Newbie screenwriters tend to believe that their first screenplay is no less than a masterpiece. Rejections, whether it’s by screenplay contests, potential agents or producers who don’t call back, or even negative reactions from other peers, can be frustrating, and eventually lead to giving up.
The problem is, it takes time to master the craft of screenwriting. How much time? A lot more than you probably think. Seth Godin (author of NY Times bestseller “The Dip”) once said: “Becoming a superstar takes about 10,000 hours of hard work.” Making outstanding art is never easy, especially when it comes to screenwriting, which is the cornerstone of cinematic work.
“Never give up. If you want to become one, you have to be really, really strong, never give up, because you’re going to have so many ‘nos.’ When I wrote my first screenplay I was 17, but when I directed my first film I was 36. It gives you an idea of how long it takes.” - Julie Delpy
Just like a professional athlete, who practices every single day, runs seven days a week, for many years before (and if, at all) they get to the Olympic games and compete for a medal, screenwriters need to understand that it’s going to be a very long road, with many ups and downs, difficulties, writing barriers, loneliness and disappointments.
But you will also experience magical moments, characters that will stay in your heart, self-pride, success, and acknowledgment.
Most importantly, you’ll get to live your dream, do what you love most, and leave an impact on the world through your art - what could possibly be better than that?
See your journey as a marathon, rather than a sprint. It may seem overwhelming at first. According to the NTL Institute of Applied Behavioral Science Learning Pyramid, students only remember about 5% of a lecture, and about 10% of what they read from textbooks. This is also a relatively passive stage of learning. Once they become active and practice what they’ve learned, their learning becomes much more effective and they will retain about 75% of what they learn along the way. They will also earn a deeper understanding of the subject matter and more of the new information will move from short-term to long-term memory.
In other words, this journey is not going to be easy, but if you stay consistent, keep learning, and don’t give up - you’ll get there. There’s no other way.
“Just write every day of your life. Read intensely. Then see what happens. Most of my friends who are put on that diet have very pleasant careers.” - Ray Bradbury
I myself have experienced quite a few rejections and disappointments. My first serious films were documentaries, and at that time submitting to film festivals, or for funding, was not a particularly pleasant experience. I had to print entire booklets and travel to the fundraising offices to try and get partial funding for the films I so desperately wanted to produce. After countless rejections from all the screenings I applied for, I decided to create the films independently.
I worked on the documentary On Tiptoes for a year and a half, and on The Other Dreamers for four years, when I financed all the expenses myself.
Even when the films were ready, after a lot of sweat and tears (and many moments when I thought of stopping everything, since I knew I would not make a dollar from these films anyway), I submitted them to film festivals. But it was not as simple as today. I had to send a physical DVD to many festivals, and the many rejection letters that came back to me were like arrows into my heart. It got to the point that when I saw a letter in the mail, I knew I would get a rejection even before I opened the envelope. It was not an easy feeling, but I forced myself to continue because I believed in the message of the films and their unique stories. Eventually, the films were accepted to hundreds of festivals and thrilled hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world, despite relatively low acceptance rates.
On Tiptoes was accepted to about 9 percent of the festivals to which it was submitted, and The Other Dreamers was accepted to about 14 percent of the festivals.
Was the investment in terms of energy, time and money, worth it? I think so. Because from every such difficulty I swelled, I got stronger and I learned to live with rejection. My next projects have been much more successful, but do not think for a moment that they are not rejected. Everyone is faced with rejection, some people experience it harder, and decide to give up, and some will use it as fuel for greater investment in learning the craft, and ultimately, for meteoric success.
Here is a list of famous artists, who were repeatedly rejected until they had their great success.
J.K. Rowling sent out her manuscript for Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone to publishers, but it was rejected over and over, for the same reason: Harry Potter was far too long for a children's book. After 12 rejections, she gained acceptance from a publisher. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone hit shelves in June 1997, and quickly became a huge success.
Since then, Rowling has sold over 450 million books and is worth more than $1 billion. "Do not ever quit out of fear of rejection," she said. "Even if it isn’t the piece of work that finds an audience, it will teach you things you could have learned no other way. Maybe your third, fourth, fiftieth song/novel/painting will be the one that ‘makes it,’ that wins the plaudits. But you’d never have got there without finishing the others."
Vincent Van Gogh, the legendary post-impressionist painter, sold only one painting in his entire life! Even though he became revered and appreciated only after his death, Van Gogh is considered one of the most influential artists in history, whose wonderful art formed the foundations of modern art. In the eyes of many, Van Gogh is considered the greatest artist of all time. So what made Van Gogh keep painting? "Your profession is not what brings home your weekly paycheck," he said. "Your profession is what you’re put here on earth to do, with such passion and such intensity that it becomes spiritual in calling.”
Margaret Mitchell got 38 rejections from publishers before finding one to publish her novel Gone With The Wind. It sold 30 million copies.
Kathryn Stockett received 60 rejections for The Help. "But letter number 61 was the one that accepted me," she said. "The point is, I can’t tell you how to succeed. But I can tell you how not to: Give in to the shame of being rejected and put your manuscript–or painting, song, voice, dance moves, [insert passion here]–in the coffin that is your bedside drawer and close it for good. I guarantee you that it won’t take you anywhere. Or you could do what this writer did: Give in to your obsession instead."
Nicholas Sparks' first two novels were never published. He sent his third novel The Notebook to 24 literary agencies - all of them rejected it. The 25th literary agent Theresa Park read it and offered to represent him. She sold it to Time Warner a week later for $1 million dollars.
Tahir Raj Bhasin, an Indian actor, was rejected by almost 250 auditions before getting casted in Mardaani. “Anything that’s worthwhile takes time and this is something I understood when I first came to Mumbai. I was rejected from some 250 auditions over three years before ‘Mardaani’, but I used this as positive fuel and feedback."
Alex Haley wrote Roots for 8 years, and received 200 consecutive rejections. The novel won the Pulitzer Prize and the series that was based on the novel, won 9 Emmy awards and a Peabody award. “Part of learning to write is being rejected," he said. "The editor doesn’t know you - the person. What they are saying is, simply, you have not sent us what we will respond to. So you just keep on, and on.”
Stephen King's story "Carrie" was rejected by 30 publishers before it was selected and published by Doubleday in 1974. It sold over a million copies in 12 months, and later became a successful film. King, who has published 62 novels and over 200 short stories in his career, said: "By the time I was fourteen the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and went on writing.”
Ray Bradbury who is known for his novel Fahrenheit 451 (1953), was rejected no less than 800 times before his first story was published. “Just write every day of your life," he said. "Read intensely. Then see what happens. Most of my friends who are put on that diet have very pleasant careers.”
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