How Do We Keep Creating After Soul Crushing Rejection?
A few weeks after sending out another batch of query materials, I received a bit of feedback. The first of which was a three line form letter that quickly got the point across. My work was not for them. A couple of hours later, my email check gave me another letter with – you guessed it – rejection. But this one was a chunky paragraph suggesting I should keep revising and submitting to agents because the premise held promise. I immediately threw my arm up with a squeal.
Does this sound familiar? For most writers, the phase of searching for an agent or publisher takes a plethora of qualities that may have nothing to do with your craft and connections. Actors, salespersons, film-makers, photographers, artists, and every creative genius running about hope to measure up to a standard or at least get noticed in their field.
The embarrassing part for me, is that later that day I drove home from a visit with family in the gloomy rain with only my thoughts. All the rejections I’d piled up with repeated queries after personalizing each one, researching the appropriate agents, and responding to requests for partial and full manuscripts that only ended in disappointment; floated through my thoughts. But there was another issue that had me ruminating in despair.
Since my journey began, the most difficult part of requesting representation for my work is not the rejection letter. Sure, that stings, but the bigger issue is no response at all. It’s like a slow leak in your balloon that ends up in the corner, totally deflated. I suppose it’s a little easier to pop the balloon and throw it away.
By the time I steered my car into the driveway, I was marred in the jungle of self-pity.
According to research, being ignored IS worse than outright rejection. In the April 2021 issue of Psychology Today, Wendy L. Patrick, Ph.D. explains how indifference can be more painful than rejection. When we are ignored, we experience a more significant hit to our psyche. That explains why I celebrate a little when I get a kind rejection letter. I feel that I’ve been found worthy of the agent’s time.
Realistically, agents can’t respond to hundreds of requests and consumers can’t buy every product. We have to learn to cope with the stinger and the silent treatment.
The trick is to develop a strategy or coping mechanism that will help us endure that prickly hit to the gut or the slow fade of hope. Unfortunately, living the creative life includes weathering it all; rejection, criticism, change, and many steps to success.
One step toward that success isn’t just perseverance. It begins with adjusting the goal you have to climb along the rungs of success to include steps you can control. Rather than focusing only on publishing or selling your creation, consider producing more and/or learning additional skills.
For example, I sat in a writing conference once, when a gentleman told the presenter he had submitted a manuscript over 200 times. She politely told him that he may want to seek assistance with revising or learning how to improve his writing. I couldn’t agree more. Even best-selling authors, actors, and producers have to keep learning and growing or their creations are reduced to memories.
The next time you have poured your soul into a creation you then send off for someone’s judgement, separate yourself from your “baby” enough to see that your work is not you and is a reflection of you that will change in time. Allow yourself (even welcome) a period of grief when getting disappointing news.
Check your goals to make sure they are within your control. Re-engage in the medium you are committed to with a work in progress or a skill building exercise. Feeling that writing muse flowing through your veins can lighten your spirits.
Also, toughen your skin in order to accept meaningful criticism that will improve your outcomes in the future. Maintaining an attitude of humility and adopting a growth mindset will help us avoid too many moments spent in the jungle of self-pity.
A final suggestion for coping with disappointment in any industry is to not go it alone. Most creative passions are completed in solitude, but we are social beings. We need others to comfort us, cheer us on, and even kick us in the rump from time to time. If an accomplishment were easy, it wouldn’t mean so much would it? I encourage you to find, rekindle, or increase your inner joy in your pursuits. That way, at least you will have fun during the journey to your mountaintop. What could be better than that?