Welcome back to our series Ask Angella, where we do exactly that.
If you’ve ever had a potentially sensitive creative question, we want you to throw it our way so that we can hand it over to Angella: our resident art writer, expert, and all-around kind, funny and wise human being. Here’s the question we’ll tackle this month:
“I keep getting told “no”, or just plain ignored and it’s really hard not to get discouraged about my work. How do you deal with rejection and do you have any tips for me??”
Oh man, rejection just plain sucks. As a freelance writer who regularly cold-pitches, I get rejected a lot. It comes in many forms: emails that read “We’re gonna pass,” drafts marked in red, denied budgets, and my least favorite, never hearing back. On average, for every piece I’ve successfully published, I have experienced at least three rejections. Maybe that sounds like a lot, but I know it’s par for the course. If I believe my idea is good and no one else does, does it mean it’s bad? Nope. It just means it hasn’t found its proper home or it needs retooling. Rejection doesn’t have to equate to failure, instead you can use it as a tool to make yourself a stronger and better-equipped artist.
Let yourself feel it
Let’s face it: rejection hurts. It can be embarrassing and hearing “no” feels discouraging. Denying your emotions about not getting what you hoped to get won’t help you process the pain, learn from the experience, or get back on the horse. Once you get the rejection letter, do what you need to do to process it. Cry, yell, curse the universe and the people who rejected you because clearly, they’re fools and then get on with business. But let yourself feel it and have compassion on yourself. It’s okay, bb. You’ll do better next time.
Remember times of positive feedback
Being rejected, while painful, does not mean you’re a total failure. In fact, it’s a chance to improve. When feeling kicked to the curb, recall positive feedback you’ve received in the past, including but not limited to: every compliment on Instagram, every hire, every time your mom said you did a good job–pull that to mind and take heart. Grab a loyal pal and ask for a pep talk if you need reminding.Taking the risk is half the battle and just because one place doesn’t take you doesn’t mean you’re disqualified from applying somewhere else or even applying again! Rejection means you were putting yourself out there and that’s half the battle. You made a bold move and that’s something to be celebrated!
Ask for feedback
The way I see it, getting rejected means you’re pushing some sort of boundary. Most places will take the time to tell you where you went wrong if you ask. This is also a chance to be memorable by showing them your tenacity and dedication to your work, as well as your curiosity and willingness to restructure your idea or artwork. Who knows? Maybe the next time around they’ll remember your name and accept you. Or maybe you’ll disagree with their points and realize it wasn’t a good fit anyway. Knowing why you were rejected takes the sting out a little and gives you something concrete to work on.
Try not to take it personally
More than half the time, rejection is a matter of space and fit, meaning your idea may very well be good (and probably is!), it just didn’t fit into what the magazine, residency, or program called for or there wasn’t enough space. Rejection can be a relief–if your work wasn’t a good fit for them, then it probably isn’t a good fit for your idea. Weigh out the pros and cons: what is the opportunity cost from publishing with this magazine or time spent at that residency? Ask yourself what were you hoping to get that rejection is keeping you from. Is it exposure? Cash? Being aligned with that publication? Be flexible. There is probably another avenue you can take to get what you want without compromising your vision or chasing an opportunity that’s more of a dead end.
Accept rejection as a regular part of creative life
As long as you’re pushing yourself, rejection will be an unavoidable feature of a professional creative life. Consider it a practice in patience and flexibility. Anything worth doing is often difficult and rejection is part of expanding your scope of influence. The further along you go in your creative life, the more you’ll find opportunities worth working for. And with that comes risk, and with risk, rejection. You may not hit your mark the first, second, or third time but these “failures” are only opportunities to sharpen your skills.
Rejection is also a litmus for how much you want to follow through on a particular idea. If your idea gets rejected, would you still work hard to make it happen? If you’re having difficulty finding a place for your work it might be time to create one. Lack of opportunity doesn’t have to mean you have to quit what you love.