Rejection, Failure & Near Misses. And Everything I’ve Learnt Along the Way.

Let’s talk about rejection. Really?!

And failure.

And near misses. Eek!
It’s kind of embarrassing, isn’t it? Talking about the things that didn’t work out. But writing is incredibly competitive if you want to be published or produced. Of course, we don’t want to believe this when we’re just starting out.
The truth is, even when we have success, most of us still have to handle rejection alongside it, which can be hard to bear at times.
So why talk about it?
If we can learn from our failures – maybe even help others – we’ll hopefully all feel a little less alone when we have a fall. And that is the point of this story – to be helpful.
It’s this very journey of false starts that inspired me to start coaching writers in the first place. Because I wanted to help others to stumble less than I’ve stumbled.  
So, here goes.

A potted history of rejection, failure & near misses – and everything I’ve learnt along the way

I write children’s animation.
To date, I’ve been commissioned to write over 50 animation scripts, which sounds pretty good to me!!
But it’s not the full story.  
When you set out to become a writer, there’s no one set career path.
We don’t usually work in an office, so we often don’t have colleagues whose footsteps we can follow in.
Most of the time, we have to figure out what to do on our own, and it’s not always obvious which path we should take.

Unless we’re lucky enough to have a mentor, or an agent or some writer friends who are further down the path to us, and willing to share their wisdom, it’s up to us to figure it out, and try to make the right choices.  
Before writing children’s animation, I was writing other sorts of screenplays, and I had some success. But here’s the thing… after each bit of progress, I usually didn’t always know which step to take next. And, quite frankly, I made mistakes. I didn’t have anyone to talk over my career decisions with. Or maybe I did but was too shy to ask. So I took a more indirect route. Classic introvert, perhaps.
For example, I went to many talks by successful screenwriters, producers and agents, and quietly sat there soaking up any advice they had to offer, which was very helpful. But it wasn’t the same as sitting down and talking to someone face to face about my actual writing journey and the decisions I needed to make.

Feature films

When I started out – and for a really long time after that – I just wanted to write feature films. Oh yes, I convinced myself that this was a sensible career choice. However, I didn’t consider the high costs of making feature films, the limited number of films produced in the UK, and the vast number of other writers competing to do the same.
And then I got lucky.
Or did I?

The 2nd film script I wrote, Salsa Cartel, got optioned, and I was certain this marked the start of my career. An ambitious producer, who optioned it, paid me an option fee, did a great job raising finance, attached some talented actors and a seasoned director, and partnered up with an experienced Canadian production company.

Many rewrites and 10 years down the line (yes, 10 years!) the whole thing fizzled out… and I still didn’t have a career.
It happens all the time, of course, but here’s the thing. During that long period of development, I could have done with some advice. What was the best course of action for me? I didn’t know. Instead, I floundered about, hoping and praying the film was going to happen, but I didn’t have a plan – in case it did, or in case it didn’t. So when the film fell apart, I was back to square one. Almost…

Image by Htc Erl


One practical thing I did during this time was write some sketches.

My film was a comedy and my producer wanted it to be funnier, so to hone my comedy writing skills, I spent time writing sketches.

They were great fun to write because they’re so short and could be really wacky. I could experiment with different genres too.

One day, I spotted an ITV competition for sketches and submitted just about every sketch I’d written, which was quite a lot. The idea behind the series was that in every episode the public would vote for their favourite sketch. At the end of the series, voters would decide on the winners, and they would declare the top 10 as the overall best.

To my delight, the producers selected 3 of my sketches for the series. And one of them ended up being the overall 3rd favourite sketch in the whole series. I was thrilled!

This led to the production company asking me to join a comedy writing team with the other winners and teaming up to develop comedy show ideas together.

Working in a team was a fun experience, but we couldn’t get a network to pick up any of our ideas. Plus, as the team were spread out across the UK, it was hard to sustain things (this was before Zoom). So eventually it fell apart, and I rushed back to writing feature films!

But what if I’d had some advice? I might have used this little bit of success as an opportunity to go all in on the comedy, writing sketches on my own, as well as coming up with ideas within the group and tried to get more credits. But no, films was the way forward, in my opinion.

So I pursued a Masters in Screenwriting (an amazing experience, by the way), and during my second year, I wrote a romantic comedy feature film. This script later secured me an agent and some meetings during an exploratory visit to LA.

Having an agent

I always assumed that once I had an agent, my career would take off! Not true. Having an agent got me virtually nowhere. I foolishly expected her to set up meetings for me, and so I sat back on my laurels, and waited.

If I had had a mentor, they might have advised me to take charge of my networking, control my career, create a plan, seek collaborators, and pursue opportunities. Agents mostly help with contracts.  

I’m sure some writers are lucky and get far more from their agents. But I didn’t, and it’s the same story for many other writers I’ve spoken to.

Instead, not much happened for 2 years. I eventually had to take a full-time day-job to pay the bills. My agent had a baby, went on maternity leave, came back to work part-time and dropped me.

I was gutted.

It felt like I was going backwards.  I had no idea what to do next.

With hindsight, it turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me. Short on time, I instinctively knew I needed to look after myself, leading me to write shorter pieces (which agents can’t sell). However, I also realized that without an agent, the responsibility fell on me to proactively shape my career, and at last, things began to come together.

I did a course on Linkedin(!), created a solid profile and started networking in a way that was very much within my comfort zone.

Of course, there were still lots more false starts along the way…

Another Feature Film

Playing around with sketches and short film ideas, I stumbled across an idea that I believed would make a fantastic feature film. (Yep! I still hadn’t given up on that dream.)

