I would be lying if I told you that I had no fear of rejection. We all want to be liked, to be accepted. We hope that we find someone we like and we hope that they like us in return. As a human, it’s impossible not to have a relationship with rejection, especially if you happen to be a creative person. We are required to put our work, and by extension ourselves, out there to accept judgement from everyone else. When I was an actor, before I could even practice my craft, I was obligated to audition. Ostensibly, auditions are designed to find the perfect collection of performers to realize a story. But from an actor’s perspective, it is asking permission someone permission to create art. And, as any actor will tell you, most of the time the answer is no. No matter how you steal yourself against it, it still stings when you’re told you are not the one.
With writing, you can create the art on your own, but you do still require others for that work to be validated. A story unread is a story half lived. After countless hours alone spent dreaming and writing and rewriting and editing, then you begin the process of submitting–to contests, to agents, to publications. You are asking, via query letter, for them to give you a chance to let other people see the thing you’ve been working so hard on. You’re asking for the opportunity for people to read your story. And you get rejected time and time again. Sometimes it’s a detailed response, sometimes it’s a form letter and sometimes it’s just silence. Not right for this agency, You’d be better represented by someone else, Not right for this publication … It’s not you, it’s me … it’s most definitely you, you hack.
Even with self (indie) publication comes rejection. If you put a thing out there into the world and not one buys it, what’s that? Suddenly Amazon is that dating site that everyone is swiping away on (is it right or left–I don’t do online dating, so my metaphor here gets a little clunky).
Writers who have made it will talk about past rejections, about collections of letters that said no before they got the one that said yes. They might talk about the first couple of books that didn’t go anywhere until the one that hit. This is like that married friend telling you that there are other fish in the sea, that they to had a few relationships fail before they found the right one. They’re not wrong, but from the perspective of the rejected, knowing that not everyone can be that successful author or that married friend, that rejection still hurts. Especially if you’ve poured everything you have into it.
Visual art is no different. I draw and I paint. There is a little more immediate gratification to have something to look at immediately when you’re done–a picture snapped of the picture that I might post on Instagram. But once posted, has the photo been liked (by something other than a bot)? What of all the people who don’t click like, especially all of the people that you’re personally connected to? Isn’t that a form of rejection? I’ve had people tell me that they love my art, that they’d love to have some of it, and then never purchase a painting or a drawing. I independently produced two sketchbooks, testing different publishers and formats. Of all the people that insisted that they wanted one, that “like” the posts where I announced and promoted them, three were purchased (one by my brother). I participated in one Art-A-Whirl (see a few posts back) and while I did have a fair number of sales and compliments, I also left with dozens of prints and almost all of my original work. For the small successes, there’s still quite a bit of rejection in there.
When you are creative, you pour a lot of yourself into your work. It’s time, it’s perspective, it’s your heart. It’s hard for that to not feel the same as when your girlfriend breaks up with you suddenly–it’s not you, it’s me–or for the relationship non-starter, or the unanswered texts, or the silence.
The personal and the professional blur together. We keep trying though, through the rejection after rejection after rejection, because we need to make art, we hope to be accepted, we hope to find a connection, any connection that justifies us. As I plan revisions for my novel, as I paint another picture that I might enter in a contest, each time feeling the same as when you stand in front of the person you have feelings for and asking them out …
We hope that we are not our rejection.
More later …