10 points on Rejection for Writers and Artists

Coping as an Artist, Writing/Publishing
man wearing eyeglasses using drawing pad
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  1. It’s a pity it is called rejection. It’s a loaded word. Particularly to writers who work with words. ‘Rejected’ smacks of turned down lovers, lost opportunites, the end of the line for an idea or concept or project. Of sobbing in private and feeling sorry for yourself, binge-eating and soggy tissues. It suggests the harshest of judgement: that we are not worthy. Synonyms for rejection are a bleak crowd of words that include: exclusion, brush-off, dismissal, turndown, cold shoulder, as well as violent manifestations like kick-in-the-teeth and slap-in-the-face.

How about we re-name this particular element of the writer and artist’s work-day –because they happen a lot.

  1. ‘Rejection’ is a term that is simply not useful. It gives the writer no-where to go from the point of the letter, or more likely email, landing on our desks. ‘Rejection’ suggests a closed door. What if we chose a word that was less final? Like ‘delayed’ or ‘suspended’ or even the term ‘turned around’ – words and phrases that suggest there is a crack in that door, or better yet, another door altogether.
  1. We know that one thing always leads to another It is inevitable. ‘Rejection’ is simply an unfortunate name for the moment we are sent in a new direction, on our way somewhere else. We are not diminished by this gesture, we are just sent elsewhere, our goal suspended, delayed…
  1. We have to handle it. Other writers and artists before us have handled it. Even people who became very famous (perhaps, especially people who became very famous) – in writing and in other fields like music and comics – handled it. We artists handle it every day. In handling it we can either grow thick skins or re-imagine what it means to not get the opportunity. When we can take the second course (being delayed instead of rejected) we see that other opportunities will abound.
  1. The problem central to the idea of taking-it-on-and-moving-forward is that we associate our work with ourselves. Our work informs our central idea of what we do and therefore who we are. Let’s remind ourselves, often, that we are not our work…there is, in fact, a clear line between who we are and what we make. That what we make, no matter how personally and passionately involved we become with it, is not our essential selves. That the feeling that comes with being turned down is real and can hurt, but it is not a reflection on us as people. It is often a reflection of something else altogether, that we will never really know…like that the publisher/agent/magazine has something similar in the works, or has a personal dislike that your work touched on…
  1. The terms delayed or turned around help emphasise that it is the work, not you personally. That the work is still moving, full of potential that will go elsewhere. Imagine saying: ‘My short story was just turned around by The New Yorker.’ Or ‘That poem I’ve been writing for the last four years was just delayed by the editor of The Australian.’ How much better does that sound?
  1. Most of the time you get some kind of feed back with your ‘delay’ letter. Something that will give you a handle on why you are not being published/winning the fellowship/competition/art prize or agent contract. Even though it hurts, it is worth looking these over carefully. They may give you a clue as to how to proceed, form a pattern that you can use to improve.
  1. If you are not into improving you should get off the bus. Everyone working in the industry is working hard to improve. If you are delayed in your dreams there is room to grow…
  1. Guy Winch suggests you revive your self worth in the light of rejection. One sure-fire way to do this as writers and artists is to make new work. To get fired up about something new and positive rather than dwelling on the past. Get your head down and write something new, like, for example a blog post about how to handle rejection…?

Guy’s excellent Tedtalk is here:

  1. Lastly, to survive the daily grind of making work and staying accountable to your creative self you need to make sure your goals are realistic, you are ready to work really hard to see them through and that you reward yourself with simple pleasures that keep you moving forward. Listen to your favourite music. Take a hot bath. Bribe yourself with fair-trade chocolate coffee beans. Whatever it takes. And, if you feel despair creeping up on you remember to reject it.  Or turn it around. Or at the very least, be compassionate to yourself and delay it and talk to a friend.


Famous artist’s rejections from Mental Floss

17 other rejected authors

Journalling – like a private blog, before blogging was a thing…


For years and years and years I kept a journal – which was like a private blog, before blogging existed. And no one read it – it was written for me. I wrote long-hand in various old exercise books, spiral bound note-books, hard backed art journals. I wrote it daily, charting my moods confessing thoughts and feelings, examining my life. Right through high school, university, into my first jobs I wrote in it fervently. I followed the advice of Natalie Goldberg and Julia Cameron. I wrote freely, sometimes in verse, shaping myself and my world into words. Perhaps when I started, the thought crossed my mind that I was record-keeping. That I was writing letters to posterity. But, that soon gave way as I got more and more interested in the act of writing itself. I was in love with the shape and texture of the words.
It was not until recently that I gave myself any credit for the work that went into this journalling. And not simply because of the accumulation of words, but the practicing I was doing, the trialling thought into expression, the word associations, the way I was learning to fictionalise my daily life.
Probably if I read those journals now they would make me shudder. (I suspect when in a fit of tidiness that strikes about every five years my father got rid of many of them, so they are lost to history – which is probably just as well.) What matters is that I was writing: that I wrote. Not the artefact of the books themselves but the experience writing them gave me. So that my later self could reach for the words, the way to shape that thought into language. The way to tag that character, open that descriptive paragraph.
So, to writers just starting, or those who are experiencing difficulties I would say begin a journal in an old exercise book and write (even just a little) daily.
Sometimes it feels that you have to write terribly to get anywhere near writing well. You need to clear the debris that’s clogging up your head. Keeping what may start as a record and act as a filter for the shite you need to get out before you can get at the good stuff.
I think this is what Ira Glass is talking about. He advocates working hard and keeping faith with yourself.
What else can you do?

Ira Glass Talks the Gape between your KILLER taste and the reality of your work.