It is a truth universally acknowledged that if you make art of any kind and try to put it out to the world, you will face rejection. People will say No to your work in all kinds of different ways and you will have to learn how to cope with rejection.
Your stories will be rejected from magazines, agents and publishers. Your music will be rejected by radio stations, record companies and talent shows. Your paintings will be rejected from art shows and galleries. If you are an actor then you will fail to be selected at the audition, that’s if you even get an audition.
All of this is very grim and very hard to take especially for those of us with a sensitive, artistic disposition.
Expectation – the silent killer
It isn’t the rejection itself that is the painful thing – it is the unmet expectation that is killing you. When you submitted your work you had an expectation of a result. You were excited about your work and you felt that you deserved your desired outcome.
Quite naturally, you were thinking only of yourself. The problem is that the publisher, or the gallery or the radio station are only thinking of themselves too. They are going to choose what is suitable for them. They don’t care about your feelings or the effort that went into your creation. They are looking objectively at results purely from a prospective of what will suit them and their needs.
My recent experience of rejection
Recently I have been trying to get my work published in a couple of big online publications on Medium. I spent time writing something that I thought would be perfect for one of them and I was very proud of the resulting piece. My expectation was as follows: the publication would recognise how ‘just right’ my piece was for them and accept it. Then my writing would benefit from their hundred thousand subscribers and I would get lots of readership. Lots of those readers would love my work and some would click through to my website, love what they saw and subscribe to my mailing list.
This was what I needed from the publication. All of this need was emotionally packaged into the act of clicking Send.
So when they didn’t act on my need, (and when I nudged them on Twitter and sent them something else and they still ignored me), I got pissed off and dejected. I took it personally. In my emotional hurt it felt unfair.
I needed that publication to accept me in order for me to achieve my various goals. It hurt when I didn’t get it because I had attached a lot of importance to it.
Attachment and desperation
It is the attachment we have to the desired outcomes of our work which causes us the pain. This attachment is often accompanied by a big dose of desperation. We want something so badly, we’ve invested a whole heap of time, energy and money into our work and we need it to pay us back.
It is better to be more invested in what we can control and less attached to what is out of our control. Then we will suffer less from rejection. We can control the quantity and quality of our work. That is where our investment must lie. We have no control over how it is received so we are wasting our frazzled emotions in being attached to this.
Rejection builds our resolve
There is a positive side to rejection – it builds your resolve. It is like the muse is testing you to see how much you really want something. Will you give up at the first hurdle, the first rejection, the first sign of pain? Or will you find your way through and keep creating? Will you keep doing this every time you get knocked back?
Each rejection is a step closer to your goal. Stephen King used to put his rejection letters onto a spike. The more rejections he got, the more he produced and the better he got at his work. Eventually people started to say Yes to him.
How to cope with rejection
The pain of rejection can by huge and for some it stops them creating. They think that they are obviously not good enough so there is no point continuing. And because the pain hurts so much they decide to not risk feeling that way again so they don’t make any more art.
Please don’t let rejection get the better of you. We need you to be true to your creative self and for you to keep working. Use these tips to get through those difficult moments.
- Be gentle with yourself. Congratulate yourself for the effort that you made and the courage that it took to make it. You can’t control the outcome but you can control what you put into the equation.
- Treat yourself to something simple like a coffee and a brownie or buy something special for yourself. Again, honour the effort that you made, not the outcome.
- Tell people who are close to you that you are a bit fragile at the moment. They might well think of fun ways to cheer you up.
- Try not to take it too personally. Your piece either wasn’t right for what they were looking for or there were so many submissions that you got lost in the crowd. They are not on a personal vendetta against you to make you feel like crap, however much it might sometimes feel like it.
- Maybe your piece wasn’t good enough and that’s why it got rejected. The best remedy for this is to keep practising your craft so that you get better.
- A rejection means that you have achieved something, even if it didn’t have the desired result. You learnt how to do something, you put those skills into action, you polished them a bit more then you had the courage to put your creation out into the world. This is an achievement. Don’t ever lose sight of that.
Most importantly – keep going with your work. Get ready to submit something again soon. Don’t let the pain of rejection stop your flow of creation.
Batten down the hatches and gently, steadily keep working.
Over to you
Leave us a comment and tell us about a time when you survived rejection. What did you do to make yourself feel better and keep creating?
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Totally agree, Cali, thank you. Another thing I would add is, rather than the once-oft repeated advice to “make yourself more into someone they’d like” is to “find someone who shares your song”.
And if your song is completely unique, teach the world your music!!
We artists are sensitive creatures and quite often the pressure is on to contort ourselves into whatever the world wants—the fickle, ever-changing, ever-contradictory world.
Yet we all have a unique _something_ to share, a special reason for being on this planet now. More than ever, I believe the world needs exactly those unique people—with a strong sense of who they are and the gifts they have to share—to counteract the prevailing philosophy in society that money and consumption are the reasons we exist.
Which is exactly why I love your blog so much. Thank you Cali, for your nurturing, inspiring voice.