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Fear of fear of rejection...

Cresting Wave -
5 1/2" x 11 1/2"
Derwent pastels on Aquabee Bogus Recycled Rough Sketch Paper.
Photo reference by lani_noa on WetCanvas for January Pastel Spotlight Challenge.

There's some art to entertain y'all while I post about writing. Yesterday, I took a huge step forward toward becoming self supporting. After about two years planning it and building toward it by writing online articles and practicing art instruction, I finally sent a query to The Artist's Magazine.

It's the first of many. I love that magazine along with its siblings The Pastel Journal and Watercolor Artist. A couple of years ago I took a paid webinar on how to submit to F&W Publications. One of their suggestions for pitching a book was to write a few articles for the magazines first. Makes sense. They want to know you can do the F&W style and level of quality, which is superb. I've bought so many of their books that my bookshelf's bursting and enjoyed them all. It's my high goal.

I got nervous about it, went through what I thought was fear of rejection at the time. So I faced it and posted my intention on Facebook and WetCanvas. That way I could embarrass myself into carrying through immediately and not just put it off for a few more months or years.

The moment I started actually writing the query - the fear vanished. Nothing bad happened. I wrote it, rewrote it a couple of times and sent it off. I'll wait to see what happens. If they don't want that idea, I'll keep sending queries till I come up with an idea they like. Then write it the best I possibly can.

I'm excited about the project regardless of what that topic is. I know that article, whenever I sell them one, is going to get edited by a professional I trust. It'll come out great, like all the ones I've read and loved in those publications. Better than I could do on my own. That's what editors get paid for.

Fear of rejection can apply to either sending in stories, articles and novels or to entering art contests, juried shows and approaching galleries. It's something everyone expects creative people to have.

Except creative professionals who actually make a living on it.

Writers, artists, musicians who do make a good living don't talk about fear of rejection except in the past tense. "When I was just learning," or "When I was starting out."

But what is there to fear about an impersonal rejection of something you made and offered for sale to someone you don't know?

If you were selling insurance, you'd get turned down hundreds of times and think it was a great day if someone bought a policy. You might winnow through thousands of leads and contact hundreds of people to find the dozen interested enough to hear the pitch. Then if you're lucky get one of them to actually buy it. That was the one who actually wasn't satisfied with his/her current insurance, actually had the money to get it at the time and wanted it enough to prioritize it.

That's what selling is. None of the rejections are personal unless you're rude. Editors do not hunt you down because you sent them a bad story. Even if it reads like a second grader wrote it, they will not firebomb your house, nail your cat to the door or phone your mother to tell her to take away your keyboard.

I even had a very cruel rejection slip once. The worst possible rejection came when I sent a bad cover letter on a story submission to Marion Zimmer Bradley. She got mad. She told me to quit writing and go back to playing Dungeons and Dragons. She shredded my cover letter in about three pages of vitriol before she got to that punch line.

I learned something. Don't get personal and try to play off acquaintance just because you had an interesting conversation with an editor at a con. I learned to send cover letters that just read "Here's my story, X thousand words, hope you like it" and if requested a two sentence bio. Gee, when I sent her that cover letter on another submission, she complimented the story and told me kindly that she would've bought it for her anthology but it didn't fit her magazine.

I also learned that I wasn't a bad writer just because an angry editor said so.

The worst has already happened in terms of rejections. No editor could be as cruel or as vicious as MZB was on a bad day when she got just too many insecure cover letters from gamer boys. She didn't even read the story.

So what?

What that means is that out in reality, where people do make a living from novels and magazine articles or sell paintings in galleries to earn as much as dentists, there are creative professionals. They treat their work as an occupation. It's passionate work. Artists and writers love their work as much as marine biologists, zookeepers, career military or anyone who throws themselves into something that takes passion to put up with its working conditions and training. But that's all it is - a profession.

Selling it means taking the impersonal rejections in stride. Any critical comment from an editor is encouragement. If you can send a new story more to the editor's taste, it's more likely to sell there than to an editor who never saw your name before. It takes a while to figure out what they want. When one sells, they'll still want some changes before they buy it.

