Wrestling with Rejection: The Editor vs. The Critic | Script Revolution

Wrestling with Rejection: The Editor vs. The Critic


I've found that, over the years, that many screenwriters have a complex relationship with rejection. Often turning to trite sayings such as "You've got to grow a thick skin", there's very little advice out there to really help us deal with the emotional rollercoaster of finding out creative efforts have failed to align with a reader. Enter Jonathan Peterson and one of the best summaries I've seen on how to balance our minds and move forward in a way that's both mindful and productive - CJ

“Wanting to be a writer and not wanting to be rejected, is like wanting to be a boxer and not wanting to be punched.” – Unknown

A few years ago, I came across this excellent and applicable quote that I have since referenced often. For my experience, in the world of screenwriting, no more exact words have been spoken. I have been writing on-and-off for many years with a few blips of hope, but no significant success yet. While I may reference a few tips and tricks about handling rejection along the way from my personal experience, this blogpost isn’t about me. I write this for my fellow screenwriters toiling away and following their dream.

My number one suggestion - Keep going; do not give up!

When coping with rejection, it's essential to remember that every studio in Hollywood rejected the most successful movie franchise in the history of cinema. When George Lucas, who, I might add, was not an unknown director following his success with American Graffiti, went around selling his idea for Star Wars, no one wanted anything to do with it. It took one person, Producer Alan Ladd Junior, who believed in George’s vision to shepherd the project into production. Without Ladd, we likely wouldn’t have a Star Wars. Can you imagine?

Stories like this one inspire me and give me hope, and as the character of Andy Dufresne said in The Shawshank Redemption, "Hope is a good thing. Maybe the best of things and no good thing ever dies."

There is no denying, rejection is hard; it's a slap in the face. And may only serve to validate the already nagging insecurity that we nearly all have as writers. Over the years, I have learned to title the two "voices" in my head that come into play whenever I write something (I have found they bleed over to other aspects of my life, but that's for another blog post).

The first one is the Editor. The Editor is constructive and helpful. The Editor will typically serve to help you craft your story or will tell you when a particular scene or line of dialogue is not working. He (or she) will help you identify grammatical mistakes. At the right time, when your story is ready to be edited, the Editor is the perfect person to let into your creative process.

The second one is the Critic. By contrast, the Critic is the harsh voice of criticism that will tell you that you suck. The Critic will come in with a sharper and more aggressive tone and suggest that you give up the folly of your dream and tell you that you don't belong among the Hollywood elite writers. You have no talent and should go back and toil away in a cubicle, doing mindless work.

The difficulty is deciphering, which one is speaking and when to listen. Both voices sound pretty similar and even feel equally harsh, but it is possible to tell the difference.

Here are a few tricks I've learned to combat the voices in your head and the inevitability of rejection.

  1. Read Scripts– Find the shooting scripts for your favorite movies. Read them alongside the finished film. Make a note of changes or the particular elements of the story. There are dozens of places to find the finished scripts for nearly every movie out there. Sites such as Simply Scripts have just about everything. Doing this will get your head out of any funk and aid in reminding you of the reason you chose to write in the first place. I enjoy playing the game of finding the typos in finished screenplays. Try it. I have found a few mistakes in several Oscar-winning scripts. 
  2. Watch Screenwriting content – YouTube has become an invaluable addition to my writing arsenal. I subscribe to channels like The Art of Story – Lessons from the Screenplay -  or – Cinefix whenever I'm feeling tapped out, uninspired, or railroaded by rejection; I watch one of these short videos and learn something new or renew my focus. It has served to be a tremendous help in my process.
  3. Support Groups – Find or tap into friends, co-writers, or some support group, like this one on Script Revolution. I would recommend your resource not to be your family. Family is rarely supportive of your ambition for becoming a screenwriter. They've known you for too long and likely don't understand how important this dream is to you. They will want to protect you and will advise that you give up to prevent any further heartache. They are well-meaning, but not usually helpful (and yes, there are exceptions). I don't lump significant others into this family group; they tend to be supportive. It's ideal to find fellow writers or artists. People who understand what a risk it is to put your creation out into the universe. Fellow creatives will help you along your journey, especially over the rough spots.
  4. Meditation - I’ve learned that the simplest way to tell the difference between the two voices is to meditate before I engage the process of a re-write. For the record, I was always very skeptical about meditation. I was still under the mistaken impression that it meant I had to shut down all the thoughts in my head and bring myself to some ethereal plane of existence. Nothing could be further from the truth. For my part, I do box breathing and visualize my screenplay as a giant puzzle. I allow all the thoughts to bounce around, and as I slow my breathing and remove these puzzle pieces, which are typically scenes or weak characters so that I can begin the editing process. Here's the trick – the Critic has no patience for meditation and disappears. Try it and see if it works for you.
  5. Exercise – It doesn’t matter what form this takes, but it is the quickest way to improve your state of mind. Take a walk. Ride a bike. Hit the weights or go for a run. The point is, you need to move. Get the blood pumping in your body, and it will clear away the cobwebs of disappointment and self-doubt.
  6. Find a Therapist – I have seen a therapist for years, for a variety of reasons. It has been one of the most eye-opening additions to my creative process and served to help me during many a rejection. Given that the craft of screenwriting and creation, in general, tends to delve into some emotional territory, having a therapist to guide me through this area, has helped tremendously in my creativity.

Putting these things into practice has served me well, and I hope this will be helpful to you.

Remember that J.K. Rowling was rejected over forty times when pitching the Harry Potter series, which is arguably another of the most successful book and film franchises ever.

Rejection is inevitable. But If you have a story to tell. If writing your screenplay is your dream. My advice to you, my friend - do not give up. No matter what and maybe with these few tools in your creative toolbox, the next time you get "punched" by rejection, you'll bounce back and remember it’s just a necessary part of the writing process.

About The Author

Jonathan Peterson's picture
Real name: 

I've been writing for nearly 25 years, but just recently decided to make this my sole focus. I've written television pilots, screenplays, poetry and children's books. I have supported my life-long dream (or addiction) of being a writer by working as a sales consultant in the Real Estate Industry, all the while blogging for several friends. Read more



John Hunter's picture

In most cases, I don't want to believe rejection is personal. It simply means whoever read your profile, title, log line or first pages of whatever you submitted simply didn't care for it OR it just didn't fit their current needs.