Imagine we’re at a cocktail party so fancy you can’t pronounce the hors d’oeuvres. At some point, I sidle up to you and introduce myself this way:
“Hi, I’m Sadie, and I’m a seasoned professional Reject. I’ve been writing poetry and fiction for over 10 years, and my work has been rejected by the best in the business–everyone from Seventeen to The New Yorker.
I don’t mean to brag, but I’m actually waiting for ten rejection form letters right now.
I’m kind of a big deal in the rejection world.”
Wouldn’t that change the way you felt about my writing ability, whether or not you’d read any of my work?
And isn’t that awful? I mean, should rejection really change the way any of us feel about our own, or others’, creative output?
What if the value of music was determined by how many people didn’t listen?
Or the importance of photographic prints was dictated by how many people decided not to buy one?
Here’s the thing: I really *have* been rejected an awful lot of times. And I’ve learned a few things–the hard way–about how to deal with rejection and keep your Creative Spirit (TM) mostly intact.
A) Maybe you’re just not the right fit. And maybe that’s okay.
In elementary school, I auditioned for the part of Young Cosette in a local high school’s production of Les Mis. I was way too tall for the part, and my voice cracked in the middle of “Castle On a Cloud”. I wasn’t going to be Young Cosette. But you know what? The two girls who ended up sharing the role were absolutely perfect for it. It just wasn’t the right fit for me. I’d much rather be told “no” than end up in a part or situation (or magazine) I wasn’t really prepared for.
B) You’re not the only one.
This one might seem obvious right now, but it’s amazingly easy to forget when you’ve just been snubbed by an amazing literary journal you’ve been poring over for years Seek like-minded company who’ve had similar experiences, and remember that every successful person has to be unsuccessful (at least, some of the time).
C) Rejection means you haven’t given up.
“I love my rejection slips. They show me I try.” – Sylvia Plath
The best rejection letter I have ever received was from Gaspereau Press, a small publisher of drool-worthy letterpress books. The handwritten note read, in part (italics mine):
“My advice is to keep doing what you’re doing…Keep showing your work around…Keep honing your craft and finding your voice. What you are doing has merit. Don’t lose heart.“
D) Celebrate the little successes.
At the age of 19, I brashly submitted one of my poems to The Walrus. I had been told by “real” poets I knew that I had to build up a thick skin by submitting everywhere and then getting rejected everywhere (which, um, didn’t always work, but I digress). Imagine my surprise when in my inbox there was, not an acceptance letter, and not a rejection letter, but a rejection with an invitation to send more work directly to the managing editor.
I felt like I had a golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.
You’ve probably had successes like that. Maybe you have a teacher who always told you to keep going, or a slam piece people remember from an open mic years ago, or a random person on the bus who recognizes you from a community theatre play you were in. These successes, though they seem small, are enormously valuable. They are empirical proof that your creative output matters to someone besides you and your childhood stuffed animal collection. (Fret not, though – Mr. Fluffers will always be your #1 hype man.)