Today started like many other Sunday mornings with a cup of coffee and a game of Cribbage. The breakfast nook is perfectly lit for this morning activity. Filtered sunlight shines on the table making a healthy glow in the room. Very nice.
After cribbage (I did win this time but not every time) I checked my email and there was a rejection letter for my play that I entered into the Truckee Community Theater 10-Minute Play Festival.
It’s hard to be rejected and not take it personally. Lots of internal crap comes forward from the simple statement, “I had a panel of judges reading all the plays and I am so sorry, but yours was not highly rated.”
With this rejection came a “but” statement. “But we want to work with you to produce it for the next season’s festival in August 2019.”
Somehow the “but” statement doesn’t take the sting away from the rejection. Yet I consider myself fortunate as not all rejections come with an offer to help you make it producible for the next season.
Many years ago I worked with a very smart guy at Intel Corporation who did research on resilience. Although he was researching resilience in a corporate setting and how employees face feedback regarding job performance, promotions that didn’t happen, and a variety of other disappointments, the one great cure for rejection comes from the power in resilience.
Resilience is that ineffable quality that allows some people to be knocked down by life and come back stronger than ever. We do not let failure drain our resolve. Instead we find a way to rise up from the ashes.
Psychologists, scientists, people researchers, and other teachers and students of human behavior site attitude, optimism, the ability to regulate emotions and see failure as a form of helpful feedback as a way to bounce back. We harness our resilience and change course and soldier on.
Here’s the deal if you want to publish your work, see your plays or screenplays produced, or participate in any number of public-facing writing activities — you will face rejection. It’s the way it works.
It’s not the rejection that we want as a defining moment, it’s the resilience we want to be the story. Our courage to keep going. And in case you don’t believe me, here are some authors that dealt with rejection and must have been so beautifully resilient. It’s a list I’d be honored to join, and I will.
- Dune by Frank Herbert – 13 rejections
- Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – 14 rejections
- Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis – 17 rejections
- Jonathan Livingston Seagull – 18 rejections
- A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle – 29 rejections
- Carrie by Stephen King – over 30 rejections
- Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell – 38 rejections
- A Time to Kill by John Grisham – 45 rejections
- Louis L’Amour, author of over 100 western novels – over 300 rejections before publishing his first book
- John Creasy, author of 564 mystery novels – 743 rejections before publishing his first book
- Ray Bradbury, author of over 100 science fiction novels and stories – around 800 rejections before selling his first story
- The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter – rejected so universally the author decided to self-publish the book
- From rejection slip for George Orwell’s Animal Farm: “It is impossible to sell animal stories in the U.S.A.”
- From rejection slip for Norman MacLean’s A River Runs Through It: “These stories have trees in them.”
- From rejection slip for article sent to the San Francisco Examiner to Rudyard Kipling: “I’m sorry, Mr. Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.”
- From rejection slip for The Diary of Anne Frank: “The girl doesn’t, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the curiosity level.”
- Rejection slip for Dr. Seuss’s And To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street: “Too different from other juveniles on the market to warrant its selling.”
- Rejection from a Chinese economic journal: “We have read your manuscript with boundless delight. If we were to publish your paper, it would be impossible for us to publish any work of lower standard. And as it is unthinkable that in the next thousand years we shall see its equal, we are, to our regret, compelled to return your divine composition, and to beg you a thousand times to overlook our short sight and timidity.”