By Carolyn Edlund
Cynthia Morris has been coaching artists, writers and entrepreneurs for over ten years. She is a published author, teacher, speaker, and artist who reignites the fun of the creative journey with her creativity excursions in Europe and the US. Cynthia recently spoke with us about helping artists deal with rejection. Visit her website and blog for more information about how Cynthia helps make the creative process easier and more enjoyable.
AS: You have stated that “If you are getting rejections, take it as an excellent sign.” What do you mean by this?
CM: Rejections mean you’ve arrived at a mature phase of the creative cycle – where you’ve completed work and are sending it into the world. You are trying, you are taking your work to the next level. It means you are taking yourself seriously enough to risk a ‘no’.
Being at this part of the creative cycle is something to celebrate. It’s not easy to complete work, and it can be even more daunting to send it into the world. So even if you’re getting rejected, there’s still empowerment in trying.
AS: Rejection obviously creates a very emotional response – could you discuss your suggestions for dealing with this?
CM: Let’s face it – rejection from anyone can be incredibly painful. I’m not trying to put a positive spin on it and gloss over the awfulness of rejection.
Many artists overthink rejection so much that they are afraid to even create. This is a crime – a theft of art before it is even born. How do we deal with the suffering that comes with hearing no, no, no, time and again? Over the years I have had my share of rejection and coached artists through this painful part of the artist’s journey.
A ‘no’ can trigger a range of emotions, some of them uncomfortable. It will take time to process them, so be patient with yourself. I call this ‘feedback burn’. Like a sunburn, it hurts a lot at first and diminishes over time. Applying aloe vera can help remove the sting of too much sun. Apply these practices to heal from feedback burn:
- Acknowledge your emotions. It’s no good to pretend you’re not affected. It’s all well and good to adopt a positive attitude, but you’re human and you’ll still have to deal with your emotional response.
- Identify your emotions. Write them down.
- Write a rant or lament or whatever you need to release the emotions. Set a timer for ten minutes and let rip without stopping. This is your chance to whine, complain, vent about how unfair it is. Let yourself feel everything and be willing to allow humor in as well.
- If you’re not the writing type, find a friend to talk it over with. Give yourself five minutes to complain, then sort out your feelings from a non-victim place. Your friend can ask you these questions: What do you feel? What does that remind you of? What do you need to feel and release the feedback burn?
AS: What insights could an artist gain about themselves and their work through experiencing rejection?
CM: Submitting your work for acceptance is a daunting part of the creative process. I look for any positive perspective I can offer my clients other than the nail-biting “Will I be good enough?” perspective. I ask my clients what value they are honoring by submitting work. What’s important to them about finishing and submitting?
When core values are identified as a source of your efforts to get your work into the world, it’s easier to find value in the process beyond being approved of by an external source. Recognizing your values allows you to be empowered no matter what the world says.
AS: What can we learn from rejection?
CM: If you’re lucky enough to get constructive feedback, you can use that to improve your efforts.
I was rejected for teaching a writing course because I’d used incorrect grammar in my proposal. Imagine my horror! I immediately took the rejection as a powerful impetus to improve my writing. I saw that I couldn’t rest on the education I’d received from the nuns. I needed to keep learning, to keep honing my writing skills and understanding of language. That rejection served me enormously, but only because I used the humiliation to better myself rather than denigrate myself.
AS: You offer some “rituals” which people could use to overcome the sting of “No”. Could you share some of these?
CM: Sure. There are lots of practices you can use to honor your process. Let these ideas spark your own rituals for handling rejection.
- Write an encouraging letter to yourself. Remind yourself why you do art and why it is worth some suffering.
- Throw a tantrum. Grab a big pillow and pummel it with all the force of your disappointment and anger. Rant and rave about the unfairness of it all. Too often we’re too adult to physically express our disappointment. Let rip – you’ll feel much better.
- Revisit a former success such as a contest won or a prior showing. Gloat over your previous victories and know that they are just the beginning of your success.
- Exercise. Go for a walk or a run or a bike ride, or whatever you do to get into your body. Offer up your sweat to the rejection.