Rejection. That word! The horror! Fear of rejection is one of the biggest dream killers out there, especially for creative types. Want to pitch an article? Start a podcast and put it up on a streaming site? Film a short and submit it to a festival? Paint some portraits and submit them to galleries? Sometimes as soon as we start a new project, fear of rejection stops us dead in our tracks before we even begin!
Over at the Bullish Society, Jen Dziura shared the article “Why You Should Aim for 100 Rejections a Year” by Kim Liao. It is brilliant. Liao’s article is all about flipping rejection on its head by embracing it, essentially by playing a numbers game.
In the book Art & Fear, authors David Bales and Ted Orland describe a ceramics class in which half of the students were asked to focus only on producing a high quantity of work while the other half was tasked with producing work of high quality. For a grade at the end of the term, the “quantity” group’s pottery would be weighed, and fifty pounds of pots would automatically get an A, whereas the “quality” group only needed to turn in one—albeit perfect—piece. Surprisingly, the works of highest quality came from the group being graded on quantity, because they had continually practiced, churned out tons of work, and learned from their mistakes. The other half of the class spent most of the semester paralyzed by theorizing about perfection, which sounded disconcertingly familiar to me—like all my cases of writer’s block.
Produce a lot of work. Submit that work. The more you submit, the more you get rejected, and the more polished your work starts to become because your are learning from your mistakes. With every submission, your chance of acceptance improves, and so does your craft! Quantity begets quality. Embrace the fear of rejection and just keep submitting!
Actors are a prime example of rejection-embracers. They show up to audition against x number of competitors, and they are either right for the part, or they get literally get rejected, and they just keep plugging away anyway until they get cast.
Salespeople and fundraisers are also very familiar with embracing rejection. Part of their job is cold calling potential clients and partners to find leads and negotiating with people to close deals. Maybe one in five people will pick up the phone for the cold call. Maybe one in twenty will make the buy or donate the funds. Salespeople know the more chances they take, the more likely they will get a hit back! Liao writes:
Since I’ve started aiming for rejections, not acceptances, I no longer dread submitting. I don’t flinch (much) when I receive inevitable form rejection emails. Instead of tucking my story or essay apologetically into a bottle and desperately casting it out to sea, I launch determined air raids of submission grenades, five or ten at a time. I wait for the rejections, line up my next tier of journals, and submit again.
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Last year, I got rejected 43 times, but I also got five acceptances—one to a residency, one to a reading series, and three publications in literary journals. Additionally, to my delight, I received six encouraging rejections from really great journals, inviting me to send them something else.
Liao encourages writers to aim for one hundred rejections a year. Really, this thinking can be applied to any creative endeavor or long-term goal. Are you in? I am! How will you be collecting your rejections? What will you be pitching and submitting?