The Ladies, all of us fine writers and creative thinkers, are no strangers to rejection. All of us have been rejected by agents and editors. Some of us have had harsh or ignorant criticism from contest judges. Even our Golden Heart winner has not yet found a publisher for her winning manuscript.
When our best efforts go unrewarded, sometimes our friends and families think we should stop writing. Sometimes we think we should. We sit alone in dark rooms, struggling with story, trying to find a way to put our imagination on the page that will speak to a broad audience. In doing so, we miss family time, conversations with spouses, and dinners with friends. And for what? Another auto-response rejection email.
The one good thing about those rejections: nobody knows unless we tell them. But what if your rejection were public, your shortcomings and response to loss on view to the world?
American Idol has been on the air for 15 years, and for many of those years, it was the most watched television program in the United States. A few contestants—you can count them on one hand—became stars. But hundreds of thousands of aspiring singers didn’t make the cut. Only two percent of those who audition make it past the first round. (Less than one percent of submitted manuscripts are published.) The rest of the Idol contestants? Rejected. In front of millions of people.
To watch the show is to watch a succession of eliminations, which is why Junhow Wei, a sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania, decided it would make fertile ground for studying rejection. Wei interviewed 43 contestants to learn why, in the face of almost certain rejection, they persevered—often repeatedly auditioning for one of the coveted competition spots. The results of his study are published in Symbolic Interaction.
Wei discovered that Idol contestants persevere because of the idea that success on the show will go to those who deserve it—the singers with the most talent and best work ethic—although they knew the odds were astronomically against them.
However, auditioning subjected the contestants’ talent to scrutiny, which could alter their sense of identity and self-worth. To cope with rejection, Wei found that some contestants vented their feelings (by crying, for example, or unleashing anger or frustration); others minimized the significance of the setback (for example, by framing the experience as being “just for fun”). Many eliminated contestants focused on future auditions, downplaying their rejection as a result of idiosyncratic judging or an off performance and leaving intact their self-perception of being a talented singer. (Of the 43 interviewees, 34 said they would audition again; seven of them already had.)
Probably these coping mechanisms are common for anyone who puts their creative efforts on display, only to have their work fail to meet the approval of critics. I know I’ve certainly vented my frustrations about rejection often enough—and like the Idol contestants, I keep going. I keep writing. I resubmit.
What about you? How do you handle rejection? And how do you stay motivated to write?