I started a blog: The Rejection Survival Guide. It had been 15 years since I’d sent my first query letter to an agent. Since then, I’d had many ups and downs and starts and stops and even some “almosts”—but never a “yes.” My sixth novel showed the most promise, but a few months earlier, the full manuscript had been rejected for the fourth time. Along with the 100+ rejections I’d racked up from other agents, plus all the rejections for the short stories I’d been submitting to literary magazines, I started to wonder if my calling in life was to get rejected. Well, I reasoned, at least I’m pretty good at it.
Getting a “no” is very different after you’ve experienced some “yeses.”
All the writers I’d heard of hadn’t been rejected nearly that much before getting published. (That story about C. S. Lewis being rejected hundreds of times—it’s a myth.) Getting rejected was the one area in which I could sincerely boast a great deal of experience.
When you ask for advice about how to cope with the emotional roller coaster of submission, you’ll usually get one or both of two answers: “Don’t get your hopes up,” and “Focus on your next project and try not to think about it.”
I don’t know about you, but I found both of those answers incredibly unsatisfying.
Don’t get me wrong; focusing on your next project is a great idea. But not if you’re doing it instead of coping with the difficult emotions that come up when you get rejected. There’s only so much disappointment and frustration you can suppress.
Trust me. I’ve tried.
It all comes out in some form or other—whether it’s a major breakdown at 3 a.m. or being irritable and emotionally unavailable to your loved ones. Ask any psychologist: emotional suppression never really works.
I take even more serious issue with “Don’t get your hopes up.”
I’ve learned the hard way that hope is something to be cultivated, not stifled.
Look, I get it. The higher the hopes, the harder the fall. That’s how I thought about it for a long time. I tried to kill hope at any cost, to protect myself from the pain of disappointment.
But eventually I discovered that hope isn’t just a place you fall from. It’s a place where we reach higher, breathe better, see farther. I discovered that I needed to feel hope to keep moving forward. More than that, it was the only thing that really helped me feel better after a painful rejection. Hope was the best antidote to despair.
Well … that, and Rejection Chocolate.
You see, at some point along the way, I started little ritual. I have a stash of mini chocolate bars in my closet. Every time I get a rejection, I treat myself to one. It may sound silly, but it caused a complete paradigm shift. Now, instead of feeling nothing but dread about rejections, I have something to look forward to. And when I’m considering submitting a piece to someplace intimidating, I can say: “Well, what the hell. Worst case scenario, I get some chocolate out of it.”
I began to grow tired of advice from people who had already succeeded. It’s easy to say “keep trying” when you landed an agent after sending a few dozen query letters. I couldn’t genuinely accept encouragement when it was from people whose road to success was smoother than mine. They can’t fully appreciate how hard it is to keep risking failure when you’ve failed so many times, without a single success.
That’s how The Rejection Survival Guide was born.
I wanted to reach out to other writers and artists who were in my position. I wanted to challenge the common wisdoms about coping with rejection. I wanted to discourage the use of “prophylactic pessimism” to numb ourselves to disappointment, and encourage creatives to open themselves to the healing, uplifting power of hope. I wanted to try to help them find, and nurture, the voice deep within them that whispers, “I believe in my work.”
So I wrote about the process I’d been going through and the important lessons I’d learned from it. I composed The Creative Resilience Manifesto, a set of core statements that define my concept of a healthy, resilient mindset for creative people trying to get their work in front of an audience.
And here’s the really crazy thing.
Exactly one month and four days after my first post went live … I got my very first acceptance for a short story.
It was followed by another a few months later.
Then, out of the blue, I found a publisher for my novel.
And more and more “yeses” started coming. One after the other.
The truth is, I knew, deep down, that this would happen eventually. That’s exactly the point: I was actively cultivating the hope that it would. I stated in my introduction to the blog : “I’m either going to get published one day, or die trying. Giving up was never an option.”
I can say now, from the other side, that getting a “no” is very different after you’ve experienced some “yeses.” On the one hand, it’s easier to be disappointed, because you are less inclined to assume that it will be a “no.” On the other hand, it’s easier to shrug off: “Eh, that’s all right. I have other ‘yeses’ to celebrate. Someone will say yes to this one eventually.”
In light of this, I think it is that much more important to celebrate the unbelievable courage of those who are still trying and who haven’t had any success yet. You, who have managed to hold on to hope despite all the “nos.” You are amazing, and you need to know that. Keep hoping; keep daring; keep learning, keep experimenting, keep trying new things. And reward yourself for your courage. You deserve it.
How do you cope with the emotional roller coaster of a creative life? What strategies have you developed to encourage yourself? Tell us in the comments!
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