Celebrating rejection

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

64 thoughts on “Celebrating rejection

  1. I find I go through stages after rejection, starting with despondency like you and ending with acceptance and motivation to work that much harder. I like that idea of celebrating rejection, though I’m not sure I’ll ever be zen enough to do so. 🙂

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  2. I completely agree. We have lessons to learn from our failures as well as our successes. It is important I think to remember that rejections of our work are solely rejections of the product we created rather than our inner person. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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    • Thanks for visiting and commenting – it can be hard to separate the two when it’s a creative endeavour, something that we can be so emotionally connected to, but that’s right, it’s work like any other work product we produce.

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  3. what a wonderful post Andrea! I only keep the ‘constructive’ rejection letters which I feel fortunate to have quite a few of 🙂 those from agents who took the time to give me pointers. The standard, one-line rejections have all been deleted or thrown away. Yes, I think I’ll start celebrating every rejection (of which there has been a lot of late) with a glass of something sour sweet.

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    • Thank you! It’s great that you’ve had a decent amount of constructive rejections, which must give you hope that you have talent which either just isn’t quite right for them or just needed a little more honing. Good luck and I hope you can celebrate some successes soon also.

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  4. Thank you so much for this post. It’s quite timely for me as I prepare to launch into query mode this summer. It’s one main reason I will be putting aside blogging for a couple of months. I’ve been kind of stalling the past couple of weeks, and I know it’s because I’m afraid. Even though I expect to be rejected, that awareness is abstract compared to an email rejection which is quite concrete and final. I must push forward and start sending out those queries. And celebrate with every response. 🙂

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    • Good for you Kate, lots of luck for your submissions. It is difficult to see the sender on the email then get your hopes up and realise it’s a no, but there’s always another submission which will hopefully be successful.

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  5. I’m sorry to read about your recent disappointment experiences, Andrea, but I was inspired by your attitude toward rejection. Rejection letters will always make me sad, but the more I write and submit the easier I move on. I don’t exactly celebrate but I can accept the fact that I wasn’t able to trigger the agent or editor’s interest. Starting a very different story right away helps me to keep my creativity intact, even if I hurt. Thank you for your honesty and personal ways to move beyond rejection letters.

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    • Thanks Evelyne – they’re small disappointments on the way, but I think it’s easier to celebrate rejections when you know they’re just part of the process and there will always be the hope of the next. And having things to submit feels like success, because it means my writing has moved on so much from the years when I didn’t take myself seriously enough to submit at all.

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  6. what a wonderful philosophy of life!! Yes, be thankful for your victories and for your defeats. I loved reading this and I haven’t even submitted anything of mine yet!! ( which also takes courage). Your photos of flowers are a celebration of summer too!!

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  7. I think everything you have written here should be published in some form or other and given out to every single wannabe writer. It’s such sound, sensible advice from someone who writes consistently beautiful prose. It shows that even with natural flowing talent, sometimes our work just doesn’t hit the spot. I like the idea of celebrating rejection – and I think it’s important to keep a file because it then shows how brave and committed one is to submit in the first place. Onward and upward, Andrea – your writing is great – we know that. What’s wrong with these people?

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  8. I think of rejection (for novel submissions) as the work isn’t exactly what the agent is looking for and we’re not on the same page. I want to see an acceptance but I’m aware that the person rejecting me is another person who had a decision to make. I probably should feel worse for it (got eleven so far) but I think about other authors who were rejected so many times before making it so I figure I have another 19 rejections or so to go. I probably should be a lot more worried about this but I guess perhaps my first novel may have to be self-published if it’s not what agents and publishers are looking for right now. I also think I’m glad that I’m in the position to submit (despite rejections) – that is totally worth celebrating and you should remember that. And I’m learning so much about the submission process. (Apologies about being upbeat about rejections – I tell you what gets me into the doubt doldrums is when I’m not writing my novel – I feel time running away and nothing to show.)

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    • No, that’s great that you’re upbeat about the rejections Cecilia – that’s the mindset I’ve gotten to with celebrating the rejections. There’s that initial disappointment, but then the reminder that this just makes space for each story to go to the place that’s right for it.

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  9. Im not quite there yet, rejection is silence to me, to actually receive a rejection letter would mean I had actually finished something and for that I would be most proud Andrea, so yes celebrate the good.

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    • Well, even though you haven’t yet finished that something for submission, I hope you feel some sense of acceptance from the work you share on your blog, which gets great feedback, which is also worth celebrating!

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  10. This is a great idea on the surface. I’m always looking for reasons to celebrate. I’ll try it and see if I can be genuinely celebratory in that rejection state of mind.

    Recently, I helped a friend write a newspaper article that was rejected. It wasn’t even mine; I just reworked his thoughts. Why should it bug me that it wasn’t published? *shrug* I’ve got a long way to grow.

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    • 🙂 There’s no getting away from that first disappointment, because of course we’d prefer not to be rejected at all! But I am finding it surprisingly easy to move on and take that celebratory moment.

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  11. Five novels in, I’m beginning to run out of energy to start all over again, let alone celebrate rejections. Am really hoping to make it with the fifth one that I’ve just started submitting; especially as writing it stretched me to the limits.

    There may came a time in my life when I look back and wish that some publisher or agent had told me, from the beginning, that my writing was rubbish, then I’d have got on with something else. Instead, they’ve given me a number of full manuscript calls and wonderfully encouraging feedback.

    I’ve decided to take a break from novel writing over the Summer and come back to it refreshed in September. Meanwhile, I’ll enjoy blogging, haiku-writing, reading, gardening, music and socialising.

