Rejection

by Deborah Atherton

September is here, and it’s that time of year for many of us – time to send out proposals, time to submit our work to editors or galleries or agents or producers.  I’ve been sending out my work for many years, and no matter how many positive responses I’ve received, it’s the negative ones that stick with me.  The power of positive thinking seems to shrivel when confronted with my deep distaste for handing my work over to someone else to accept or reject.

Why does one rejection send us into a spiral of misery? One of my favorite positive psychologists, Tal Ben-Shahar, has something to say about that:  “When we fail to attain a desired outcome, we often extrapolate from that experience the belief that we have no control over our lives or over certain parts of it. That thinking leads to despair.”

Despair describes the feeling I get on opening an envelope with yet another rejection slip pretty perfectly.  But how can we combat it, that feeling that no one will ever be interested in the work that takes up all the waking minutes we might otherwise be more profitably spending on, say, actually making a profit?

Habit. It just has to be a habit.  We have to know that despite the ten rejections we got this month, we are going to send out ten more poems, or sets of slides, or CDs, next month.  Our creative work sometimes has to wait on inspiration; our submission of it can not.  If we send out a piece this month, and wait for the response, we most likely won’t be sending out a piece next month.  (For one thing, NOBODY will get back to you in just a month.)

It takes 30 days for a habit to take root within us; and, honestly, if you’ve had years of haphazard submissions and rejections, it is probably going to take longer than that.  Writers’ Relief, the selective writers submission service, tells us that for writers (and these are all writers who are copyedited and can spell), 1 in 99 submissions is accepted.  (I don’t have statistics on other art forms, but observation tells me this is pretty close to what composers, visual artists, and others face.)

So that’s the story, folks.  Maybe you can assign one otherwise depressing Monday night a month to gritting your teeth and shipping out your work.  Maybe, if you’ve got a strong stomach, you can do it more often than that. But if it doesn’t become a habit, it won’t get done at all.

And just think how wonderful you’ll feel the day following your 99th rejection when you get that email or note or phone call saying: you’re in!

And now that you’ve made a habit, you won’t let that stop you either (unless of course this is your magnum opus, and its acceptance means your life work is done) on the next appointed Monday, when you will send your work out again.

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4 Responses to Rejection

  1. AUTHENTIC AWAKENING says:

    Thank you for this post. It really speaks to me directly today. I do believe that positive self-talk can help while building the habits.

    • deborahatherton says:

      Positive self-talk can be very helpful, especially because our brains seem to really love revving up the negative self-talk whenever given the opportunity. I know there are deep evolutionary reasons for this – but wouldn’t it be nice if we were given naturally to a little optimism instead!

  2. Richard says:

    I tend to see rejections as simply a differing opinion, and leave it at that. It’s not always a helpful approach, because it can get in the way of progress in your work, but it’s a great way of avoiding the despair. If I say something I think is funny, maybe 5 out of 5 people will laugh along. The 5 that didn’t simply don’t share my sense of humour.

    • deborahatherton says:

      This comment sent my mind off in another direction entirely, which is how much I care about whether an audience laughs at my jokes in my librettos and lyrics, or when I do a reading of one of my stories. I always feel like laughter is the best acceptance there is – and a dead room when you’ve offered a bit of humor is the worst. Clearly I’ve got a few more issues with rejection than you do!

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