I began developing it as a rom-com and submitted an outline to a prestigious development competition, which led to its shortlisting.

Woo hoo!

Photo by Rakicevic Nenad

Although I didn’t win it, it wasn’t an outright rejection. One of the producers sought me out afterwards and asked if I’d like him to help me develop the idea by giving me feedback. What an amazing result! Yes, please!

I must be on the verge of making it by now, right?

Once again, I desperately needed someone wise and experienced to jump in with some advice. But I didn’t have that person, and I thought I knew best.
This was the situation.

My day job had nothing to do with writing or media, it wasn’t helping my career in any way, and I really wanted to be making some money from my writing. Not unreasonable, to be fair. But rather than taking full advantage of this generous producer, I collaborated with him briefly and then prematurely submitted my idea to the BFI to apply for development funding. The BFI rejected the idea, leading me to a dead end, and the producer lost interest in continuing our collaboration.

Short Films

Feeling demoralised, I decided to step away from working on feature films. Instead, I turned my focus to short films, which I’ve previously written about here.
By chance, this let me to an ambitious producer and the world of animation.

Finally, I knew an opportunity when I saw one.
Over several years, I developed my own animation series with a small team. We received a significant amount of development funding, pitched at prestigious kids TV conferences around Europe, secured a book deal, and earned a commission to produce an animated Christmas Special. What’s more, we earned nominations for Best Animation and Best Film at the Irish Animation Awards. And the whole experience was an absolute thrill. You can read the full story here.
Needless to say, I came away thinking once again, yes, I’ve got a career!
And the truth is, I finally did have a career.

But, as you’ll find out, it still isn’t plane sailing.


After achieving some success with developing my own animation series, other people began approaching me to write animation for them, which has been a wonderful experience. To date, I have received commissions to write over 50 scripts.
But when you’re a freelance screenwriter, just because you’re getting hired, it doesn’t mean your career will be straightforward. If only!
So yes, I get work, which is terrific.
But in between gigs there’s rejection – of course – that’s par for the course when you’re a writer.
But there’s also a lot of uncertainty and false starts, which I didn’t expect, like –

  • Being told by a producer, yes, you’re on the team! Going away thrilled to bits and eagerly awaiting the next step, only for that next step to never happen. I guess they couldn’t get all the funding together or the network didn’t commit to the show in the end. I just kept waiting, following up, and being stalled.
  • Receiving a request to take a writing test, passing it, and hearing that I got the job – Yay! I received a start date, signed a contract, only for the employer to postpone the job again and again, each time with little or no notice.
  • Going through an interview, hearing ‘we really want to work with you’, and then waiting a year before they finally commission me.

And on and on.

Being a writer is both a financial and an emotional roller coaster. You need incredible resilience to not just give up or have some sort of mental breakdown!

But I have learnt from all this!

Lessons Learned

  1. Just because you think something is going to happen, don’t assume it will. Keep on networking, just in case.
  2. Take advice – get a mentor – find someone to take you under their wing – work with a coach. It’s hard trying to figure it all out on your own.
  3. Start small, with something more easily producible like sketches, short films, short stories, short plays, poems – anything that can get you a credit and experience, as well as build your confidence.
  4. Build up your resilience because rejection happens all the time. It’s often heart-breaking, but it’s not personal, so learn to shake it off.
  5. Keep going! It takes longer than you think.

So that’s my tale of failure and rejection, with some success thrown in for good measure.

Whenever I get a setback, I keep on developing my own ideas and I keep putting myself out there, to work on other people’s ideas.

But I also coach writers, and it’s so satisfying helping ambitious writers who are struggling with the sorts of things that I have struggled with over the years.

Here’s how I help writers…

  1. I act like a ‘writing boss’, offering accountability, goals, deadlines and structure to writers. This is what I have craved over the years.  
  2. I help writers develop strong writing habits – because habits are essential to help us keep writing, week in week out. When we’re writing, we stay sane. We focus on the task at hand and less on the end result.
  3. I share advice – about all aspects of the industry – gleaned from my many years of writing, workshopping, networking, as well as handling rejection and failure.
  4. I (gently) hold my clients’ feet to the fire and ensure that they consistently network and market themselves and their work. Because writing is a business after all.
  5. I support writers through the psychological minefield that is the crazy job of being a writer. Coping with rejection. The self-doubt. The inner critic. The blocks.
  6. I’m also a sounding board for ideas, because we all need to test drive our stories before sending them out into the big wide world.

Where are you on your writer’s journey?

If you’re struggling with rejection and false starts, firstly, know that you’re not alone.
If you’re ready to accept help navigating these murky waters, get in touch, as I’d love to support you.
You can find out more here.

I’m happy to chat too. Book a short call here.

I can’t wait to meet you!

Free Resources

Don’t forget to join my Facebook group, and get some weekly accountability.

Coming up!

‘Silent Scribes’ – let’s all write together and get more done – The next one is Friday 22nd March at 9.30am UK time. 

The London Writers’ Meetup happens the 2nd Tuesday of every month at 7.30pm UK time. It’s online and is a super friendly group. This is a great opportunity to ask questions and share your struggles, set a goal, and make some writer friends. I hope to see you there.

Katy’s quite honestly brilliant at this!! I’d never have written the 110,000 words of my first novel without her… Of course there were bumps on the road but Katy always found inventive solutions or options for me to keep going.

Frances, novelist & screenwriter

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *