The Devil’s Rejects: The Four Stages of Coping with a Rejection Letter

The rejection email landed in my inbox at 7pm like a drop from Felix Baumgartner.

Short, swift and to the point, the message indicated that many had applied and few were ever successful and you, Sir, were one of the many. The greatest damage inflicted came from the final sentence that cut deep, deep down into the recesses of my creative bones: “…we can only focus on the writers we feel have the greatest potential for development at this point.”

Faced once again with that familiar mezze of emotions, I entered the Four Stages of a Rejection Letter that I have been through so many times before I can almost lead the way with my eyes shut. And yet it never gets any easier; it still hurts just as much today as it did with that first script (that in hindsight was shit but at the time was the best thing I’d ever written).

Snoopy-Writer

Stage One: Anger

The word ‘unfortunately’ is really all you need to read to understand where the rest of the email is going to go. The sentence previously mentioned caps off an all-round disappointing email that no writer ever wants to read (yet needs to receive). The first stage hits pretty quickly: anger. Now I know my close friends know that I’m prone to the odd bout of red mist rage, but this kind of anger is entirely different. It’s anger at a process, anger at their inability to really see what it is you had poured blood, sweat and tears into for the past few months; anger at how you scoured the opening 10 pages, each line of dialogue, each character description, each piece of scene action, the whole ten yards. How could they not at least provide feedback to me? It was formatted correctly! It had an engaging opening – it introduced the central axis of the story within the first few minutes. It was well paced, had enough jokes and a central love story to rival Tim and Dawn for fuck sake.

And then, when you’ve taken a breath, you stand back and look at both the script and the people that read it. You read their blog about a previous Comedy Writersroom and then you move swiftly and smoothly to:

Stage Two: Self-Deprecation

Well would you look at that, Kris: that unique character that you thought you’d created, the one with the quick mouth but the heart of gold? The one who wants more but isn’t willing to get it for himself or recognise his own talent? The one who feels trapped in this job whilst others around him are leaving for pastures new? Sound familiar? Yeah it does, doesn’t it, Fat Boy? D’ya know why? Because that is literally nearly every male sitcom/comedy character ever written that saturates the content of the Dave Channel as well as rejected scripts that gather dust on a writers’ shelf.

Of course they weren’t going to read past page 10 once they’d caught wind of this. You can just imagine the one writer reading the script, seeing the same old nameless, faceless character emerging in front of them, ticking off  cliché after cliché as they call over more writers to read this script that is obviously a parody because it can’t possibly be this bad. They gather round the script, laughing for all the wrong reasons before the dawning realisation hits them that this guy is for real; the world seems to stop on its axis at the point where no light is cast, just an eternal night. Then a writer chuckles from the far corner of the room, quickly following this chuckle with a guffaw that becomes a belly laugh. What’s that? A funny script? Order is restored. Struggling to look back on Christmas At Woolley’s they quickly burn it in ceremony, a necessary sacrifice to the sitcom Gods.

Self-deprecation is the low point of the rejection cycle, and probably the longest. You come to loathe the idea that you fought so hard for. You loathe yourself and your preposterous belief that you could actually be a writer. It all sounds rather self-indulgent and pathetic, but writing is such a lonely experience. Rewarding, yes; but also lonely and tinged with self-doubt throughout the entire process, only doused by the fire in your belly when you write a cracking line of dialogue or particular scene description. So it’s true that dealing with rejection is also a lonely experience. Despite their best efforts, no words from your loved ones can possibly soothe you at this time. My wife was amazing during my time of self-deprecation, nudging me towards the other stages. Yet it’s still a road you must traverse alone. You have to be introverted and feel sorry for yourself. And then:

Stage Three: Time to Bow Out

That was the script, that was the script. That was the one. Others that came before it merely forged the steps that I would use to ascend to my dream job as a full-time writer. That was the best I could be as a writer. So it’s time to bow out; time to say goodbye to this 5-9 life, time to stop pouring everything I’ve got in to these ideas that just aren’t going to get me anywhere.

You look at your laptop, your pile of books and scrap notes on the other ideas you planned to conquer next (or at one point, planned to show to the BBC who would collapse in awe and immediately commission every single idea, even if you’ve written the idea on the back of a fag packet (I don’t smoke)). Suddenly, that creeping sense of rejection you feel with that one script pours into the rest of them like hot, destructive lava. Every idea you’ve ever had that was ever worth exploring is now nothing more than kindling for the BBQ.

You’ve invested so much time and effort into developing your ideas; your 1TB Sky Box is practically full of the TV shows and films you’ve recorded because you’re too engrossed in your script to pull yourself away. You’ve missed time with loved ones and, as it used to be for me, you’ve given up exercise in place of a few hours writing. And for what? This same old feeling of rejection.

As you start to clear your drawers out, you stumble across a bit of scrap paper with ramblings of another idea you’ve been working on. You read it, and immediately you feel that fire in your belly, that little tickle at the back of your mind that makes you want to get your laptop out and start furiously typing until you force yourself to go to bed. And so begins:

Stage Four: Acceptance

I get it now. The script was good, just not good enough. It had parts of it that I’m really proud of, others that I know need to go but I don’t know what to replace them with. The idea, in the end, is just not strong enough. BBC Writersroom rarely commission the scripts that they receive; the idea is more about finding a voice that could be developed or, as stated in the email, focus on the writers that have the greatest potential for development. The script I sent in just didn’t have enough in it for them to recognise my voice and my potential. But that’s okay; I agree with them now and though I would love feedback,  I won’t get it at this time.

But this next idea, the one that has me typing away until 2am using matchsticks to keep my eyes open – this one is the one. This is the one that will get their attention. The first ten pages are perfection and would actually keep you hooked until the end. This next one, it’s the one. So it begins again…


I know it sounds self-indulgent and rather dramatic, but just like anyone else that is trying to perfect themselves in their preferred field, we all feel that knock. The important thing to do is – as we hear so many times with quotes painted against beautiful backgrounds and shared on social media as ‘Monday Morning Motivation’ – get back up again. I do each time, and I always will until such time as I finally crack it or, I die.

Genuinely, my hat is off to the readers of the scripts in the BBC Writersroom. As invigorating as it may be reading new scripts and finding new talent, you are also awash with scripts that show some or no potential at all. It must be so frustrating reading scripts that could show potential but just don’t quite hit the mark, and for some it might be difficult to pile up the ‘No’ pile. You’ve got to be tough to do that job and it can’t be easy saying no, but they do it because they have to and, believe it or not, it often benefits the writer even more. For me, at the end of the stages, it motivates me – and that’s what it’s all about. “Sorry but that script wasn’t good enough.” – almost hidden in white text on a white background are the words “…come on, what else you got?”. They are professionals in their field who can recognise when a turd can be polished and it is no easy feat reading thousands of scripts a year, trying to find that proverbial needle in the haystack. In no way is Stage One ever aimed at them; in the end, it all comes down to reflection. That anger is merely masking itself as being aimed at myself and is only realised in Stage Two. Like I said, my hat is well and truly off to them.

I’ve included the script as an attachment to this blog. Right now, I’m sitting on the idea for another few months until I can decide whether it’s worth marketing elsewhere or whether I bury it along with the others. In the mean-time, if you feel inclined, have a read and let me know your thoughts. Be honest, be brutal; it’s what I need. Check it out on the link below.

Christmas At Woolley’s

Until next time, to mis-quote a show that I cannot stand, ‘Keeeeep Writing!’

 

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