Life is a constant state of flux. In any one day we can shift through a variety of moods depending on how the world acts on us. From rudeness from a stranger, to a kind word from a friend, to sipping that great cup of coffee while reading a good book, or seeing scarlet when a driver cuts you off dangerously on the road.

The thing to remember is that something good is always around the corner, which is not always easy to recall when your head is spinning from bad news.

Travelling without Moving
'Let me off Mom, I feel weird.' 'Yes dear, that's life.'

Disappointment is something everyone in the world deals with, but it’s an occupational hazard for those who create, be it dance, music, art, literature, plays, photography, movies, video games, etc. Especially at the beginning, when you’re not very good (luckily your ego shields that from you), and everything seems like a perpetual ‘No!

There is no easy way to deal with rejection and disappointment, although it does depend upon your personality type.

There are people I’ve encountered who are surrounded by a golden nimbus of serotonin-infused confidence, who wander through the creative landscape, bombshells detonating around them, and exude an utter belief that everything will work out for them in the end.

'I eat rejection for breakfast, and then punch apathy in the face.'

And often it does, damn them.

For most of the rest of us the reaction can vary from tears and wailing, to a quiet, murderous fury.

Unless you want to spend a great deal of time unhappy the first realisation most creators come to is that it’s not personal.* It feels personal, but while you fume and sniffle, the person who has rejected you has already forgotten about your project. They’re on to new things: which could be hiring that imbecile you know is way less talented than yourself…

While we understand that the rational reaction is to pick up the teeth that have been kicked out of our metaphorical mouth and fashion a new set of dentures from steel, the emotional part of us thinks we are bleeding and is freaking out.

Emotions don’t response to logic very well. So, it’s okay to be upset. Some people make it worse by then berating themselves for not having the Kilgore ability to walk through battlefields and never develop PTSD. You are who you are. Dwelling doesn’t help much, so finding a way to distract yourself is a smart way to proceed.

Watch a comedy. Laughter eases all the grandiose self pity out of your lungs.

Art is dead
'Waaaaa! What's the point?'

Probably the worse side effect of rejection is doubt. Sometimes it’s a massive hammer blow that smashes everything you have ever created, revealing it as shards of junk. Your worst insecurities can rise up and whisper to you that you are talentless, uninspired, and unoriginal. That dreadful trio are particularly feared by many creators. Some of us have hexmarks on our barns to ward them off. Other people resort to teddy bears.

But, it’s all self-generated. One person didn’t like your work. Someone else might.

A wise person reminded me recently of this quote by Barbara Kingsolver:

“This manuscript of yours that has just come back from another editor is a precious package. Don’t consider it rejected. Consider that you’ve addressed it ‘to the editor who can appreciate my work’ and it has simply come back stamped ‘not at this address.’ Just keep looking for the right address.”

The only option in the face of celebration or despair, is to go back and make something else. That is the surest way to get better and increase your chances of success, and the only way you’ll create something that people will enjoy. Plus, it will prove to everyone who has ever rejected you that they made a big mistake…

Still, once you put your work up for evaluation you face rejection, in fact, considering the odds and depending on the project, rejection can be probable.

'What's in the box?' 'Pain, or possibly a publishing contract.'

In this way creators go against millions of years of evolution: we do something repeatedly that we understand could cause us varying degrees of pain.

As time goes on, and you improve, the risk diminishes slightly, but even the most magical of creators can have their work excluded or badly reviewed.

For those who create, the other alternatives – silence; bitterness; regret – are far more frightening then the days you will spend recovering from rejection on the couch watching old Muppets movies.

(*Okay, we’ve all heard horrendous stories of rejections that were incredibly personal. They are rare in professional circles, however. Unless you work in the film industry…)


  • K. A. Laity

    *Love* the last caption! X-D I find old movies and wine help immensely as does a lot of childish swearing at the cat, who is immune to the abuse.

    • Maura

      Some rejections sting less than others of course, but having a small rant at an unflappable cat sounds like a good way to get it out of the system. 😉

  • Brian Dolton

    Ah, but what if, as time goes on, you DON’T improve? What if rejection becomes, not less frequent, but MORE frequent?

    I think, then, the only sensible option IS to give up and save yourself the repeated pain of rejection (which, while it might not be personal in terms of the rejector, is most certainly personal to the rejected…)

    • Maura

      It’s a hard question. You have to decide, who you are writing for?

      If your writing makes you happy, or you must do it, then persevere no matter what anyone else tells you. If you do anything enough times you will get better.

      Sometimes getting a bit of input can be useful – it’s not for everyone, but try a workshop with a teacher who is recommended. An expert opinion can help to highlight issues in your work you can’t spot yourself.

  • Will Collins

    It was good to read this. I’ve suffered from bouts of crippling self-doubt and the only way that I’ve survived is forcing myself to write. I’ve had to create a fictional coach in my head – like a Mickey from Rocky – he screams at me, “Get up, ya lazy punk! Write one page.”

    And so I do. I now have, literally, hundreds of one-pagers written because I feel terrible. They are not about feeling terrible but little stories or characters. The act of creating each and every one has made me feel better. And every once and I while I look at them and find little gems that I have no memory of creating.

    As Alfred said to Bruce Wayne, “Why do we fall, Master Bruce? So we learn how to get up again.”

    • Maura

      Thanks Will. That’s a great way to cope. I find keeping the goal simple: one page, one paragraph, one line. If you can make yourself do anything to break through the suffocating doubt it’s a start. All you need is that first step.

      Often going outside for a walk is useful. The wind scrapes your face and blows away your introversion. Sometimes you just need to look up and get a sense of perspective.

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