Keeping your chin up

Some of you may recall a post I wrote awhile back about being too critical of your own work. In addition to being a law student, I’m also a professional writer. I’ve learned over the years that “creative fields” can be really tough because judgment of your work is just so subjective.

For many years, I’ve wanted to write screenplays for TV or movies, and get a fiction novel published (I’d take nonfiction too, lol.) Sure, I’ve been published in magazines, but there’s something about seeing your work in a published book or on TV that would just be…different.

Of course, these fields are notoriously tough to break into, sometimes almost impossible. In fact, just the other day I checked my mail and found four contest rejections for one of my screenplays. 😦 I’m not sure which is worse though: four rejections in one day or the day I received a rejection on Thanksgiving. No, I’m not kidding. I got an e-mail on Thanksgiving telling me, basically, “Sorry, we don’t like your proposal! But you still have a lot to be thankful for! Have a great holiday!”

:-/

In any profession, it’s vital to develop a thick skin. Take constructive criticism to heart, but don’t let subjective assessments get you down. There will always be people who don’t like what you do. And there will always be people who choose not to like your work because, for some reason, they just don’t like you.

If you’re like me, it’s easy to remember the people who don’t like your work rather than the ones who did. Sure, a Hollywood screenwriter once told me that I had the talent needed to write for primetime TV. But four people running contests just said I didn’t, gosh darn it. 😛

How do you “keep your chin up” when your work is rejected (if you’re a writer) or, for any career, when the road to the goal is a little tougher than you expected? At what point do you decide that maybe the goal isn’t reachable? Ever?

I always remember the authors who were rejected a million times before getting published. Or the frequent stories of people who submitted bestselling novels to agents under unknown names, and found the novels rejected.

Since I love science, I also remember how many “failures” a scientist usually goes through before making an important breakthrough. But, understandably, creative fields are a little different. The rejection is so much more personal. You’re not just trying to “solve a puzzle” that no one else can solve. You’re wondering if your creative work is even good enough.

Or maybe it isn’t so different after all… If a scientist keeps “failing” so to speak, does he eventually wonder if he doesn’t have what it takes to discover the breakthrough?

I’d love to hear from people of all different fields. When you experience a type of failure in your job, do you struggle with your own personal abilities? How do you keep your chin up?

As Thomas Edison once said, “I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.”

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14 responses to “Keeping your chin up

  1. You said it– you need thick skin to be a writer! I find that I can brush off the rejections much easier now. ANd I got one on my birthday!! Ugh– one I really wanted but I sob for a sec (kidding) and then move on and send it elsewhere. It usually finds a home.
    Keep on writing!

  2. Steven King got a whole mountain of rejection notices before he got his first story published. We all know how his career turned out. I think persistence is the key. Also, if you enjoy what you do, that helps you to keep going.

  3. For me, I have to remind myself kind of like what you said. The will be more rejections than not, but that one time that whatever I do is praised and accepted, it just might change the world. It only takes on “idea” or “action” to make a difference that lasts forever!

  4. I never developed a thick enough skin to handle the direct, humiliating, personal, utterly tragic rejection of my writing/catastrophic failure as a human being. I ended up in proofing, editing, and publishing — directly involved in the creative process but without so much ego on the line. There I found pride and satisfaction in telling myself that even on a bad day, every project was better for having crossed my desk (except, maybe, on those days when I found a typo in a head I wrote … after it was published). 🙂

  5. I just eat when I face work problems. Food is great for the soul, lousy for the looks. Searching for a job for two years has begun to kill me. I think I’m to the point where if I had to chose to get a new job, or get ride of all my health problems, I’d chose the new job.

    Dube, how to you find so many jobs to get all of these rejection letters? I don’t have any clue as to how to start writing … feel free to share tips …

    And, you are in law school? Girl, you are a machine! Good for you!!!

  6. Thick skin is right – and necessary. I think it helps to not think of the rejections as failures. Often, after letting it simmer, there’s something to be learned from somewhere in the rejection. Think of it more as advice, or a lesson, and keep on writing.

