A boo is a lot louder than a cheer.
Rejection is tough.
No matter what people say about collecting 100 rejections or actively seeking out rejection in order to grow, rejection never feels good no matter how you try to spin it.
If you’re a creative, you’ll face a lot of rejection. Your pitch, query, design or article will be politely turned down, or worse, ignored altogether. You’re hardwired to remember the negative more than the positive. But you go on because nobody has a perfect hit rate, right?
You try again, and again.
One day, another rejection is the final straw. You’ve been slaving away to make your work the best it can be, and you just can’t take any more. You stop working.
Each no makes you feel like an egg dropped on the floor. And this time, you shatter so badly that you can’t put yourself back together again. You know mindless distractions don’t help, but you numb the feelings with food or alcohol or endless scrolling anyway.
What are you going to do now?
Never Too Big To Fail
The reality is: sometimes you lose. And you’re never too good to lose. You’re never too big to lose. You’re never too smart to lose. It happens.
Nobody succeeds all the time. When we see the hits, it’s easy to forget all the misses. And we never see all the pieces that didn’t make it into the public eye.
You are not your work.
You’ve put time and effort and maybe a part of yourself into your work, but it isn’t you. A rejection of your work doesn’t pass judgement on you as a person or your overall skill as a creative.
Separate your work from your self-esteem and reframe the loss. Maybe the piece wasn’t a good fit, or it was the fifth similar piece that month, or it was overlooked. None of that has anything to do with you. Remember opinion is subjective and what’s wrong for one person is just right for another.
Have a mourning period if you need it and then move on to action.
Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.
The quality of the piece is something that is entirely within your control. Feedback on rejected work is uncommon but take it if offered. It’s time to review and rework your piece.
Could it be better? The answer is almost always yes. Look at it with new eyes, or pretend it belongs to someone else. When in doubt, cut the beginning. It might work better without it, or with a new opening.
Learn to self-edit ruthlessly and polish your work to show its best features. When you believe it can’t be improved further, you’re ready for the next step.
A New Home
Have you had a failure or rejection? You could get bitter. That’s one way to deal with it. Or…you could just get BETTER. What do you think?
Take your shiny piece and resubmit elsewhere. If you want to be published in a journal, you have to contend with a very low acceptance rate.
Let’s say your journal of choice publishes four pieces by new writers four times a year. Only sixteen of the hundreds or perhaps thousands of pieces they receive will make it. The same goes for contests.
The odds are against you so you’ll have to play more games to increase your chance of winning. A tiny proportion of players become winners, but that doesn’t mean that the rest have no merit.
Alternatively, bypass the gatekeepers completely. You have the freedom to publish whatever you choose on sites such as Medium, Wattpad, or your own blog.
Believe in your work and search for a better home.
Climbing From The Wreckage
It’s you vs. you.
So you sent your story out to do battle elsewhere, or maybe you concluded it wasn’t in fact good enough. Your next step is to regroup and renew.
Look around for the next opportunity — a contest or publication. Use prompts. Or indulge and write something just for yourself. Make something new and make it great. Setting a deadline forces completion.
A portfolio of completed pieces boosts your confidence and drives improvement in your skills. No words are wasted whether they are made public or not.
Do you keep an ideas file? If not, start one. Capture them all in one place, whether digital like Evernote or the notes function on your phone, or an old-school notebook. When you don’t know what to write, pick an idea and write without judgement.
Don’t be derailed by perfectionism. Your inner editor will whisper, “That last piece bombed, what makes you think this will do any better?” Ignore it. Your job is simply to write.
Spew out a messy first draft and keep going till you reach the end. You can’t edit an empty page.
The first draft of anything is shit.
You have more stories to tell, so get writing.
Your ability to adapt to failure, and navigate your way out of it, absolutely 100 percent makes you who you are.
What’s the real meaning of rejection?
It means you succeeded in facing the world. You took a chance on your own abilities and risked the pain of failure. Rejection is a lesson. It asks, “How much do you want this success, and what price are you prepared to pay?”
There’s no shame in giving up a dream, as long as you don’t give up on dreaming altogether. There’s no shame in failure, as long as you use it to fuel your work.
Every five or ten rejections, reward yourself for effort. It’s painful and you deserve to ease that pain, even if you accept it’s necessary for your growth. We all know the Beatles, Ernest Hemingway, and JK Rowling faced rejection before they found success. But it’s still hard when it happens to you.
Nobody bats a thousand. But winners keep swinging until they hit that home run, and then they keep going. Athletes who didn’t make the winners’ podium carry on eating clean and logging training hours so they can beat their personal best and win next time.
To make rejection work for you,
- Reframe the loss
- Review and rework it
- Resubmit elsewhere
- Regroup and renew your efforts
- Reward your bravery
Rejection is unavoidable, but you can work through it. Success is waiting, so keep writing.
A rejection is nothing more than a necessary step in the pursuit of success.