~ when the world says 'no' - again

“Success seems to be largely a matter of hanging on after others have let go.” ~William Feather

It's human nature to complain. Rejection is a given in most creative modalities. Auditions, query letters, peer review, grant applications, book proposals, music submissions - chances are we are going to get rejected on a regular basis. That's a fact. The question is, how are we going to deal with it?

It isn’t easy. I can’t say I don’t get upset when I receive the email or the letter that says, ‘no thanks.’ In fact, I can honestly say that when I first started submitting music to various opportunities, I was absolutely furious every time I got a rejection. I would swear a little, and throw the results into a drawer somewhere, slamming it shut and stomping away.

‘What the hell are those people thinking? Can’t they hear the potential in my work? What’s wrong with their ears? What do they mean my melodies are too meandering and my lyrics are too poetic? Can’t they feel the emotion I’m expressing here? Idiots!!!’

After two or three days, I’d be thinking about what they said, and I’d go back to the drawer and read it again. I’d try to see what they were talking about, I’d try to understand. And I’d often say, ‘oh. I can fix that.’ I’d be inspired to try to change the lyrics or tighten up the melody or shorten the song.

That, in my opinion, is the secret to my success. I’ve been willing to listen. I’ve been willing to at least consider feedback. I’ve tried – after calming down – to open my mind to the possibility that I need to learn more about the craft of songwriting. And really that would apply to any creative thing we do. Singing, painting, writing, composing, acting, etc. Our work will, in many cases, be rejected on a consistent basis. Sometimes because it’s not a fit, not what they were looking for. And sometimes, because, in the opinion of the ‘gatekeeper’, it didn’t reflect the required level of skill.

I’ve been to many an audition where I didn’t get the part, and I’ve had starring roles. I’ve had query letters rejected by magazines, and I’ve been published. I’ve submitted my art to juries and been turned down, and I’ve had my work in shows. I’ve submitted countless songs and instrumentals to opportunities in the music industry and been returned, rejected… and I’ve signed tracks with music publishers and music libraries.

I’ve been knocked over more times than you can count, but I refuse to give up. If I need to learn more about my art form, if I need to focus on craft, if I need to take lessons, if I need to rethink my approach – whatever I have to do to get to the next level, I am willing to listen and learn from each experience, positive or negative.

I know my skill level as a composer is growing because the percentage of rejections has dropped to roughly half. I may not change a track because it was rejected, but I am willing to take that knowledge into the next composition. I may not agree the lyrics are too poetic, but maybe I need to rethink the genre – poetic lyrics might work better for rock or electronica than country.

I still am not happy when my work is turned down, but I am more able to deal with it as part of the reality of being an artist. The key is to separate that rejection from my worth as a creative human being. I am not my job, I am not my work.

As creative artists we have to believe in ourselves, yet be willing to learn; we need to forge new paths, but be willing bring craft along for the ride. And sometimes, it just takes determination and perseverance in the face of continued rejection. Many best-selling books were turned down several times before being published. Many famous actors lost out on parts before they got that signature role. Many singers are told they don’t have what it takes and then go out and prove the ‘experts’ wrong.

To be an artist who is growing and evolving, I think we need equal amounts of humility, innovation, craft, willingness and stick-to-it-ness.

Last word: I remember a talented friend of mine auditioning for a part in a play being put on by the Vancouver Playhouse. He was an Equity member (meaning, a professional), he read for the part, they loved him. But they didn't cast him... because the costume they had was for someone much taller.

That's life.


SongNote said...

I love this entry Vicki! Such an important tension to hold - not letting rejection get the better of you, but letting it make you better.
I feel freshly inspired to keep going :-)

Vikki said...

Thanks SongNote, for your lovely comment. Makes my day when someone says they found something I've said 'inspiring' :)

ash said...

thanks for the great entry. I am an aspiring writer and was poking around for inspiration for a poem. I also appreciate the William Feather quote you opened with.