When you train as a teacher on a BEd or a PGCE, you’re encouraged to start looking for jobs between April and May of the year you graduate. This is apparently the time most already-employed teachers give notice, so that September’s positions are up for grabs for the newbies.
The newbie teachers then will have to do very long interviews – these usually last the whole day and there is no pay. You will usually do a tour of the school or college you’re applying to; you may have to talk to the other applicants whilst someone from the school is watching (so they can get a “feel” for your personality!); you usually have to do what is known as a “microteach” – a short lesson you have to prepare in advance on THEIR specifications, with hand-picked students who may or may not be willing). All this AS WELL AS the actual scary interview with the people in charge. (This is not a post by the way about how hard teachers have it: whilst I don’t think they get the support they deserve from senior management and kids literally rule the school in this cult of “self” and supposed individuality the media promotes, I also think teachers whine a helluva lot. A £1000 pay rise every September until you break £28,000? NINE WEEKS of PAID holidays? Promotions ahoy if you want them? No year long contracts, but a 9 to 5 job? SIX MONTHS of paid sick leave if you need it??? Come on…!! And remember, I was a teacher, so I can say this: I’ve lived it).
This IS a post however to point out writers are not the only people who have to lay out speculative work to get jobs and still get rejected. How many hours of lesson plans and interview preparation have I done only to not get the job? Dunno. Lots. Hell, I even went to one REALLY ROUGH school having done acres of work, only to withdraw from the interview in the mid-morning when I saw Lord of The Flies was going on in there. Happens. I got over it a lot quicker than if I had got the job, I would think.
Another correlation between teaching and writing rejections: usually between five and six teachers (sometimes as many as eight) are invited for interview on these selection days – yet for most teaching jobs, you can expect hundreds of applicants. I went to one place near Bristol and was told, along with the other five applicants, that we should all be very pleased with ourselves because they had had “six hundred and thirty applicants”!! Six hundred and thirty!!! Suddenly we’re in screenwriting competition territory – the BBC Sharps scheme back in the summer had a similar number. Yet what happened to the other six hundred and twenty four applicants? Well I can only hazard a guess, but I daresay they heard nothing, because usually on a teaching application form it will say something like “If you have not heard by [such and such a date] unfortunately you have been unsuccessful at this time.” (And don’t go thinking a rejected teacher doesn’t have to do any work like those who get invited to the selection days – not only can these application forms take AGES to fill in, sometimes they will ask you for something extra in which to assess your suitability for the job: a sample lesson plan or handout for example, a personal statement, a vision statement. Sometimes all of these.)
The argument regarding rejection in screenwriting goes something like this: if you’re rejected, you should know about it. Preferably some feedback should be given, but if that’s not possible, some words of encouragement, commiseration and/or a POV of what the contest, initiative or prodco was looking for or received, like when I was rejected by Northern Lights.
Now don’t get me wrong: courtesy is always preferable. Certainly when I have been rejected and the person or place in question has taken the time to tell me, it’s taken the sting out of it a little: at least I can draw a line under it, not wonder if it went astray in the post or via cyberspace.
But here’s a thought for you: whether a rejection is polite or not, it’s still a rejection. Barring those rejections that give feedback, they’re not very useful. They’re simply saying, “Hard luck”. Whilst that’s all well and good, it doesn’t tell you how to NOT get rejected next time around, does it? It doesn’t actually reassure you that you’re NOT a shit writer either – even if it goes to the trouble of trying to encourage you – since you’re intent on telling yourself you *must be* since they didn’t take you!
If you’re a teacher who simply cannot get a job ANYWHERE IN THE UK, yes you’re probably not a very good teacher. There are so many posts up for grabs (not to mention supply teaching, TEFL teaching, teaching in prisons and detention centres, etc) all over the country; staff turnover is very, very high – especially in secondary school which resemble Dante’s Inferno even on a good day. Example: my husband couldn’t get a job in the department he wanted in Devon because everyone there seems to stay in their job until they bloody die: so what did he have to do? Moves the family to Dorset – where he had the pick of three jobs. Nice. Sometimes in teaching you have to move sideways to get the opportunities, BUT if no one in the entire country in whatever field of teaching wants to take you, you have to ask yourself why.
When it comes to screenwriting however, there are very few opportunities in comparison – particularly in television. Is it any wonder you will be unsuccessful MOST of the time? You can work on your craft all you like. You can make loads of contacts. You can do everything the Gurus and blogs recommend. If you’re lucky and proactive, it will come together for you. If you’re not lucky (but STILL proactive), you may still end up falling on your arse. Hopefully this will not end up to any of us, but we do have to accept it’s just the way of it. This whole notion of “rejection = a shit writer” is not only misguided, it’s plain ridiculous. I know professional writers who’ve never even PLACED in a contest once, yet they’ve won shedloads of very lucrative commissions in television, film and literature. To illustrate, The Red Planet Prize chucked out several I know of last year in the very first round. In contrast, I know several non-professional writers who have placed or won lots of contests, yet still can’t get that elusive paid commission on anything much at all. It’s the way of the screenwriting world.
So don’t channel your hatred into the person who rejects you just because they never replied. Better still, don’t channel your hatred into YOURSELF either. Your script or idea wasn’t taken. Does this mean it is bad? Unless you’re writing something horribly racist or misogynous, probably not. Maybe it needs more work – maybe it doesn’t. Be disappointed it’s not champagne time yet, sure: you’re only human. But otherwise – get over it. We all have to, professional and amateur alike.