Reading Time: 3 minutes

And continuing on, despite both, with encouragement from people I don’t know

a sign on the side of a building

It’s something that every single person doing any sort of creative work will have to face: rejection and inevitable setbacks to the work.

I’ve found it useful to apply two things I’ve learned from years of therapy about other things:

  1. you can’t control the situation, you can only control your response to it

  2. how can you reframe this?

If you ever wondered why I didn’t pursue a career in the theatre after getting an honours degree in it, it’s because I didn’t think I had the right temperament to deal with constant rejection. And that fact is, even if you do get rejected, it doesn’t mean that you weren’t good enough. It’s a numbers game, after all — there are always going to be more people auditioning for a role than there are roles to give out. Same as for places in a journal or entrants in a competition.

Over the past month, I’ve had a few little rejections in various creative fields, and all perfectly nice. One was for a poem I’d submitted to a journal and the editor said she loved it, but couldn’t find a place for it, and encouraged me to enter an upcoming poetry comp.

The flush of different thoughts and emotions that runs through you in a split second when you face creative rejection is quite something — disappointment, resignation, frustration, gratitude for the kind note, doubt that the poem was good enough…

So I sat with it for a while. Face, Accept, Float, Let time pass, as Claire Weekes advised (or FAFL as Clare Bowditch shortened it to). As the moment passed, the immediate sting lessened pretty quickly and I thought well, at least I can send it elsewhere. I re-read it and felt pleased with my work. I immediately sent it off to another competition, and when that probably doesn’t come to fruition, I’ll send it somewhere else.

The trick is not to let the setbacks stop me from writing. Or singing, or making art, or acting.

I went to a masterclass with the marvellous playwright Andrew Bovell last week. It was a good reminder to seize the opportunities to rub shoulders with creative professionals as much as possible (especially in a regional place like Launceston) because a) if they’re generous (as he was) you will learn a lot from them, and b) they will show you that even when you have a prodigious output that is greatly admired, produced for stage and screen and lauded around the world, the work is still really hard.

“Writing is hard work,” he said at the beginning of the class. “You’re kidding yourself if you think it’s not.” He said you need to be comfortable being alone, and that “making any kind of art is an act of courage.”

And this is from Tom Cox, an English writer who I’ve long admired:

I have the voice in my head that tells me that if I don’t write something better than what I wrote before, soon, everything will be over, and the people who are watching everything I do – whoever they are – will be around to take away my possessions and, quite possibly, my right to continue to exist as a human being.

Do not make the error of thinking that voice does not have its uses. The voice might sound harsh, for example, when it says to me “A-B-W: Always. Be. Writing. ALWAYS BE WRITING,” in the obnoxious hectoring tone of Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross but I know it’s got my best interests at heart. If a writer tells you they are without self-doubt, you probably either need to disbelieve them or be concerned for what that means for their writing. It’s entirely possible to be confident and assured about what you’re doing and experience self-doubt at the same time. Because what kind of monster remains, when every trace of self-doubt is removed? Probably the kind that’s far more harmful than any of the mythic ones who, as dusk falls, are rumoured to prowl Exmoor. The trick is not allowing the self-doubt so much chance to breathe that it stalls the operation entirely.

So this advice is for me, but it’s also for you if you have had any setbacks lately, creative or otherwise: be courageous and keep going. The world needs whatever creative things we can put into it.