  7. Hey Dube,
    I know this one really well. In fact, I just got a rejection from an agent who took 6 months to respond. Jeez. As to keeping your chin up…hmmm…tough one because there are just going to be days when you feel fragile and even little things will hurt – but the truth is, I think, that you are writer. And no matter what happens that will always be true. And oddly enough, the people in charge of judging writers, rarely do write, accept rejections – doesn’t that strike you as slightly weird? It does me. And you’re right, do remember all the authors who have come before you and succeeded, they succeeded because they believed in themselves and their work and they were right. And really the only people who judge them fairly are readers. Know what I mean?

    Annie

  8. This one is easy to fill. The only reason I have ever done anything in the graphics field was because I enjoyed it. You enjoy writing, and that should be the sole reason that you are doing it. Granted having a job doing what you love is going to be amazing; being rejected simply isnt a reason to lose faith in what you do.

    I look at it this way. The only reason I started “blogging” was I wanted to redesign my website for the growing trend. Before I only had a static page with a bio/resume’ on it. I thought it would be a fun challange to design an entire site around a new application. I succeeded, but as you can see I have changed the theme of the site 3 times in the past 4 months. Why am I doing this? Because I enjoy designing websites. I could care less if I had any hits… granted it would be amazing to have readers, its not a high priority for me. My priority is for myself.

    I do thank you for reading my blog however 😉

  9. It’s hard to grow thick skin, dammit!!

    I think it’s because writing is such a personal thing, that it’s easy to take criticism of my writing very personally.

    I do some freelance writing on the side and get offended by rejections, get offended when editor’s change my words or ask me to re-write things (Can’t they see the brilliance of my words??–lol)

    “On to the next, project,” is what I tell myself–As long as I keep looking forward, I don’t let any one thing keep me down for long.

  10. A negative review/comment always bothers me for a few days. I make a big production about it and tell everyone I know what happened. I will usually write about it. Then I get tired of it and move on.

  11. Terri – A rejection on your BIRTHDAY? That trumps my Thanksgiving one. 😛

    Eric – I didn’t know that about Steven King. Well that certainly makes me feel better. 🙂

    Adam – Great point! It only takes one time to get through, so it would make the other times worth it.

    Pied – That’s absolutely wonderful! It sounds like you found your calling. And as an editor, you get to mess with other people’s egos, right? 😉

    Girl – Well, you just gave me an idea for another blog topic! I’ll write about finding freelance jobs this week. There are some great sites to visit, etc. Also, having an awful job can make your health even *worse,* so I totally get why you would pick the better job if you had to choose.

    Teeni – Awww! Thank you! I’m honored. 🙂

    Joanne – Great idea. Labeling it as a lesson/advice rather than a failure could certainly change the perspective.

    WriterChick – I know exactly what you mean! And sometimes I think it’s almost tougher to get a rejection after you’ve advanced a little, because you got your hopes up a little more. At least, I tend to! Sorry to hear about your newest. 😦

    Kraze – GREAT outlook! And you’re right, if we’re not doing something because we love it, then it’s so much easier to let setbacks get in the way.

    Rambling – Your first line made me laugh! You’re right, the personal element can me it tougher. Good advice to keep moving forward to the new project!

    Stephanie – Hello to another Stephanie! 🙂 Sounds like you use the venting method of coping, which can be really helpful at times!

  12. I hate when people reject your ideas. Just a few days ago i was asked to give ideas for a motto for a company poster. I suggested 3 that for me were the best ones. But they told me all were bad and they chose another one. I felt really bad because it was one of my first days at work. Later i came to understand that my suggestions were not taken in count because the person in charge of making the motto felt a bit threatend because i made better ones. Since i work part-time she submitted hers and not mines so later she told me “the manager didn’t liked yours” when he in fact had never seen them.

    I guess it’s ok to have your work rejected you can just keep trying or try and find other paths to achieve your goal.Like web publishing for example.

  13. Jaime – Great point! Sometimes the rejections do come when people feel threatened by us. It’s good to keep perspective on that possibility!

    And great idea about finding another path to achieve your goal. It takes some creativity, but sometimes that’s the best way to go.

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