I am a junior in high school, which basically means that I spend a lot of time sifting through college brochures and trying to figure out what I want to do with my life. A lot of my classmates feel pressured to find a purpose. Even worse, a lot of my friends, who have been painting ever since they learned how to splatter color on a canvas and acting ever since they learned how to talk, are now looking into ‘careers that make money.’
Some call it better decision making. Other people call it giving up on a dream.
I call it fear of rejection.
Sometimes, I think about what it takes to be an author. And I don’t mean ‘writer.’ One of the best things about writing is that anyone can do it. There is no such thing as an amateur or aspiring writer. If you write, you’re a writer. I mean ‘author,’ someone who makes a living by selling books. Often, it feels impossible. It seems like nothing I write could ever be worthy of people wanting to read.
And that’s it. That’s fear of rejection. Nobody is telling me I can’t do it. I’m just so afraid of getting rejected that I feel like I shouldn’t try, and that’s the worst thing you can do as a writer, or a creative person in general.
If you want to make art, you cannot be afraid of rejection, because then, you’ll never make art. In fact, rejection is a crucial part of the creative process. Because you will be rejected. I keep rejection emails in a special folder in my inbox. Stephen King hammered a nail into his wall and stuck rejection after rejection on until he ran out of room.
Love, art, and rejection are an eternal cycle. Rejection in love leads to art. Think about how many angry break-up songs and sad poems about past lovers exist. Sometimes rejection in art leads to love. When I’m sad about writing, I often turn to the people around me for comfort. And sometimes getting too wrapped up in your art leads to rejection in love, too. I remember a girl from my summer camp saying, “It’s too bad you’re so quiet all the time, reading and writing. We could have been friends.” Sometimes you choose work over love, and that has its consequences, too.
Some people say not to take rejection personally. As an editor for my school’s literary magazine, I can testify that this is partially true. A lot depends on tone, theme, and length. Sometimes it’s not that a poem isn’t ‘good,’ (I hate calling writing good or bad, because that’s so subjective) it’s just not a good fit for us. But as a writer, my advice is to take rejection extremely personally.
When I was in gym in elementary school, we used to have to do these running tests. We’d jog from one end of the room to another, and see how long you could last. We were always told by the gym teachers that we weren’t running against our classmates, we were only running against ourselves. Trying to beat our old score. Trying to outdo ourselves.
This is how you should take rejection. As a motivation to better yourself. You don’t have to like rejection. You can even be mad at it. Scream at it, if you must. (I wasn’t exactly happy when I was running those laps as a kid.) But you can’t be afraid of rejection.
When I doubt myself as a writer, I think about what sets me apart. Even on days where it feel like my dialogue isn’t as witty and my similes fall flat, I know that there’s one thing that sets me apart: I will never, ever, not be a writer.
If people don’t want to read the first book I write, I will start plotting another one. If some of my poems don’t sound that great, I’ll write another collection. Rejection doesn’t scare me. It may be impossible to measure who is or isn’t a good writer. It may be impossible to measure what is or isn’t ‘good.’ But you know what is measurable? Sheer hard work and determination. And I will deliver bucket loads if that what it takes.
Manuscripts that don’t get written can never be read. Portraits that are never painted never hang on museum walls. If you let fear of rejection hold you back from creating art, no one will ever be able to appreciate it.
Your story deserves to be told. Your ideas and words are valuable. Don’t be afraid to let the world see them. Writing is meant to be read. Music is meant to be listened to. Art is meant to be seen.
I know rejection is scary, so start small. Show somebody your sketch book. Sing along in the car. Over the summer, I shared a short story in a writing group. A girl said, “This story meant so much to me. I was almost talking to the characters, because they felt real.”
And suddenly, all the rejections became worth it in that one moment of success. I’d done it. My writing had meant something to someone.
It is not easy to both make a living and make a life, as they say. But whether you’re a teenager trying to decide which path to take or someone who had been creating for decades and was afraid to show your work to the world, consider this the sign you have been waiting for.
Take the chance. Face the rejection. Create the art. If you fail, so what? Try again. It will be easier to fail than to look back and wonder about what could have been if you weren’t so afraid.
Thanks so much for reading. What’s your opinion of rejection? Let me know in the comments! Until next time, you can find me on Pinterest or Instagram.