“[…] part of the process of trying to make something better is to listen open-heartedly to what the world says. Before I was able to start publishing, I was feeling a certain way toward what I was writing – feeling pretty good, working from a certain realist mindset – but the world kept yawning at what I had written. So, this “allowed” (i.e., forced) me to seek around for a different mindset out of which to write – one that ended up being more truthful to who I actually was as a person. (In short, I’d been keeping the humor out of it, as well as my growing class-awareness.)
This is the great gift that rejection affords us: it drives us down into a place of deeper and sometimes uncomfortable honesty about what we’ve done – about where the work came from – and might cause us to ask questions like, “Is this how I really feel?” or, “Is this voice related at all to the the person I am in my real life – the way I approach problems, make joy, entertain others?”George Saunders, “On Rejection”, Story Club
It’s easy to feel that nobody cares about your writing. Maybe your work keeps getting rejected by magazine editors. Maybe very few people read your blog posts because, among other things, you don’t know how to get their attention. In any case it’s discouraging and leads back to the perennial problem for creative people: how do I keep going?
One practice that works for me is to keep and maintain a garden or storehouse of ideas. Ralph Waldo Emerson kept notebooks he indexed and mined extensively for his lectures and books. I prefer a digital zettelkasten system and so far I’ve amassed around two hundred and thirty notes on anything and everything I’ve found interesting from a variety of fields such as philosophy, semantics, politics, music and economics, to name but a few. Anything goes.
The greatest benefit of an idea garden, as I see it, is that it can be a safe place for your writing, much like a journal, where ideas are accepted just as they are, while also being a place where the seeds of ideas can grow and bear fruit which we can, in time, take to the market.
“Failure is part of it. You will be rejected dozens and dozens of times. The best way to prepare for it is to have something else in the works by the time the rejection letter arrives. Invest your hope in the next project. Learning to cope with rejection is a good trait to develop.”Po Bronson, Advice on Writing and the Writing Life
“… for every accomplishment there were twenty rejections. A dance company thought my style was incompatible with theirs. A casting director found me lacking. An editor considered my writing too fanciful, or too plain, too abstract or too concrete. I could go on for hours. In the end, though, only one attitude enabled me to move ahead. That attitude said, ‘Rejection can simply mean redirection.’”Maya Angelou, quoted in ‘Why I Called Maya Angelou ‘Mother‘
Seth Godin writes in The Practice:
“[…] because there’s far more supply than demand, most of the feedback we receive is rejection. Rejection comes not just from the market, but from self-confident gatekeepers who we perceive as knowing more than we do.”
In my experience the worst thing about a rejection is not that they said no but that they won’t tell me why they said no so, in the absence of an answer, I supply my own answers. Maybe I’m no good? Why else would they say no?
Science tells us that our brains evolved to seek certainty even when the evidence, in a more critical light, is sketchy and unfounded. When confronted with uncertainty, in particular the uncertainty of a rejection without feedback, we scramble for an answer and in our haste we can latch onto beliefs that just aren’t true.
But sometimes there are good reasons for withholding feedback in a rejection. If you’re a magazine editor you can expect abuse if you tell a writer why their work wasn’t accepted because most writers pour themselves heart and soul into their work and any criticism of the work is a criticism of their very being. When a critic gave one of his novels a bad review the writer Richard Ford bought one of her books, blasted it with his shotgun then mailed it to her.
I’m astounded when I read of people being rejected hundreds of times before they finally broke through. For example, the actor Mark Ruffalo was rejected for 600 auditions. Can you fathom the emotional toll of being rejected that many times? We know, in hindsight, that he eventually succeeded but at the time he didn’t know. I applaud anyone who keeps going. Perhaps the only guarantee of success is that we don’t stop.
Og Mandino writes in The Greatest Salesman in the World:
“[…] it is not given to me to know how many steps are necessary in order to reach my goal. Failure I may still encounter at the thousandth step, yet success hides behind the next bend in the road. Never will I know how close it lies unless I turn the corner.”
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