Rejections hurt. I’ve been receiving a lot of rejections on my writing lately, and it has been hard to cope. But I am better at dealing with them today than I was earlier when I’d take personal offence to them and think of them as a direct no to my core beliefs.
Art is extremely personal, so any sort of criticism to it is viewed as a disapproval of one’s inherent beliefs and ideas. But over the years, I’ve realised that’s not true. Rejections do not mean to criticise us, they mean to criticise our work. Different places have different definitions of a well-written piece, and we’d have to accept that we can’t cater to everyone’s schools of thought and aesthetic. We can’t please everybody. If there is a section of people that appreciates our work, there’ll be another one that doesn’t. Several kinds of opinions can co-exist without having to make separate spaces for themselves. There are only two categories art can be classified into: the good art, and the bad art. As long as we always strive for honesty and goodness in our art, we don’t need to worry about anything else.
Rejections teach us a lot about ourselves. They test our strength, resilience and motivation. We succeed each time we pick ourselves up from a rejection and strive to be better. They tell us why it’s important to acknowledge our flaws and learn from them. I understood that only when I became an editor. I realised that it’s as difficult on the part of an editor to send out a rejection letter. I also realised that rejection letters are always well intended, and meant for improvement.
Harnidh Kaur, a 21-year-old poet from St. Xavier’s, Mumbai, says that while she feels a little affronted by rejections, she takes them in her stride. “I've realised that if one journal doesn't accept me, another will, in any case. Also, the fact that my book is coming out is a major booster, because I know I'm not bad, I just need to improve. That's impetus to write as much as I can.”
On being asked what she’s learnt from her rejections, she replies, “That people with varied tastes exist, and it's okay. All journals have different ethos, different expectations, and wants. It's all about finding the people you're comfortable with.”
Her advice to artists who face rejections is to keep working, and be assured that they’ll find their audience. “You'll eventually find a few places that love your work, and realize what audience you want to write for. That's as important as the audience realizing it wants you, truly. Wait for it, and don't give up after a journal or two denies you. A good acceptance is worth 10 rejections, easy.”
Embracing rejections is one of the best ways to grow as an artist. They propel us to understand what went wrong, and try to correct it.
Devanshi Khetarpal, a 17-year-old writer and Iowa Young Writer’s Studio alumnus, believes that no number of rejections can take her motivation away. “I have realised that the motivation never goes. It needs great control, commitment, and hard work, but it comes, eventually. I keep writing. I have learnt to come to terms with everything that takes place in me and around me, regardless of how good or bad. I think that self-acceptance is the reason I stay motivated and channel my focus on karma alone.”
She adds that it’s important to stay true to oneself in the face of rejections. She doesn’t treat them with severity anymore. She reads the rejection letter, and puts her work aside until it learns to speak again. “You can't stop living even if you lose. You can't stop writing even if you've got nothing that can scale the humongous stack of rejection letters in your inbox. I know it's easier said than done. However, it always brings me back to why I fell in love with poetry in the first place. It gave me a home. It called me. I didn't fall in love with it because I was sure of acceptance or acclaim or recognition of any kind. I receive rejection letters almost each month but I have something written on my wall and writing journal: When all else fails, there is poetry. Always. Even if your art is rejected, you still remain.”
Smriti Verma, a young poet from Delhi echoes the same feelings. She believes that acceptance or rejection are no preconditions to writing. “For me, working forward and putting it out of my mind works the best. The acceptance of submissions is, in essence, dependent on many factors and subjectivity. Perhaps accepting that your worth as a writer doesn’t depend on the quality, or the number of magazines your work gets placed in, is the first and last step. That you’re worth as a poet, a writer or even as an artist does not depend on the number of acceptances or rejections you’ve received. The way you choose to express your creativity is your own and somebody’s judgment of it is only subjective, only a factor. There’ll be loads of rejections. Best thing is to realize this and move ahead.”
It’s obvious that rejections are hard, but they’re important. They teach us the value of self-acceptance and quiet introspection. They drive us to be better, to embrace our imperfections. So the next time you receive a rejection letter, know that it's proof you’re doing something right.
Trivarna Hariharan is an editorial intern at Open Road Review.