I’m feeling philosophical today, after a disappointing experience a few weeks ago. Doesn’t matter what that might be (plenty disappointments come along, that’s life). But I also feel guilty for feeling bad–cuz I’m way more fortunate than many. So I’m revisiting how to handle rejection and deal with criticism.
The creative mind of authors, actors, musicians, and artists takes criticism and rejection so personally, a perceived sneer can quash the muse. I’m an author, actor, playwright, songwriter, musician, and artist, so maybe I got hit with a multiple-dose of sensitivity. Dang gene pool . . .
Those who read this blog know I first started submitting my writing to magazines. I could have papered the walls with all the rejection letters. My husband complained about the cost of snail-mail until finally I won the attention of an agent. Boy, did I build up calluses from all the rejections and criticisms to find the agent, and later, to weather publishing slings and arrows. Since switching to independent publishing, I pay editors for criticism (how twisted is that?!). Everyone needs critical feedback to improve, and keep pushing ahead.
Rejection never ends. I get to publish what I want now from nonfiction to thrillers, to plays. Maybe because of that, I’m a bit out of practice with how to handle rejection. But each time I bravely step out of my self-protective cocoon to take a chance on FILL-IN-THE-BLANK, criticism rolls in.
Bad reviews from readers? Check. Rejected for a role? Checkity-check. Emails ignored? Check-erooonie. Not invited to XYZ event with colleagues? Checkisity. Offhand comment from stranger–or a friend? Checkmate.
*whimper* THEY HATE ME!
I suspect you’re like me, whether you’ve published, performed, created for years or just recently dipped toes into the creative abyss. Dozens of great reviews or performing a fun role leave me with a temporary glow. But it only takes one blistering comment to negate all the positives.
And we LOOK for those negatives, don’t we? The reader who posts a modest review must not have liked the book all that well. The director who cast someone else, the audience that didn’t whistle and guffaw, the show that failed to sell out–they all must hate us! If the artwork failed to sell, art critics and customers hated the artist. How dare we aspire to create something others might appreciate…what were we thinking?
Many artists can’t separate our creativity from personal worth and identity. Outsiders appreciate (or reject) our “gift” as a product, a separate “thing” apart from the creator. Rejection fosters feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness.
I think. Hope. Hell, maybe they really do HATE ME! I’m gonna go eat worms and die.
Nothing’s Personal—Just Feels That Way
It must be in the definition of “artist” to question our own talent and worthiness, even without help from outsiders. Self sabotage destroys more careers than anyone can measure. Because it’s safest to do nothing—pull all the books from the shelves, never write again, put the cello in the case and close the door to theatre. To try and fail feels so painful, we’d rather close ourselves off and stop trying than risk the hurt. Again.
So how many of y’all have shut down the laptop, put away the viola, thrown out paints, or given up thespian aspirations? I’ve made that “decision” dozens of times. Tempting to do so again with the latest hurt.
But it never stuck. Because this is who I am. It’s what I do.
Learning To Be Vulnerable
Years ago I attended an audition workshop with the brilliant Del Shores, who noted that many people have !!@#$%^! -loads of baggage. Nobody gets out of life without some bumps, bruises, and the scars can be visible, deep inside, or both.
Successful performers (and writers also ARE performers!) learn to tap-dance into this wealth of virtual crappiocca, use it to create memorable damaged characters on stage, screen, canvas, music scores—and in our books, essays and other writing. Unblemished, perfect paintings, book characters, photos and music are freakin’ BORING!
In dog and cat behavior (another of my worlds), the perfect pet is a stuffed toy that has no potty accidents, no cost to feed, no need to walk in the rain, and no chewed up shoes or clawed sofas. But real pets also have baggage, seen and unseen—baggage is normal, folks. It’s what makes them special, rather than cookie-cutter same-old-thing. The old days of “punish the bad” have shifted to “reward the good.”
I counsel clients to ignore the bad, and instead catch their pet in the act…of doing something good, and then rewarding with praise, treat, a ball or whatever floats the pet’s boat. We’ve learned that constant brow-beating or (heaven forbid!) actual beating causes pets to shut down.
It shuts down people, too, and it flat-out murders the creative process. Here are some tips to deal with writer’s block.
What floats your boat? How do you reward yourself? You are worthy, ya know! Lift yourself up, stop beating yourself up, and do the same for others. Helping others feeds your own muse!
You Are Enough
Del Shores is fond of saying, “You are enough,” to his actors. No extra bells and whistles required. It applies to all creative people. Lessons learned—and I hope these tips help you, too:
- Let yourself grieve the rejection. It hurts. Acknowledge that.
- We’re all damaged goods. No blame, we just are what we are. Creatives use that part of ourselves. Mine the gold and let it resonate in your work.
- Ignore the bad. Reward the good. Wear the scars as badges of learning and courage.
- Wait. Reflect. Breathe. Breathe again. I promise, time heals. Look outside the “door closed” moment for the “open window” that appears. It’s there, if you really look.
- Keep challenging yourself. If you get push back, that’s good. Nobody ever succeeded by fading into the woodwork.
- You. Are. Enough.
It’ll take practice for me to believe that. But I’m getting better. How about you?
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Amy Shojai, CABC is a certified cat & dog behavior consultant, a consultant to the pet industry, and the award-winning author of 35+ pet-centric books and Thrillers with Bite! Oh, and she loves bling!