Rejection hastened things along. “No. Sorry. I’m afraid I’m not the right for this.” “You have me stumped; I can’t do a thing with this.” “Just didn’t connect.” “Too ambitious for us.” And the mean spirited: “This has no artistic merit whatsoever.”
I was crushed by the first rejections, but I kept going and subsequent ones got easier. I understood that taste is personal and that reasonable minds can differ. Sometimes the rejections would reach me after the piece had already been published elsewhere. Twice, pieces that were rejected ended up with Pushcart Prize nominations.
Eventually, I gave up listening and trying to please. I gave up explaining and apologizing, and best of all, I gave up the rules. Oh, I wasn’t stupid about it. I continued to seek opinion and always considered what was being said, but I no longer worked to please another.
Instead, I shifted my focus to one thing only: the work and what I thought it required.
And that’s when it started to be fun. I wrote things the way they impressed me. I took example and insight from other art forms—especially painting. I left out all the boring parts and just wrote the interesting things. I paid zero attention to form. Right now, for example, I have a bunch of notes from a coffee shop in Amsterdam that I’m thinking of running as raw notes. Would raw notes work for a blog on the writing process? Maybe. I might try, and see where it takes me.
To stop caring so much means you let your internal compass guide what you hope to achieve and how you will get there. This allows you to work with a new vigor. You can throw away piles of pages, and start again, or not—no worries. You can take the one scene or character that you liked, and change the whole project, the entire point. In the painting world, you can throw the paint at the canvas or even tape the dripping brush to the wall and call it art, if you have your reasons.
And when your heart starts racing at the possibilities, then it’s going to be a good working day.
Comments welcome and edited to include first names only, and website, if provided; never your email. Photo by Thorsten Becker.