To get to the yes you want, you have to get comfortable with hearing no. A lot.
Rejection hurts, but it’s part of the creative life. Wear your rejections with pride.
Get comfortable with no.
You can have pretty much anything you want in life, so long as you’re willing to hear the word no. Hundreds, perhaps even thousands of times.
You need to ask for what you want. To be clear about it, because the people around you aren’t mind-readers. And you then must get comfortable with hearing no. Because once you do ask, people are under no obligation to give it to you!
For writers and other creatives, this is crucial. If you put your work out there, it will be rejected. Or ignored. You’ll also get useful feedback, if you’re strong enough to absorb it. (And sort the useless feedback from the good.)
It’s one of the challenges of working in any creative field. To make our best work, we often need to be open, sensitive, vulnerable. To promote it, we need to develop the thick, armoured skin of a rhino and get comfortable with criticism and rejection. That’s hard.
Not everyone will like what you do, and that’s fine.
You’re looking for your tribe, remember. For that select, special group of people who will love it. So start to see rejections as a badge of honour, as milestones on your quest.
The Beatles were turned down by multiple record labels. JK Rowling’s first Harry Potter book were rejected by nearly all the major publishers. Marc Jacobs was sacked from his first big job at Perry Ellis.
Zaha Hadid eventually became the first woman ever to win architecture’s biggest prize, the Pritzker. But for much of her career, she was famous for having built very little at all because her designs were so radical.
I once asked her how she got through that time, and she said by persisting, and by creating one new design a day — variations on a simple building — just to remind herself that she could.
You can’t control who says yes.
But you can control how many pitches or proposals you send out, how many publications you approach, how much time you spend researching and connecting with your audience or ideal clients, and learning the skills you need to communicate with them better.
It can help to turn it into a game, to count your nos. How soon can you get to 100? Can you find friends who want to compete to get there first? Perhaps you could meet regularly to share and compare your latest rejections.
And if you’re aiming for rejections, there’s an incentive to aim high. Apply for the biggest grants, enter the most prestigious competitions, pitch to your dream clients and publications. Not just to the ones you think you’ve got a good chance of getting.
It takes time, to get to the yes you want.
It’s OK to take a beat sometimes, to feel the pain from a particularly hurtful or important rejection. Feel whatever you’re feeling. Be kind to yourself.
Try to be kind, too, to the editors and gatekeepers who turn you down. They’re busy, they have their own stresses and pressures, their own stories running on loops inside their heads. When they turn you down, it doesn’t necessarily mean anything about you — or them.
Then pick yourself up and try again. Keep the end point in mind. How will it feel when you finally get to the yes you want?
It worked out pretty well in the end for The Beatles, for JK Rowling, Marc Jacobs and Zaha Hadid. There’s no reason it shouldn’t work out for you.
Sheryl Garratt is a writer and a coach helping creatives to get the success they want, making work they love. Want my free 10-day course, Freelance Foundations: the secrets of successful creatives? Click here.