Not Today Thank You.
“Rejection slips however tactfully phrased are lacerations of the soul, if not inventions of the devil-but there is no way round them.” Isaac Asimov
Not so far back, in the days when I regularly submitted work to Open Art Exhibitions, rejection all part of the process, but I used to take it very personally and often needed time out to recover. When I did score a hit it made up for and somehow validated the process, eventually creating a dependency that lead to a toxic addiction. The salve of selection by a gallery was always temporary and soon I would be furiously making work towards the next round of competitions.
“Thank you for sending me a copy of your work-I’ll waste no time reading it.” Moses Hadas
Going back to University and the academic rigour of the inevitable Crits, helped me manage criticism and use it to refine my work and even make me work harder. This was perhaps easier in an educational rather than Real Life setting, as we (the students) were all in the same boat. We never really talked about rejection though, just took it home with us and inwardly digested it.
“This is not a novel not to be tossed aside lightly, it should be thrown with great force.” Dorothy Parker
By the time I finished the MA, I thought I had got the whole receiving criticism thing sorted, having learnt how to deconstruct and then usefully assimilate salient points. Yeah right, after the MA the very first outright rejection floored me. Full of post-MA zeal and academic bluster, I had made a proposal that involved filling the below-decks of a lightship, with raspberry flavoured jelly. Perhaps in hindsight, even I can see that this was rather a big ask and not surprisingly, turned down.
“Rejected pieces aren’t failures-unwritten pieces are.” Greg Daugherty
Suffice to say, I got over myself. Later on, segueing into writing was like starting again, in a new and untested arena. When I screwed up my courage and timidly began to send out texts to literary competitions, amazingly, three out of the first four attempts resulted in literary credits. It was all a bit too easy and I set about writing and sending off another batch…but this time, it all went very quiet. To be fair one story was shortlisted and two editors bothered to write very nice “almost there” letters, but it felt like the magic spell had been broken. That my beginner’s luck had finally run out.
“The only one who doesn’t make mistakes is the one who doesn’t do anything.” V.I. Lenin
Fortunately, I knew a formula to help recovery, and if I had, had a back catalogue of writing I would have shut myself away and reread it. But in lieu of words, I looked instead at some old drawings, recently come to light, almost thrown out. I had completely forgotten their existence, but spending time allowing them to take me back to the exact feeling of that particular drawing experience, in reminding me of the joy; re-infused me with a shot of self-belief.
“If you want the rainbow, you’ve got to put up with the rain.” Dolly Pardon
I also researched some famous literary rejections which left me humbled and full of admiration as it seems that all my writing heroes have been cruelly and serially rejected by even the best publishing houses. I began to realise that unlike artistic rejection, which is rarely discussed and often denied, literary rejection is seen as a necessary precursor to success and, rejection slips/emails, emblems of effort, badges worn, even flaunted with pride. And now I can flaunt with the best of them.
“If your ship hasn’t come in, swim out to it.” Mary Englebreit