How To Deal With Creative Rejection
Whether you’re a writer, a painter, a poet, a stylist, a musician, a fashion designer, or a creator of any kind, you are going to face rejection.
Rejection will happen at least once – and most likely – hundreds of times. It will take many forms: perhaps an email, or a comment from an editor or boss, or from rude strangers on the internet. Sometimes you will just let it slide by, sometimes you will turn it into a learning experience, and occasionally you will end up crying into a family-sized pizza. No matter how you deal with creative rejection, even those with incredibly thick skin get down about it sometimes.
Here are a few things to remember on the bad days.
Art is subjective
“Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.” – Andy Warhol
There’s a certain point in the creative process where your work or art isn’t really yours anymore. When you send it out to a buyer, an editor, or a boss, you have set it free into the world – and while that’s easy to say, you also leave yourself feeling vulnerable to whatever comes next.
Creative industries are hugely competitive, no matter what field you are in, and chances are the person you have sent your work to receives tens to hundreds of pieces of work from other artists per day. You are likely, throughout your career, to receive automated rejections, kind replies with a “maybe next time” or absolutely no response whatsoever.
You will also receive criticism, both constructive and not about your work. Some of it might be valid, some of it might not. What it comes down to is this: everyone has a different point of view. The album that you spent years perfecting may be rejected by 10 record companies before you hit the jackpot. Your first novel may need to go through 12 rewrites before a publisher will even take a look, or you might have to go through 15 publishers. You may have to email an editor five times just to get a look-in on your poem.
Just remember that no matter what happens with your piece of art of creative product, you’ve made something. You have created something from nothing, and that’s a goddamn achievement in itself. And there is always a market for everything, you just have to find those who appreciate it.
Everybody gets rejected
“They didn’t like the sound. Groups of guitars were on the way out.” – The Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein, on one of the band’s many record label rejections.
In the early ‘60s, before they were a twinkle in the eye of their beloved international fan base, The Beatles were knocked back time and time again. J.K. Rowling was rejected by 12 different publishers before the Harry Potter series was picked up and Arianna Huffington was famously rejected by 37 (!). Vincent Van Gogh sold a grand total of one painting while he was alive. See where I’m going with this?
Try to remember that you’re not alone in what can feel like a crushing, thankless wasteland. Creative professions and hobbies are always going to include failure and heartbreak, and the most famous creators in the world can attest to careers littered with rejection letters and closed doors.
Make sure you check in with yourself every so often and remember that you aren’t the only person dealing with this. Surround yourself with a community of people who either work in your chosen profession or art form, or who can at least understand it and provide support. And most of all, make sure you don’t burn your bridges in a fit of creative rage – just because you were rejected once, doesn’t mean you will be again!
Give ‘em hell
“By the time I was fourteen the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and went on writing.” – Stephen King
Turns out, rejection can actually boost creativity and motivation if you learn how to make it work for you. Maybe you can ask for feedback, maybe it pushes you to think outside what you had previously considered your creative limits, or maybe it makes you want to succeed even more. It’s important to remember, though, that whether you are creating something for people to buy, to read, or to consume, your creative drive will only be satisfied if you retain your own ideas and style. Don’t let rejection mean you conform to what you think people want, or the mainstream. Keep your unique style and take.
So, make like Stephen King and figure out how to turn your rejection into a positive part of your creative process. Take the hard stuff, and use it for good. Work through rejections in a logical way; is there anything you could improve on or learn from with the project in question? If the rejection is petty or invalid, let it fuel your fire. Be mindful about your reactions and emotional processes, and remember that rejection is just a temporary setback, not a life sentence. Give ‘em hell.
Chloe Papas is a journalist and writer based in Victoria. You can find her on Twitter here.