Fear of fear of rejection is something different.

It's something that someone else has about you. Something that may have been drummed into you by other people's assumptions. That may be sheer ignorance - people who never knew an artist or a writer assuming that anyone in the arts becomes unstable, emotional, erratic, turns into a drama queen and cares more about what an editor thinks than about what their family thinks. There are a lot of negative stereotypes about the arts.

Well meaning people may be trying to keep you out of the profession for fear you'll get suicidally depressed if someone you don't know doesn't buy this thing you made.

Jealous, malicious or controlling people will also say they're well meant. Many of them wanted to become actors, models, dancers, writers, artists. Whatever it was, they decided against what they wanted in favor of something that sounded more practical. It wasn't what they wanted to do for a living, but they drifted into it anyway and don't take much pride in it. How many people do you know who really love what they do for a living?

Fear of fear of success is a persistent ugly stereotype about people in the arts. It's a myth that anyone of an artistic temperament is so sensitive that he or she can't bear rejection. It sets up social expectations of hysterical panic at the slightest criticism.

The answer to fear of fear of success is a harsh one. Face the fear. Any fears are going to win out and paralyze you if you don't look the source straight in the eye and ask reality "What are the real risks here?"

You might lose a dysfunctional relationship if it was going downhill anyway. Controlling partners and spouses do not like opportunities for their partners to become independent. Especially economic opportunities, but also anything that builds confidence and emotional security. They've got a vested interest in your being emotionally dependent on their approval.

You might also have to wrangle through some conflicts with other personal relationships that aren't dysfunctional. People who are well meant need to know it is what you want and may need it proved to them that when you get a rejection slip, it's not the end of the world or the end of your goals.

It's just a piece of paper. You can line the cat box with it. You can spike them till you have enough to pulp them and make hand made paper. You can shred it to make padding for stuff you put in storage or, and this is my favorite, stack them up and pat yourself on the back for each one.

Every time you get a rejection letter, it's proof you stood up against all the social pressure against you and went out and tried. You're taking your writing seriously. You're on the way to selling your writing.

Rejection slips themselves are not personal. They're just random chance. That editor didn't have the money that day or didn't like that specific subject or already had one or does but already bought something else. There are at least a dozen reasons why editors reject good stories that have nothing wrong with them.

Watch for "checklist" rejection slips. When you start getting some that have nothing checked off, your story's been rejected for reasons other than whether it was good enough. It might not fit the issue, the editor already had one like it, it was too long, too short, too funny, too serious. All things good in themselves but your story wasn't the one that fit that editor's immediate needs that day.

Stephen King got 20 rejections for his first bestseller, Carrie. Of course all those editors kicked themselves over it, he got famous and made a lot of money for his publishers. I figure if someone that good can get that many rejections, anything less than 20 before dropping a story or a book is just quitting early. It only took me about two or three to move my first pro paid short story sale.

That was a bit of luck, it wasn't world class genius. It was, however, professional quality. Especially after the editor tweaked it to fit the issue.

There's nothing to fear in that, only social pressure from discouragers to sort out. If they're people from your past, that becomes a matter of personal growth. If it was your ex that was so discouraging, stop and remember the reasons that was your ex. Ask what your ex's opinion of your clothing choices, food tastes, politics and hobbies were too. Apply that filter to anyone who discouraged you. Did they have any reasons to want to say something cruel, whatever it was, just to hurt you?

People who are genuinely well meant usually back off at the point reality proves them wrong. One way to support this is not to make a big deal about submissions. If they flip out about it, don't mention you're sending anything out until an acceptance comes. Then mention it proudly but don't make a fuss.

If they get nervous and suddenly find fault with you at that point, it's a sign they disapprove of your occupational choice. Accept that's a real conflict. Try to find out the reasons without judging their reasons. That's the first step to resolving it. At the very least, they might have irrational fears that need to be put to rest. They may need to find out that you got twenty three rejections before and just tossed them in the trash without mentioning it or without having a single suicidal episode or hysterical moment. They may need to know you're still you and won't turn into a negative stereotype.

