One of the unexpected bonuses to being a young adult author is getting to visit schools and talk to young readers. Part of the visits is a Q&A session with the students where they get to ask – well – anything. The fact that they get to ask whatever comes to mind often causes panic for the teachers who worry that I’m going to be faced with a question I don’t feel comfortable answering. (Or that will be inappropriate.) So far, students have yet to ask anything that is out of bounds. To be honest, the questions asked have been fun, interesting and incredibly thoughtful.
Part of my talk at schools revolves around my journey to being an author….specifically my wandering career path that forayed into theater, opera, modeling and just about any field that guaranteed a huge amount of rejection. More than once I was asked the question “How do you stay motivated when you get rejected?”
That question was my favorite to answer. Perhaps because the answer isn’t really about facing rejection. Despite what you might think. And I’ll tell you why…
Rejection sucks. It’s hard to hear NO! It’s even harder to be told NO when you have put your heart and soul into something like an audition or a manuscript. After all, you put yourself into that work so essentially it is you that they are judging. It’s hard not to take that personally and feel as if what you are doing has no value. Which is why so many people hear NO and decide to stop writing or performing or put aside whatever they are working on.
See…rejection sucks. But when rejection strikes, the most important thing you can do to help yourself is to ask yourself why you are doing what you are doing? Do you love the work? Or do you love the accolades you dream will some day be yours? If you are writing because you want to see fabulous reviews and sales…or if you are singing and dancing because you crave the applause – well, you might be doing these things for the wrong reasons. Why? Because you are seeking something you have no control over-outside validation. External approval is a wonderful frosting on the top of the cake, but all frosting does not a dessert make. (Trust me on this…I’ve made enough cakes to know!) There needs to be something underneath the frothy, sweet, colorful topping that has more substance.
If you are only looking for the accolades and the external approval of agents, editors, directors, reviewers, etc…well, rejection is going to eat you up and spit you out. Each NO will feel like a punch. Eventually, one of those punches will knock you out. I’ve seen it happen a lot. Applause is great, but it isn’t a reason for writing or performing.
The work! Pushing yourself to be better. Being passionate about what it is that you do. Those things are the cake under the frosting. Those are the things that you can control. Those are what will get you through when you hear the word NO.
When I answer the question about how I stay motivated despite the number of rejections I get I can honestly say, “The work motivates me because I love what I do.” And while that kind of sounds like a Hallmark card, it doesn’t make the sentiment less true. Being passionate about what you do makes the work worthwhile whether it is validated by an external source or not. It doesn’t mean the rejection won’t sting, because—hello! Rejection sucks. But being passionate about getting up day after day and doing what you love (whether as your full time job or late at night when you can squeeze in a few minutes) lessens the intensity of the sting and the pain of the punch. Because while you’d like to hear “yes”, no matter what someone else says you know in your heart how important the work you do is to you. And that really is what matters.
So – to all high school/college students out there – I give you this advice – find work that you are passionate about and use your desire to be the best you can be at that work to motivate you. Let the goal of growing and improving keep you moving forward. Don’t get sucked into needing external approval as a goal.
And to all the writers who read this blog – when rejection slaps up upside the head and makes you stumble, ask yourself “Why am I writing?” and if the answer is “Because I love the work.” I know you’ll pick yourself up, dust yourself off and be just fine.