Ten Reasons Rejection Won’t Kill You


Photograph of American poet Walt Whitman in th...
Mr. Whitman. Image via Wikipedia


It’s interesting watching how people react to criticism of their work or their ideas.

Too often, they mistakenly conflate a rejection of these for some more general loathing of them as people, whose real and enduring value to the world extends far beyond their professional definitions or creative aspirations.

Here’s a wise take on it from a fellow blogger on WordPress.

We all, as Walt Whitman wrote, contain multitudes. When someone (other than an editor paying me for it), hates my writing, I laugh. It’s one opinion, even if shared by thousands.

I’m still a loving daughter, a generous friend, a loyal partner, a talented photographer/athlete/cook/artist, world traveler, formerly nationally ranked athlete. My words aren’t (only) who I am.

Hate my words? It happens. They’re one part of my identity, and as carefully chosen and edited as any other of my public presentations.

If someone swoops in and flays you for yours, then what?

The same idea can be applied to virtually any creative endeavor, whether poetry or photography or cooking or designing a room.

A creator or innovator expresses their vision. Theirs. But it’s easy to forget that:

You are not your ideas. If you can’t divorce the two, you’re putting too many eggs in one basket. Your choice. What will you do and how will you feel when people reject them/you out of hand and possibly very rudely?

People have no idea what to make of the truly original. If an idea is so new or radical or game-changing as to challenge the current paradigm, it will scare, theaten, piss off or annoy people currently deeply invested — emotionally, intellectually, financially or all three — in it. They will shred you. This “rejection” is quite possibly then, about them, not you.

Rejection of an idea may require re-tooling it. Just because this iteration isn’t working out, maybe the next version will. (See: The Wright Brothers.) That’s why artists working on paper have A/Ps — artist’s proofs — to see how it actually looks. It might be lousy. Maybe you need to re-think or fix it.

Are they rejecting the idea or its execution? Many people now, unwisely, conflate effort with success. They did X so X must, simply because you made it, be amazing. No. Some Xs require training and practice to be(come) truly excellent or appeal to a wide(r) audience.

What (hidden, unknown) obstacles lie in its path? I had a brilliant new idea, (I hoped), and ran it past some people in that industry who know its specific obstacles. They liked the idea but explained why it might never fly — not because the idea is weak but because the execution of it is far more expensive that I realized. Now I know!

Feedback is merely information. Take it or leave it. Freaking out is a total waste of time. Take what will help you achieve your goal most effectively and leave the rest. Don’t personalize feedback.

Define your goals clearly and with a timeline and a measure of progress. You want to show your photos or art in a commercial gallery or local library? What steps have you taken on that path? Rejection along the way stings far less if you have aimed for a specific few goals, can be a little flexible about “success” and keep on plugging.

Timing matters. A lot. Many stunning works of fiction and non-fiction simply disappeared from public view, criticism and potential success because they were published on…Sept. 11, 2001. There’s no way anyone could have predicted that, but it hurt many people’s longed-for dreams as the world shifted focus.

You may be offering your work to the wrong audience. Every community has deeply held beliefs about what is valid, important, worth listening to and validating. If your ideas are consistently rejected and demeaned within a community you thought worth joining, find a better fit. Others exist. Make one!

You need the courage of your convictions. Allowing total strangers on-line who shout, shriek, curse — and rally others to their cause to join the chorus — to intimidate you gives them way too much power. Unless they can cost you your livelihood, health, home and/or the safety of your loved ones, (which is when lawyers and law enforcement come in handy), why surrender your peace of mind to the bullying of a bunch of ghosts?

I was lucky. I grew up in a family of people who earned their living — and a good one — through writing, directing and producing material for print, television and film. No one has a pension. No one had a “real job.” We all had agents, learned to negotiate, to live within or below our means because a steak year — success!! — could easily be followed by a hamburger year.

We all know the marketplace is fickle and frightening and so we all developed thick skins, back-up plans and f—k you funds so we can walk away from work and projects that are a time-suck and talent-killer.

Rejection? Hah!

13 thoughts on “Ten Reasons Rejection Won’t Kill You

  1. Brilliantly highlighted points, rejection can hurt, but disagreement doesn’t mean a total negative reaction to every aspect of one’s being. Like you said, you are not your writing, that’s just one part.

  2. Pingback: I needed to hear this! « my purplehoneyjar

  3. Stephanie Keyes

    I absolutely adore your blog and have taken to referring to it every day. I am so engaged I am forgetting to post on my own site. 🙂 Excellent advice as always. Opinions are only data points, right? Take ’em or leave ’em.

    1. I’m honored! I won’t only be writing about writing, so I hope you’ll enjoy those posts as well.

      Opinions are only data points BUT they are also essential to some projects and less so for others. I think you have to seriously consider the source and their skill and motivation. Some people can be real “frenemies” and sometimes it’s hard to see that. Others just aren’t very sophisticated readers. I am very lucky to have a few people who are very skilled editors willing to take a look at my book manuscripts.

  4. Lisa

    Thank you so much for sharing your wise words. I cannot tell you how many times I have questioned my own work based on the reactions of one or two others, when in reality those one or two people are in the minority. I get so mad at myself for doing that, but it is a hard habit to break. So from now on, to borrow from you, “Rejection? Hah!”

    1. Lisa, I think it’s an ongoing challenge for every writer hoping to sell their work. The decision as to what is great work and what is not is so subjective! I’ve had one editor dismiss a piece that won me, for another editor at another magazine, my National Magazine Award. I can tell you that changed my perspective.

      Yet we do have to listen to others…and who are they? Are they people whose opinion we really respect? When I sent my new book around to my five “first readers” (all very carefully chosen) I was curious to see what they each thought. Luckily, they all like it a lot — and their criticisms were also unanimous. So I knew what really needed fixing. Of course, each person reacted slightly differently to different things, and that was also very helpful.

  5. Hi there,
    Just wanted to say how much I value this blog, it’s probably my favourite thing on WordPress and is infinately helpful. Thank you for writing it and please keep doing so :-).

  6. Pingback: Ten Reasons Rejection Won’t Kill You (via Broadside) « taraisarockstar's blog

  7. I like this. Writing to express an idea, which has a personality of its own is appealing, and then putting things on a professional footing should make reactions easier to bear.
    Thanks. Sound advice is always valued.

  8. Pingback: Overcoming Rejection « V.V. Denman

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