Rejection is a great teacher.
When I was a journalist in upstate New York, I’d often have to ask tough questions of people that were not entirely excited to speak to me. The problem is, as a journalist, you can’t really go along with rejection. If someone says “no,” you have to continue to say “yes.” You have a responsibility to the story and to your readers, so you have to get on the line with someone else, find the information a different way, or convinced the source to speak to you.
I took that attitude to Orlando, where I ran a small wedding videography business. As you can imagine, I didn’t get a ton of repeat clients, so I spent a lot of time meeting with new couples, showing them my work, and answering their questions. It was always a wrench in the gut when they decided to go with someone else for whatever reason, like my competition, or some weirdo on Craigslist. It was always an emotional—and financial—hit, especially since my husband had just lost his job.
It hurt, but it was necessary.
Art, as I used to tell potential clients, is subjective, and when you are hiring for something as important as a wedding, you needed a videographer that understood your idea of good art—not anyone else’s. I was a “cinematic” videographer, which meant I used movie techniques, like multiple angles, a second camera, extra lighting, and faster editing. Clients looking for a more “documentary” style—where you were presented with long archival takes—would be horrified with what I was doing.
While I was usually good at sussing out clients that stylistically weren’t a good fit, sometimes I couldn’t. Perhaps they didn’t really know what they wanted, and chose me on price alone (never do this). Maybe their mother-in-law got involved, and wanted something else (this happened quite often). Either way, I’d work my fingers to the bone trying to make them happy, when all we needed to do was agree that “no” is sometimes a Good Thing.
Rejection is a teacher, especially when it comes to art and writing. Number one, it’s subjective; what’s good for one person isn’t good for another, and a rejection from someone who would never like what you do is more of a victory than a loss. Rejection will also show you what might not be working—or, you can look at the reason it was rejected and know, really know, that you’re doing the right thing and that the publishing house that rejected you just isn’t the publishing house for you. And that’s fine. It’s like dating—not every date is going to end up The One.
Pacing is one big reason this happens. Architects of Memory is pretty zippy — it takes place within a fortnight, and I received rejections and feedback that called it both “too slow” and “too fast.” Who’s right? Trust your gut. Either way, it’s not an insult.
Sometimes, rejection has absolutely nothing to do with you; instead, your piece might be on the wrong end of a trend. Try selling a Twilight-esque vampire romance right now, for example. Those editors aren’t rejecting you. It’s just business. The piece isn’t dead, and neither are you; stash it in a bin and fish it out in a year or so. Trends come around, and sooner or later, we’ll all be reading about vampires again.
Rejection hurts, that’s true. But instead of dragging you down, let it teach you. Write more. Believe in yourself. Writers and artists get hundreds of rejections, but it’s absolutely beyond important that the rejection we never, ever listen to is the one we give ourselves.
In fact, that’s my golden rule. No self-rejection. Get it down on the page. Get it out. Keep on doing that until you get a “yes.” Because, as this former journalist guarantees: with a powerful and important story, there is eventually always a “yes.”
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