Too many cautionary stories get passed around about mentally ill creative genius, alcoholic genius, selfish controlling berating genius or depressed genius. Those are legends that serve a purpose, they salve wounded pride for people who wanted to do something and chose instead to do something else.

Don't expect them to like your work. They may be afraid of your reaction if they read it and don't like it. If they don't read mystery novels, they won't like yours even if you did a great one. They might not even want to pick it up because they're afraid of that conflict. They don't know that it's bad, they're just afraid they won't know what to say if they didn't like it! That's a fear you can defuse by letting go of your expectation that the people who love you for other reasons would also love everything you create.

Some people actually do like things that their friends and loved ones create because of who did it. That's great, it's one of the positive things in life. If they don't feel it spontaneously, don't expect it. They're who they are, you love them for their blueberry pie rather than their great support for your writing. A reasonable expectation is the type of congratulations you'd give for their winning something that mattered a lot to them and isn't among your interests.

Parents who say they just want you to be happy in life but had your life planned out before you were born have a real conflict. They would be disappointed if you did anything other than follow the script would bring on personal rejection. You have the choice of living by their plan or standing up for yourself.

Consequences vary. some parents get nasty about it, others accept their children's life choices when success is proved. Many just fall into the obnoxious habit of complaining about it to the grave but there are other reasons to keep the relationship. Don't expect them to not be who they are.

Fear of success can be the same exact thing: the rational fear of personal rejection in close relationships. That conflict is also potentially there about everything from your religion to how you cut your hair. Life has that risk. To keep relationships healthy, it has to be faced.

Don't let the people who discourage you decide your occupation. If you would be happier writing, painting, playing music or diving to study Pacific coral growth, it's your life. You're the one who has to live in it. If you love the day to day process of doing the work, success will bring you a happy life. It does not have to be anything like the mythical self destructive patterns of all the cautionary stories.

I know too many writers, artists and musicians who have happy families, a cheerful personality, a comfortable home and a successful personal life. The myths are just that, myths. Success brings the consequences of all of that job's actual conditions. When you love the work, that means you get to do more of it and keep going deeper into something you love - and those around you will come to know that's who you are. It may be painful changing your entire social network's view of who you are but it is a one way change: once you've done the work and begun to succeed you'll have a lot of people taking it for granted that's what you do.

At that point whether they like you or not is more about whether they like you. If you have to lie to make someone like you, they don't. You'll know who your real friends are because they're just as happy when you succeed as they are sympathetic when you're down. Past a certain point it stops being a change at all and is just who you are everyday, same as it is for the dentist.
Explore-Oil-Pastels-With-Robert-Sloan.com Articles at eHow.com, ETSY shop, My Bonanzle Booth, deviantART gallery, SFFmuse and look for art by robertsloan2art on eBay. Listed on Art Blogs 4 U
Proud member of the Oil Pastel Society
Interesting art blog: Patrick's Art Blog focused on realism!
New Topical Blog: www.robs-art-supply-reviews.blogspot.com for all the cool art stuff that isn't oil pastels!


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 20th, 2011 08:44 am (UTC)
Fantastic post Robert!
You brought up some excellent points.
I can see a lot of thought has been put into this post.
Firstly I want to wish you Good Luck on your article submission.
It is true that society views us "creatives" as temperamental at best and
basket cases at worse. However, I believe that anyone pushing and striving
to succeed at their dream has far more courage and character to be written off
as "emotional" or :"sensitive". Yes Creatives are more emotional but that is our strength!
I am looking forward to more of your posts Robert.
I am also looking forward to interviewing you soon for Warrior Wednesdays.
Feb. 2nd, 2011 03:54 am (UTC)
Well said.

I'm surprised at MZB!
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )


2013 Nano Winner
Robert A. Sloan, author of Raven Dance

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