It’s a sensation we’re probably all familiar with though it never becomes easier to face.
No writer likes to hear, “Nope, sorry, your manuscript/project/idea/fill-in-the-blank just isn’t good enough.”
I recently entered one of my stories in a contest and found myself on the receiving end of some less than complimentary criticism.
To put it bluntly, one judge hated my manuscript. I was accused of having monochromatic characters, stray conversations, and no clear conflict. I even got marked down for grammar.
Me. I love grammar. I mean, I love grammar.
Rejection hit me square in the face, and the downward spiral of doubt began.
Maybe I was wasting my time.
Maybe I really wasn’t a writer after all.
Maybe it was time to put aside the dreams and quit.
I was reminded of a time in high school when I told a guy I liked him, like, really liked him. He brushed me off with the “I’m not looking for a relationship right now, but we can be friends” speech.
To make matters worse, he started dating someone less than a week later. It wasn’t that he didn’t want a relationship, he just didn’t want one with me. I felt like I would never open my heart again.
When my story was rejected, it brought back all those feelings of being insufficient.
I wallowed in this mindset for some time and felt my spark of creativity slowly began to extinguish.
But instead of letting it go out completely, I chose to soothe my weary soul from the sting of rejection because I find storytelling too compelling to give up.
I thought I’d share some of my strategies in case anyone out there is having a difficult time than bouncing back after a harsh evaluation.
1. Get active
Seriously. Exercise is sooo great for us. It releases all kinds of feel-good endorphins, clears our head, not to mention how healthy it is for our body.
I joined a gym a while ago, but hadn’t been. So I pulled on my
big girl yoga pants, and went for a workout. I came home in a much better frame of mind.
2. Gather your tribe around you
We’ve all got someone who loves us and believes in us. Besides my wonderful family and friends, I’ve also got a very supportive critique group. As soon as I got the contest results, I grumbled and reached out to my critique partners. They had nothing but wonderful, warm, and sincere words to share with me about my writing. I was instantly buoyed.
3. Rejoice in your past successes
Nobody fails at everything. Every little success should be celebrated, recorded, and replayed. And not just for posterity’s sake. It can be an instant confident boost to recall the things we were good at, the challenges we overcame, the times we won.
We’ve succeeded before, and we’ll do it again.
I had to stop and tell myself, hey, you have a number of flash fiction pieces published and a short story in an anthology. You can do this!
Remembering those times we did well is much better than focusing on those times we didn’t quite make it.
4. Remind yourself that it’s probably not personal
Any kind of art is highly subjective. It’s kinda like ice cream. If we asked one hundred people their favourite flavour, we might possibly get one hundred different answers.
Some people aren’t going to like what we write/paint/sing the same way some crazy souls don’t agree that mint chocolate chip ice cream is the bomb and should be the only flavour allowed. End of story. No more discussion.
Once I got over my pity party, I looked more carefully at all three judges’ comments and saw that two of them really enjoyed the aspects that the third didn’t particularly care for. For example, where the third judge felt like the pace was too rushed, the first two thought it added excitement to the story.
I mean, maybe the third judge likes to watch paint dry. In which case, of course s/he wouldn’t like my story.
But the bottom line is, we can’t please all the people all the time. Somebody is not going to like what we write/paint/sing, and we’ve got to learn to be okay with that. We’ve got to be able to separate the criticism of our work from who we are as a person. Each of us has value and worth, and our voice is needed.
Which brings me to my final point:
5. Realise your only other option is to quit
Like I said earlier, I don’t want to give up my storytelling. Something deep in me would shrivel up and die.
But unless I’m–unless we’re–willing to be vulnerable and try again, the only other thing to do is to stop trying.
Take me and that experience with the guy in high school.
Fast forward a number of years, and I went out with this other really cool guy. I thought we had a good time, but after our date, he didn’t call me back. I deliberated for a few then decided, you know what? I like him. I really like him. I’ll be the one to call him.
So I did.
And I found out that he liked me too but thought I didn’t like him.
I assured him I did, and we decided to get married 😉
Of course, that’s the short version. But the point is, we’ve either got to be vulnerable, or we’ve got to quit.
And if we quit, we lose out on all sorts of opportunities. If I hadn’t called him back (because I was afraid of rejection), we never would’ve had a second date, and a third date, etc.
Brené Brown is a motivational speaker who has a lot to say about the subject of vulnerability. Her research discovered that the happiest and most fulfilled people are those with the most vulnerability. Those who keep going. Those who look for the next opportunity.
So that’s me. And that’s why I’m going to keep writing. And that’s why I’m still looking for the next contest to enter.
I’d love to hear how you handle rejection! Why don’t you share some of your strategies?
Jebraun signing off.