This week has been a bit of a good news/bad news whirlwind. I had a great workshop session on Hollywoodland – yay! Then I got a script rejected – boo. Then I got another unexpected copy job – medium yay or yay, depending on whether we’re cheering for creative fulfilment or solvency.
At least the rejection was one of the good ones. Yep, when you deal with rejection as much as writers do, you sub-categorise them into… well, there’s a whole spectrum, from ‘actually not bad’ to ‘actually destroyed my soul.’ And the latter kind aren’t the ones you might think.
While it’s never nice to read a savage annihilation of your baby, it’s also straightforward. It’s like, ‘okay, my writing really isn’t for you, huh?’ It might sting, sure – particularly in the early days before you develop the hide of a rhino required to survive as a writer – but it’s clear you were never going to appeal to that person, so you can’t be too heartbroken that you indeed didn’t.
I can still remember the worst rejection I ever received, more or less verbatim, nearly ten years later. It was from a medium sized production company in London (you may well have watched stuff they’ve produced), and my then-agent forwarded me the email.
For the first few paragraphs, it was practically embarrassing (I mean obviously, this diva could handle it, but it might have been embarrassing to someone 😉 ) The characters were complex and compelling! Story twists surprising and satisfying! Dialogue sparkled so much one needed sunglasses just to pick up the script! All tied together with a deft and confident hand!
Goodness me stop, I thought, wondering when I’d get to sign a contract and quit the latest day job that was causing my soul to curdle and tumble from my ears.
“And yet for all there is to recommend Claire’s writing,” it suddenly read, in a horrifying third act twist, “I just don’t find myself as excited about as I would need to be to pick her up for development.”
But the sparkling dialogue! And the compelling characters! And satisfying twists!
What the everloving crud was all that doing to you if not ‘exciting’ you?!
“What do they want from meeeeeeeeeee,” I howled down the phone to my agent. She tried to point out that it was, overall, encouraging, but I wasn’t having it. Because here’s the thing:
I can’t pay my mortgage with encouragement.
Encouragement is brilliant when it comes from agents and writers’ groups and, eventually, development producers. It’s necessary and precious and I’m grateful for every last scrap of it.
It has no place in a rejection.
Because it’s hollow. You obviously didn’t like it all that much because if you did, I’d be in your office merrily toasting the future of this project right now, instead of hiding in a filing cupboard of a giant law firm having a pathetic meltdown into my mobile. Here’s all I want from a response email:
(or if you must)
As ironic as it is, this one gets it right:
I don’t want to know how difficult a decision this was for you, I have zero sympathy for how you agonised over dinging my script, I don’t even care how limited your development budget is so you have to be extra, extra picky right now (so you’re saying that if you just had slightly lower standards I’d be in with a shot?)
Just tell me no thanks and we can all move on with our lives.
Or if you must say more (and they all do), give me some concrete, specific reasons that I can either work on fixing or know that my work isn’t to your taste. The former is what I got this week, so while it sucks, I also know that I should have made some things clearer than I did, so now I can do that and maybe have a better shot next time. Onwards and upwards 🙂