Facing Rejection: Keeping Hope Alive

contest, rejection, screenwriting competition, tilt the odds -

Facing Rejection: Keeping Hope Alive

The 2018 winners of the Nicholl Fellowship, widely considered the most important screenwriting competition, were recently announced. There were 4 winning scripts. There were 6,895 scripts submitted for the competition. That means 6,891 scripts LOST. With rejection such a big part of this profession, how can a screenwriter keep hope alive?

If you want to become a doctor, there’s a set path. You spend a lot of time in school, perform residency, and eventually, you become a doctor. Most professions work this way. There’s hard work required, for sure, but the path is relatively clear-cut.

Screenwriting is not like this, not even remotely. Screenwriting, mostly, is about rejection. For every singular success in screenwriting, there will be dozens, if not hundreds, of rejections. Look at the Nicholl Fellowship numbers, for example, roughly 1722 rejections for every single winner.

The answer is to keep submitting. This comes with a caveat, though. Blindly submitting a script that never shows any positive momentum again and again is a waste of time. But if you’re doing the work, generating new material, rewriting that material, and always striving to improve, the scripts you write will eventually gain traction. It’s just a question of time, and output.

That applies to the submissions, too. You can’t win if you don’t play. Whether it’s through queries, contest entries, personal contacts, or ideally all the above, sending your script out early and often is one of the few ways a screenwriter can tilt the odds (most submissions are rejected) more in their favor.

Another way is by getting professional script coverage. If not from Sciptarsenal, then from someone else, but get it. Learn where your story isn't working and where it is. Tilt those odds in your favor with professional, experienced help.

And just in case you were thinking that rejection goes away once you achieve success. Lynda Obst has been trying to make THE HOT ZONE, a book by Richard Preston, into a movie, since 1993, when she won a bidding war for the film rights to Preston’s New Yorker article (the basis for his book).

This month, filming began for it as a TV series for National Geographic. That’s more than 20 years. Lynda Obst is a major producer whose credits include INTERSTELLAR and CONTACT. She could have easily given up on the project, but she never did. The same determination is necessary at all levels of screenwriting.

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