdles and others if you want to pursue a screenwriting career in Hollywood. As you suffer the blows from responses like “no,” you also will also hear “maybe” and that can lead to a “yes.”
No one said this journey was going to be easy. The 2016 Scoggins Report listed only about 70 specs selling to Hollywood last year. That’s out of the 50,000 or so projects registered with the WGA every year. And don’t forget that half of those WGA writers don’t report any income in any given year. Horrible odds, right? I don’t write this to scare you away from your dream, but to humble you and show you the need for respecting the craft and the journey.
Don’t take criticism personally and realize that it’s part of the process. If you’re going to play in the majors, you’re competing with the best and you must accept that sometimes you won’t find the validation you need. Many times feedback on your script is disappointing and your high expectations become squashed. Your ego’s bruised, beaten to a pulp and you to doubt your talent and chances for success. This is not a business for the thin of skin or anyone who can’t handle the struggles of a screenwriting career.
You can’t think that just because you sit down and write a screenplay that anyone cares. You have to make them care by writing something truly unique and amazing. A screenplay that stands out from the piles of crap that bounce around every year looking for a home. You may be an excellent screenwriter with superb screenplays. Good. That’s the starting point these days. Good isn’t good enough to compete—you have to be excellent and even then you have no guarantee of success. There are about ten thousand other excellent professional screenwriters in the WGA who can also write a superb screenplay. If you add those who are struggling to become a professional, it’s probably tens of thousands of screenwriters. It’s your job to build your connections, keep writing, always have a game plan, and fight to secure that first job or your next.
When you start working professionally, it’s all about executing the notes. Don’t take the criticism personally, because feedback is a rite of passage necessary for the growth of any aspiring screenwriter. If you want to survive over the long haul of a career, you’ll need to toughen up and build your courage to endure disappointment criticism, rejection, and failure. Learn how to filter the good notes from the bad and ugly notes. As you embrace this process, you’ll begin to look at constructive feedback as a positive experience that helps make your script better, helps push it closer to something a producer wants to produce, and teaches you how to collaborate as a team player so you can work again.
That’s always been my goal—to work professionally and get paid for something I love to do. I’ve been blessed to achieve my goal seventeen times with paid assignments and one spec sale. It hasn’t been easy, but I learned early on that criticism comes with the job. Hell, my spec sale screenplay was rejected by the most powerful agency in Hollywood at the time, but it went on to find the right producer who made the film that starred an Academy Award nominated actor. You never know. Get a handle on the criticism, rejection, and failure because if they stop you from writing and you give up, you’ll never know just how close you came from a break that opened the door to success.
Keep on writing and detach from your work. It makes the journey much easier over the long haul.
Copyright 2017 by Mark Sanderson on MY BLANK PAGE.
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“You must have a room, or a certain hour or so a day, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes to you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is the place of creative incubation. At first you may find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen”—Joseph Campbell
“Screenwriting is such a very special branch of literature. In some ways, it’s closer to the poetic form than it is to the dramatic. A lot of writers think that they write down to an audience if they do a motion-picture script.”—John Huston
“When I first meet with the scriptwriter, I ask him what is the story about—what do you see—what was your intention?”—Sidney Lumet
“There are two kinds of scenes: Pet the Dog Scene & Kick the Dog scene. The studio always wants a “Pet the Dog” scene so everybody can tell who the hero is.”—Paddy Chaydfsky