Rejection Letters

David Fitzgerald

Talking Pictures alias






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Also see Robin Hill's two part series:

Dark Visions Part 1: 
What Price Glory?

Dark Visions Part 2: 
The Tiny Glass World

According to the Oxford dictionary to reject is: to put aside or send back as not to be used or done or complied with; rebuff or snub (a person); and a reject can be: a thing or person rejected as unfit or below standard. 

Not pleasant is it? Little wonder then that these a-cursed missives have the capacity to leave us feeling like the parent who sent a child to his first day at school only to discover that his experience of building block towers has been spoilt by the over developed cackling kid who takes great delight in applying a carefully directed foot. 

I was very protective of my screenplay, my very own little baby. Although my gender prohibits from me being an expert on the subject, I suspect that there are a few similarities between the gestation period of a script and the arrival of the stork with its own little bundle. I only wish the conception were as enjoyable. For which one I refer to, I'll leave the individual reader to draw his own conclusions. 

For me it goes something like this: you've had an idea that you think is so good it causes the impromptu removal of your socks; you jot the idea down and start to experience cravings for the most obscure pieces of knowledge; you then form the skeleton of your structure and try to flesh it out but some of these  supplements have to be chucked up in the cold light of morn; you sweat six to nine months of your precious life on this, this creation, this constantly developing creature. During this time, an evening with friends makes you feel like an absent parent and you suffer endless sleepless nights. 

But eventually the time comes and you are ready for it to face the cold harsh world. Although it's not easy, you shun the incubator and show it to close family and friends. They make the appropriate appreciative mumblings and you are ready to send it out and let it earn its keep. 

For the first month you experience an overwhelming sense of relief. It's over, it's out there and you have completed something with an appreciable heft factor. You see friends and you party on. Usually though, after about a month, you start to experience something that you can't write off as a hangover. You start to wonder where the replies are. What is taking everybody so long? And then they start. 

The first envelope arrives on your doormat. You look at it from a distance, wondering on the best way to approach it. You think about a military operation but then the adrenaline kicks in and you pounce upon it with relish. You rip it open and as your manic eyes scan down the page you read something a bit like this: 

Dear [ Havid Gitzgerald,]

May I take this opportunity to thank you for sending a me a copy of your novel, manuscript, screenplay, the romantic comedy, the period drama, the Aristotelian tragedy called (Phyllis, please insert the blasted title here would you please, there's a dear?

After careful consideration I feel that your work, although containing some strong examples of characterisation, dialogue, structure, comedy is not quite right for us as we don't have the time, development money, sense of humour, inclination necessary to pursue your project. 

Please don't take this personally (for the love of god Phyllis, I hope he's not another of those nutters) and we wish you the best of luck finding a placement for your work.

Yours sincerely 

Quentin Moores (P.P. Phyllis Appleby).

 Because of the very join-the-dots nature of this kind of letter you develop a sense of immunity to these light brush-offs. An agent friend of mine told me the reason that they don't usually criticise the submitted work is because the two main groups who send in unsolicited material are inmates and senior citizens. In her words: "We don't want to kill or be killed" 

Scary. With this in mind, imagine my surprise one warm May morning when I chanced upon a letter from a Production Company that had me clutching the surprised hat-stand in desperate need for support. It didn’t just criticise my screenplay, it rifled through its pages and gleefully shredded the scenes. 

The writing was so acidic it would have burnt litmus paper. I went from feeling like the pixie who had found the world's biggest toadstool to sit on to the gnome who discovers that the puddle he's fishing in is most definitely NOT a rock pool. 

I lost all confidence in my abilities. I lost all sense of self-respect. I was a fool, a con-man, a person who had just woken up to the reality of his existence and that existence had been smacked into his consciousness by "Roger Hartdale" (The name has been changed to protect the guilty). 

Roger Hartdale seemed to be laughing at my pitiful abilities, my misplaced dream for myself. Unlike the "Havid" letters, this time it was personal. It didn't help that I knew the name Roger Hartdale from my days at primary school and I couldn't help but wonder if this was the same guy I knew from all those years ago, the little cherub who had a predilection for twanging rulers in the classroom. Could it be? Was this my comeuppance for beating him at verbal reasoning tests? 

It took me about two weeks before I could face writing again. Harsh rejection letters are never well timed but this was particularly irksome as I had recently moved to London, didn't have much money and was struggling to hold down a regular hairstyle.

What kept me going in the end was this: it's only one guy's opinion. It's just one person, sitting at a desk, trying to do his job in face of distractions. Like we all are. And this is the ONLY way to deal with it. It doesn't mean it isn't hard, trying, desperately trying, to keep going when all the Roger Hartdales are against you.

Demystifying the mental image of the reader helps too. Try to recall the advice the school-kid is given when he's ordered to the headmaster's head office: just picture him in his underpants. Sometimes they actually ARE sitting there alone and vulnerable. 

Two years later I was on a BBC writer's workshop when I turned round and spotted the one, the only, Roger Hartdale that I knew from my schooldays. Although he was uncharacteristically bereft of a ruler, he was still recognisable. We exchanged stunned looks of surprise, mumbled pleasantries and agreed to have lunch together.

Twenty years on, Roger is a neurotic who obsesses about everything and everybody. Was it the same Roger? Was he the headmaster wearing only his underpants and a freshly washed smile? Well, yes it was. Apparently, while he worked as a reader, his style was "to be as honest as possible”. Interesting definition. In an odd turnaround he is now a part time writer and a full time worrier. He fears that his rejection letters have sent out masses of bad karma around the industry and there's something lurking around the corner armed with something a lot more threatening than a ruler. 

In hindsight I do think that some, if not all, of his criticisms are valid: two years on and the screenplay has not been optioned. But it's still only the opinion of one guy. You have to remember that. Don't always reject what they say but be aware that it may not be valid. As much as it hurts and I won’t try to convince you that it doesn't, you have to get up and keep trying. 

When it comes to worrying about readers’ criticisms I try to recall the advice given to the man, who visits his G.P., walks into the surgery, lifts his right arm and says “Doctor, it hurts when I do this”. The medic wryly replies: “Well, don’t do it then” 

Remember that success is : the accomplishment of an aim. 

Just by finishing the script you have achieved that and by not obsessing too much about rejection letters you can become “a person who turns out well”.

Right on. 

Also see Robin Hill's two part series:

Dark Visions Part 1: What Price Glory?

Dark Visions Part 2: The Tiny Glass World

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