My first clear memory of rejection was when I was about five years old. My boyfriend, James, (a loose term as all we did was walk round the playground holding hands- it was very innocent) dumped me. He dumped me because I refused to eat a Cadbury's Cream Egg that he'd squashed with his plimsoll and was covered in dirt. He started seeing another girl called Anna instead. So followed a wealth of romantic rejections but that's not my focus here (that's for a book called - 'All the romances that never happened in my life and how I dealt with the fallout and am still dealing today').
Nevertheless I recovered quickly (I'd had my doubts about James for a while and I think one of my teeth came out which provided a good distraction from the heartache) and I've dealt with rejection many times since. I was never athletic at school (and was basically two stone overweight) so was rarely picked to be on a team. It was always that excruciating thing where you're the last one picked, and you're pretending that you're okay but you have a lump in your throat and feel awful (I also found that when people expect you to be rubbish, you deliver and I wonder what would have happened if I'd been picked first? Would that have helped my sporting confidence and made me excel?)
At work I also dealt with rejection. From work colleagues who I didn't get on with. From a boss who never thought I lived up to her expectations (and I didn't because her expectations were for me to BE her). The older I got, the harder I found it. It didn't matter what kind of appraisal I had, I would always focus in on the one negative comment and forget the rest. That comment would haunt me and I found it impossible to let go of it (even if 98% of the review was positive).
As a freelancer you have to get comfortable with rejection. Each project you pitch for, each piece of writing, each opportunity- it would be very easy to get into a paranoid spiral and just spin down into a dark place. With my fiction writing, it's been particularly difficult. If you put a lot of work into something, pour your heart into it, it's demotivating when people don't love it. It's also one of the dangers of social media. If you have a few followers you'll find that they love what you do (and you're grateful for that,) but it can give you a bit of an ego, a sense that everything you do is amazing and fabulous (and I've seen some influencers get carried away with that idea and act like the Queen). It's the same dynamic as a boss surrounded by yes people- you're shocked when someone says no and gives you their truthful opinion. It's easy to get used to people saying you're ace but you're not. Not all the time (and all those motivational quotes don't help either- we can't all be amazing and have potential and have limitless opportunities- I'm sorry but we can't).
So how do you deal with rejection? Well there's FOUR things I've got better at (and plenty of things I need to work on).
Remember you are pretty much insiginifcant
This is a biggie. When you're you and you live on planet you and think your thoughts, dream your dreams, obsess about your stuff...well it's easy to think that other people feel the same way about you as you do. The reality is that you're NOTHING. This doesn't sound very motivating, but when you get a rejection letter or a snub on a project, it's not personal. That person has probably received a gazzillion emails that day and you're as significant to them as whether they choose to go to Itsu or Pret for lunch (in fact less significant because lunch is a big deal right?)
It's easy to think that people have got it in for you, don't like you, have turned you down because of some vital reason. Instead revel in your nothingness. It's actually quite a liberating thought (also works for embaressment i.e. nobody notices anything you say or do even if you fall on your face and your skirt goes over your head- no hang on they might notice that but will soon forget and get back to themselves again).
On social media people get incredibly self-obsessed - and yes there are obviously people who are way more important than me BUT even they are just specks of atoms floating about in a nice way and eventually will become different configurations of atoms and forgotten about.
Read stories about rejections
Lots of famous people have been rejected. 12 publishers rejected JK Rowling before she was given a deal for the Harry Potter books. Dr Seuss- well he was turned down 27 times. Louisa May Alcott the writer of 'Little Women' was famously told to 'stick to teaching' Stephen King was told that his books would not sell. Sylvia Plath's iconic book 'The Bell Jar' was also rejected. I like to Google these stories when I receive a rejection. I am NOT comparing myself to any of these writers (that would be going against the idea that I'm insignificant) but it's compelling to realise that you're not the first to have struggled to get published/be accepted etc. It's good to know that many others have been through it and persevered.
You have two choices in life. You either give up and lie on the sofa and watch TV all day (and this is what I did when I lived in Amsterdam in my early twenties- that and played Sonic The Hedgehog until my eyeballs threatened to burst) or you work. You feel sorry for yourself and listen to Radiohead and think WHY ME? or you work. You buy yourself clothes to fill the void or you work.
I wish someone had told me that you had a choice in this grand life narrative (unless you're suffering from depression and then no you don't - I know it's not useful to be told to 'snap out of it' when you can't). So now when I receive a rejection email (be it for work/writing/whatever) I try and keep writing. I either write a blog post, or work on my novel or pitch an idea to someone.
I love this advice from Cheryl Strayed too- in one of her famous 'Dear Sugar' letters to an aspiring writer she says - 'We get the work done on the ground level. And the kindest thing I can do for you is to tell you to get your ass on the floor. I know it’s hard to write, darling. But it’s harder not to. The only way you’ll find out if you “have it in you” is to get to work and see if you do.'
I have had many conversations with writers about how the market is not geared towards great, original fiction- how everything is genre led, how crap gets published and good stuff doesn't BUT if you don't write then you've made the decision easy. If you don't write then YOU DEFINITELY DON'T GET ANY FURTHER TOWARDS YOUR GOAL.
Don't talk about it
This might seem ironic because I'm writing about it here but sometimes it's better not to blab on about how you've been rejected. I am open about the fact that I'm on the hunt for a publishing deal for my fiction book but I won't be sharing too many details because a) I am optimistic that something will happen eventually b) moaning on about it doesn't help me . No one wants to listen to you complain about how life has been cruel and you haven't had the same opportunities as so and so.
Yesterday I moaned to a friend about how jealous I was of Caitlin Moran- 'She's everywhere. She doesn't give anyone else a chance,' I said. 'But it's not her fault that she's been chosen is it?' my friend answered, 'She isn' t the one stopping you.' And she was right. The fact that great writers like Moran are out there means that there's a market for more. Women like reading writing that is down to earth, funny and honest. They like laughing about life. They like authenticity. That's good news if you think your writing has any of these qualities (or if it doesn't then there's someone else dominating that writing playing field). I get jealous. I feel like I open up the weekend supplements and there only seems to be 4-5 female voices represented (the same ones each weekend) BUT that's why I have to keep going (and not expend energy slagging people off and feeling sad for myself).
So there you go. I would like to say that I never resort to listening to Radiohead or feeling depressed. I'd be superhuman if I didn't indulge myself sometimes. A bit of meloncholy music, some staring out the window (these were the times when I most enjoyed smoking but can't do that anymore because it makes me feel sick)...maybe even some lying on the sofa watching shit...but then it's back to work again.
Don't give up.