When your work is rejected, what is your default reaction? Despair? Indignation? Anger? Doubt? My immediate response is usually some variation of despondency. Depending on the piece of work and the forum I submitted it to, this might range from mild disappointment, to full blown despair. And though I’ve had some writing successes, this doesn’t always help, because if I was successful then, why not now? In the past month, I’ve had my first rejection from an agent for my novel submission, I was unsuccessful in a short story competition I particularly wanted to do well in and a promised publication of a short story hasn’t yet materialised. So you might expect that, by now, I’d be curled on the floor, starting a descent into the doubt doldrums.
But no. This year, I made a decision to celebrate rejection. The idea came from the actress, Susan Sarandon, who, when she didn’t get a part, would always celebrate. At the time, this might have been something as simple as buying herself an avocado, if that was all she could afford, but the point was to mark the moment with a little celebration.
Rejection is part of a writer’s life. We all know this. But, instead of resigning ourselves to regular moments of despair, why not choose a different reaction? It may seem as though there is nothing to celebrate. Those stories we’ve written, those pictures we’ve painted, they’re personal. A result of our deepest thoughts and our greatest efforts. And someone, somewhere, has told us that this wasn’t good enough. Putting aside the usual platitudes that it’s all subjective, it’s about luck and timing as well as talent (all of which may be true), there is still reason to celebrate.
Rejection is a good thing because it means you’ve tried. You had the talent and perseverance to create something. You were confident enough to see yourself as an artist or a writer and to demand that the world look at your work. You had the courage to send that work out there, because you considered it worthy of being seen. And then, when your work was rejected, you did it all again.
Celebrate consciously. Do something that is a treat for you: savour a good meal, go to a concert or gallery, read a book in one sitting, have a massage. If there is something you would usually do to forget your unhappiness, such as having a drink or eating chocolate, do something different. This isn’t about forgetting the pain of disappointment, it’s about recognising what the pain represents. Face up to the fact that you’ve been rejected so you can remember that you acted.
I’m sure I’m not alone in keeping each rejection letter or email I’m sent. I don’t do this to wallow in disappointment, but so that I have a record of every time I’ve made a submission. I don’t keep them in a shameful darkened drawer, but in the same folder in which I store my successes. All of them are stops on my journey. And if I celebrate the lows as well as the highs, the trip will be so much sweeter.