Let’s face it.
None of us enjoy the thought of rejection.
Whether it is a carefully crafted short story, a wonderful piece of poetry, a film you’ve lovingly directed over a whole week or a portrait of the Queen, the idea that anyone would simply turn around and write it off as of no use fills every artist’s mind with dread!
And yet every single one of us will have to face rejection at some point in our careers… it is pretty much an inevitability. In fact, a successful writer friend of mine once told me that he could wallpaper his entire flat with the number of rejection letters he had received over the last few years. To be a professional writer you have to be ridiculously thick-skinned.
At first, I thought that he meant that artists simply ignore rejections and move on, and to a certain extent I was right. But what he was really driving at was that rejection is a part of an artist’s life and the sooner you embrace it, the sooner you will progress as a writer.
So this brings me to this week’s midweek tip:
Dealing with Rejection
There are five stages of dealing with rejection and you can find an in depth explanation of these almost anywhere online if you type “dealing with rejection” into any half decent search engine. For that reason I won’t go into the whos and whats of the five stages too much. Instead I’m going to share something very personal with you…
When I first started this blog a few weeks ago, I knew it was only a matter of time before I would receive a rejection letter. I have received a fair amount in my time but this is the first time I would have received one whilst I was also blogging. I had already decided that, when that time comes, I would note down my feelings to share with you all. So, when on Monday morning I received a rejection letter for a short story I had written, I picked up my notepad and wrote down what was going on in my head.
I have separated the comments I wrote into the five stages of dealing with rejection. For obvious reasons, I will not be revealing the name of the publication in question but, with any luck, it will show you all that rejection is something we all go through and that it is something that is useful.
Pre-Rejection: The Letter
The letter was a perfectly polite and to-the-point letter signed on the behalf of the editor of the publication. I should probably point out at this point that I had conducted market research on this publication and had attempted to write a story taylor-made to their requirements which will explain some of my earlier comments.
The letter simply said the following:
“Dear Mr. Tingley,
Thank you for sending us the enclosed material.
We have read this with interest but regretfully it was felt the outcome was too predictable.
Sorry we are unable to use it.
p.p. The Editor.”
And so the stages began…
Stage One: Denial
“That’s rubbish! All their stories are predictable!”
“I analysed their stories. Mine is no more predictable than any others.”
“Even the funny stories aren’t funny!”
This stage sets in within seconds of reading the word “sorry” in a rejection letter. Your instinctive reaction is to think you may be dreaming or to think that they have mistaken you for someone else. And everyone goes through this stage to a certain extent when they see a rejection letter. But it is this early stage that separates the amateurs from the professionals.
If the end of your dealing with rejection process is you sat at at the end of the bed saying that they are the ones that are wrong, not you, then I’m afraid you will never make it as a professional artist. For all your ranting and raving about how this editor doesn’t know what he or she is doing and that your work is pure gold, the cold hard truth is that they obviously do know what they are doing otherwise they would never have reached the point in their career where they are able to decide whether they want to invest money in your work.
If this is where your rejection cycle ends, all that will end up happening is that you will disregard that publication or buyer from your list of possible patrons because you don’t trust their ability. And that will keep happening until you will eventually have no one left to submit your work to.
So, presuming that you survive stage one, you will move swiftly into one of the darker parts of the process:
Stage Two: Anger
At this point it becomes very hard to read what I had written on the page and even the bits I could work out afterwards were so full of expletives that I couldn’t possibly repeat them here. The general gist is this though:
“How dare they reject it! I wrote it specifically for their magazine! I studied their previous work flawlessly! They don’t know what they’re talking about!”
Needless to say, I was not a happy bunny at this point. And unfortunately there is no sure fire way of saying how long you will be in the angry stage. For some people it is over in a matter of minutes, for others it can last for days. It simply comes down to your character. But the one thing you should never do is attempt to suppress the anger. Let it run its course and you will eventually find yourself in…
Stage Three: Bargaining
Ideally this stage should last a fair amount of time. This is the stage where you are finally beginning to accept that there may be something wrong with your work and you start hunting down what those problems might be.
In my case, this stage lasted a good three hours or so, but you wouldn’t know that from my notebook which has very little written on the page at this point. There are, however, numerous scribbles on the manuscript (that the publication had sent back to me) where I started underlining bits that I didn’t like and drawing a line through bits that weren’t actually needed.
One of the few things that jumps out off the page of the notebook are the words:
“I’m not sure I like the ending either!”
Stage Four: Depression
This is usually the part of the rejection process where people start to question whether they are good enough. Most, if not all of us, start to consider whether now is a good time to pack away our pens, shut down our computers, hide our paints in the cupboard and start focussing on the job we’ve got rather than the one we want.
This is completely normal.
However, being a creative jack-of-all-trades, my response in the notebook was a bit more positive, but the air of depression was very much lingering in the background:
“Maybe I should just give up on short fiction and focus on my poetry and non-fiction.”
“I’m shooting a segment for a tv series this week. That should be my priority.”
These thoughts are what ultimately cause artists to give up and pack away their gear. They cause us to consider quitting and, eventually, some of us might actually go as far as giving up. But this is a stage of rejection that, like anger, we can’t do a great deal about. It is like sitting on a boat in the storm – all you can do is just ride it out and eventually you will come out the other side.
Stage Five: Acceptance
I think the name of this stage is a bit of a misnomer. Other people have changed it to other things such as Rebound but I don’t think even that cuts it. Basically it is in this final stage that you either decide to learn from your mistakes and carry on or you channel your creativity into another artistic endeavour. Sometimes both.
Either way, if you have reached this stage, you are ready to throw yourselves back out there and take on the world once again.
For this final stage, my notebook simply reads:
“1. Edit manuscript.”
“2. Find new magazine who might be interested.”
“3. Write a new story that is more suitable for this publisher.”
“I need to blog this!”