Rejections hurt. Every time someone says, “Sorry, we’ve decided to pass” it is really easy to let those mental gremlins take overs Is my work bad? Am I not good enough? What if I’m never accepted? Maybe I should just give up.
I celebrate rejection. I celebrate each and every “sorry, it’s not for us.” It doesn’t matter what creative project I’m submitting – writing, illustration, comics, paintings … and I say this as someone who has been rejected a lot. My work, creations that I have poured my heart and soul into, is constantly rejected over and over and over again. I still make it. I still love what I do. I still try to expand my mind, my viewpoint, and my voice.
Because here’s the thing – rejection is useful information. I’m going to say that again. Rejection is usefulinformation. In a sea of people with best intentions, who only want to build me up by telling me all of the good things about my work, I’m relying on those few voices who tell me, “This is what is missing. This is the disconnect.” I can’t become a better anything if I’m being told that my work is awesome all the time. Sometimes it’s not awesome. Sometimes I phoned it in and hoped no one would notice, or took a chance on something experimental and it didn’t go well. If I don’t know why someone doesn’t like it, I can’t make it better. Every rejection is another chance to make my work better.
Even when a rejection comes as a cookie cutter form letter, it’s still valuable. It doesn’t mean that my work isn’t good. Nine times out of ten, it simply means that my work isn’t the best fit. It means that I’m almost there, but I still have some polishing to do. It means that I’m still on my hero’s quest to find a home for whatever I’m working on. And I want my work to go to the right home just as much as the publisher does.
I think we forget that art is subjective. Every publication, every gallery, and every blog has their own voice. They are trying to find the right fit for their audience. I don’t like country music. Does that mean that country music is the source of all things icky? Of course not. It means that I am not the right audience for that style of expression. If I write a ghost story and submit it to a romance magazine, it isn’t going to speak to that magazine’s readers. It’s the same if I submit a modern sculpture to a museum that highlights ancient Egyptian art, or try to get Geekasaurus printed in a medical journal. We forget that it’s also the same within a genre or within an art form. My ghost story isn’t going to fit into the majority of horror publications. My illustrations aren’t going to fit the voice of a majority of narratives. Not all of my article ideas are a good fit for GeekMom.
This isn’t to say that rejection doesn’t sting. It does. Every time, for those first few moments, I feel disappointed and lonely. Those voices that tell me that I’m not good enough creep in and try to set up shop in my brain. I don’t let them. I feel the hurt and move on when I’m ready to let go. I make that choice to celebrate my rejection. I’m celebrating all that could be. I’m celebrating possibilities.
Rejection is useful information. Even the mean kind. When someone is cruel and tells us, “Your work sucks,” we know that those individuals are not acting professionally. They don’t know how to identify good work, they can’t tell anyone how to make improvements, and they are probably lashing out from their own place of inner rejection. We, as creative people, can choose who we associate with professionally based on how we are treated, and if we are met with rudeness and words intended to cause us harm, we know that that is not our community. Those individuals are not helpful to our creative process. We don’t want our work to live with them in their toxic environment.
When I was in college and taking a painting class, I remember this one student (not his name, but his face) and his words have stayed with me for over 10 years. The first time we interacted, I was recovering from pneumonia and had a cough. He was late for class and took a seat next to me. He was painting some sort of large nude. I was working on a rainbow colored spacescape. After a few minutes of quiet coughing, he asked me if I could stop. I said that I wished that I could, and asked him if he knew of any amazing cough remedies for me to try. This was an opportunity for friendship and for professional connection. He said, “You could go hang yourself.”
I knew, in that instant, that this was not a member of my community. The other students who heard this exchange also rejected this student from their communities. He did not receive assistance when he ran out of a particular paint color. No one wanted to partner with him on projects. When it was time to critique each other’s work, he never had anything good to say about anyone else’s work, but he also wasn’t very helpful in his feedback. “I don’t like it,” without any sort of specifics, is not helpful to anyone.
Despite his cruelty, I continued to give him useful information. I was honest with my critiques of his work. By the end of the year, he told me that my voice was one that he respected. He liked how professional I was in class. I asked him why he had told me to go kill myself on the first day we met. He didn’t remember that he said that and he apologized. But the chance for being part of my community had long gone. His rejection was useful information. I learned to not waste my time with hurtful people saying terrible things.
Celebrating rejection is not an easy skill to learn, but it is something to aspire to. I’m here because, ever since I was little, I participated only in creative opportunities. I took a ridiculous number of art classes. I tried out for school plays and joined competition choirs. Excessive reading, writing terrible poetry, and seeking out creative writing groups helped me learn to explore my imagination and find processes that worked best for me. What happened when I went to architecture school? I learned how to think critically. I learned to tell the difference between constructive criticism and complete BS. I learned that failure isn’t failure; at least not until we decide to truly give up.
This latest rejection gave me some exceptional feedback. The editors liked my idea but it didn’t come together for them. Because of their observations, I now have a chance to fix the clarity and consistency of my narrative. Once I make some necessary changes, I’ll begin the hunt again. More people out there will learn my name and who I am as a writer. My story will find an amazing home and those that read it will love it because it will be exactly what they have been looking for. I’ll keep this publication in mind for future submissions because I know that they like my viewpoint. My voice can fit with their audience; it’s just this one story that doesn’t work for them.
Rejection is useful information. Buy a pizza, throw a dance party, and celebrate all that is yet to come.
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Wayne Moulton Jr, Lindsey Castellon, Emily Reddy, Lauren Haffner, Daniela Freeman, Celosia Crane, Kasey Darnell, Kristi Fox, and Nancy Vawter.