How to Move Through Rejection

by Carolyn Edlund

Author, teacher, speaker, and artist Cynthia Morris recently spoke about helping artists deal with rejection.


Cynthia Morris photo

Cynthia Morris


AS:  You have stated “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, and 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 hearing 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.


Visit Cynthia Morris’ website for more information about how Cynthia helps make the creative process easier and more enjoyable.



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  1. The way this interview has opened up is brilliant….”taking your self seriously to risk a no”. Too good!!!

  2. So glad it resonated with you. Your ‘brilliant’ has undone countless rejections, so thank you!

  3. Cynthia, your interview has been a super popular one. You will have to join us again on another topic of interest to artists!

  4. Carolyn, I’m so glad!

    I’d love to help anytime. We’re all in this together.

    Let me know when I can help.

  5. Thank you so very much for this interview!
    Your suggestions are brilliants!

  6. Sari Cecilia says

    Great article, thanks for sharing.
    Am reading this at a pivotal point in my life where I have declared to myself that I will be a full-time artist (painter, sculptor & budding writer), when I launch out to the world, I may call on you for professional advise.

  7. Cynthia, hi!

    Most of the rejection letters I get don’t contain any feedback at all, most of them are standard letters in which they thank you for participating… How do you deal with those moments when you don’t have concrete feedback but just a letter that says, “we found someone else’s application was just better than yours”?

    I found it very hard to apply for the next thing after an (at least to me) important rejection.

  8. Jessica,
    Yes, rejection hurts! It’s a big deal to put yourself out there and then get a polite but quiet no.

    How to deal with it? You feel the disappointment, trust that it wasn’t right for you, and keep going. You have to orient your thinking to remember that things like this are rarely personal, and that there are many factors contributing to the decision that have very little to do with you or the quality of your work.

    Any successful person you talk with will tell you that for every success there are 100 rejections. You have to keep trying and keep submitting and keep going. That tenacity is what leads to success, not merely talent.

    I don’t know if that’s helpful advice, but I know it’s true for me – keep going for things and some come back to me and some don’t.

    Keep reaching!

  9. Great article and timely as i am exhibiting on Saturday 26 October for the first time in twenty two years! It will be interesting to hear what people say about my work, hope i don’t throw a tantrum if i don’t like it. only kidding. I’ll wait until i get home ha ha.

    I have had a lot of rejection over the last twenty two years of putting my work out there and some people have been down right nasty to my face. It has made me thicker skinned and more determined to succeed.

    Even though it still stings it dosen’t as much because i keep in the forefront of my mind that my work isn’t for everyone and someone somewhere will buy my paintings.


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