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    • I’m sorry to hear that Sarah – and I suppose I may have a different view of things down the line if I have no more successes. But to have those manuscript calls and feedback means that your writing can’t be rubbish, or it wouldn’t even get past the query stage. Wishing you lots of luck with your next submissions.

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  12. Yes, a good approach if you’re strong enough. I’ve only just dipped my toe in the submission process having judged my present m/s to finally be good enough and marketable. I’ll get back to you with my reaction to rejection if I haven’t thrown myself off a multi-storey 🙂

    Another way one might look at it is like a cold-call salesman. They know full well that maybe only one in 20 calls will make a sale therefore every rejection is simply a step towards that sale.

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  13. I’m very sorry to read this Andrea to the extent that initially all rejection is very hard to take but I find your message here so inspiring, reminding us to be strong and to keep going. I am learning that the life of a writer is a very precarious one but one that is the only option when we find our true calling (and of course this goes for art too). I say in advance, congratulations on your next acceptance and also on your amazing courage to keep on keeping on and not to give up 🙂

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  14. I love the idea of celebrating rejection, in a conscious way, as you point out. It’s a way of redefining rejection as something else. And perhaps, also, recognizing that one’s creative project will be accepted in a different form, by someone else. Lovely.

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  15. Love this and love Susan Sarandon with her avocado rejection reward. We should celebrate our rejections as we are putting ourselves out there and going for our dreams. If things are going too hunky-dory in our lives, perhaps we need to challenge ourselves more and mix it up.

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  16. Hey, I just got a chance to read this one, and I’m so glad I did. What a wonderful idea. I might add that because we keep trying, that means we have not failed, so celebrate that we tried. Celebrate that we are still trying. We only fail when we give up. Thanks for sharing this great idea. Hugs.

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  17. A few years ago I entered a short story in a local (quite small) competition and it came absolutely nowhere. A few months later I entered the same story in an international competition and it won. The lesson I learned from this is that each submission or competition is looked at in a different way by different people. Keep the faith in yourself and your stories because rejection certainly doesn’t equal failure, it’s all part of that rocky road to success 😀

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    • Congratulations on your win Dianne! But yes, I’ve submitted the same stories to various competitions with different results, so there is always that element of subjectivity and luck, which is another reason to celebrate the fact that one day it will find its rightful home.

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  18. I’ve divided rejection into two categories. If an agent doesn’t want to see my manuscript, that’s a pass, not a rejection. Because how can someone reject what hasn’t been seen? If a partial or full is ever requested and not chosen, that will be a true rejection for me. And I know that will hurt. But I love your thoughts on turning that around by celebrating it. Because as others have pointed out, being rejected means we made the effort to create something the world hasn’t seen before. And we can’t succeed unless we try.

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    • Thanks JM. I haven’t got to the stage where I’ve had a request for a manuscript yet, but you’re right, you can’t really judge something that you haven’t seen. There seem to be a variety of coping strategies, but I’m so much more positive about my writing than I’ve ever been, so it seems appropriate to celebrate every submission, whether successful or not.

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  19. Rejection always hurts. Sometimes moreso after an acceptance. Because part of us thinks, once we get that acceptance more will come. And sometimes they do. Sometimes they don’t. The writing life is full of rejection and almosts. You are right to celebrate each step along the process. And a rejection is definitely a step. It’s putting your work out there and trying. It’s being courageous. It’s reaching for what you want. Go you!

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    • Thanks Kourtney, it’s inevitable that we’ll feel bad when we don’t get the acceptance we want, but it’s that acceptance of ourselves as writers that means we have the courage to do it again, whatever the result 🙂

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  20. Wonderful idea, Andrea. I should celebrate rejection too. Umm… between writing and my never ending job search (for a job in the southwest, not where i am now) I’ll be having a party all the time! There are worse things. 🙂

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    • Thanks Teagan, go for it, it would certainly take the sting out of what sounds like it could be quite a difficult period – when you get that great job and those acceptances you’ll be able to look back and think that wasn’t so bad after all 🙂

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  21. Now that’s some philosophy! Yes, why not celebrate it all! It’s all part of life and adds to build resilience and inner strength. But honestly, I cannot believe why your stories were rejected. Your writing is so evocatively beautiful, Andrea and you have quite some fans so don’t let it get you under the skin. You just know there will always be a second, third..many more chances and therefore many more creations to go, which is wonderful because in the end isn’t that part of an artist’s life, .. the process of self-realization through self-creation and expression. Keep creating, keep expressing yourself and sharing it here, Andrea.
    And now I need to get my glass of wine..or two 😉

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  22. Pingback: Of Moonbows and Rejection Letters – Evelyne Holingue

  23. When I taught a Writing To Publish class for 17-18-year olds, after the first required submission, we made it a race to see who received the first rejection slip. The first student who brought in a rejection slip, the next day I brought a cake from the bakery, chocolate with whipped icing and a big rainbow tinted across the top with the message “Way To Go, *** ” (***=student’s name) We ate cake and talked about where the student would make the next submission, etc. and celebrated all their efforts for doing the work and taking a risk making the submission. It changed how they–and how I–looked at rejection slips. The only way to avoid getting rejected is to never take the risk, and where’s the power in that?

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    • Marylin, if I could rely on anyone to demonstrate how to celebrate rejection in style, it would be you! What a great way to celebrate and to make sure that their first experiences of rejection were positive and to keep them going beyond those.

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  24. I love your attitude! Yes, you did put yourself out there by submitting your work – so many people can’t manage that step. That is something to recognize. And what’s really worth celebrating is the desire to get back in the chair and continue on with the next project. I’m currently reading a biography on Hemingway and am amazed at the hours he spent in the chair before tasting success.

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