What To Do When Your Creative Best Gets Rejected

M y daughter was devastated. She had already won several lead roles, and this one seemed a shoo-in. She had played the part of Peter Pan in the musical Shrek the previous year, and the same casting director was now casting Hook. She not only had insider position for the lead role, but confidence that she was going to be good at it.

Instead, she got a chorus part. Not even a speaking role! She came to me that night in tears: why hadn’t she been casted? She was convinced she had failed and, worse, was a failure.

It happens to everyone who makes something, who opens themselves to criticism, who tries to accomplish something worthwhile. At some point, your masterpiece gets rejected, with exclamations and pejoratives. How do you react well and maintain your creative energy in the face of such negativity?

Here’s what I told her.

1. Creative rejection happens to everyone.

After a few wins, you might think you’re immune to the sort of pain that comes with creative rejection. But it’s inevitable, and ultimately part of the life of creating. She perked up a bit and reminded me of how JK Rowling’s first Harry Potter manuscript was rejected by 12 different publishing houses.

2. Other people’s opinions are subjective and unpredictable.

Most of the time in life, you have no control over someone else’s opinion. Sometimes, it just so happens that the opposing opinion is the deciding opinion. When this happens, remember the difference between craft and spirit. Always be willing to accept critique on craft, but ignore critique of the spirit.

3. Sometimes, you just have to do what the “client” wants.

I imagine her casting director was looking for something specific. If you’re a free-lancer this is obvious but the same is true if you’re on a staff or even if the unhappy party is your Mother. Sometimes, you just have to think of the other person as a client and this job is to pay some bills. Not every project da Vinci created was a Mona Lisa.

4. Get a good night’s sleep and give it your best again tomorrow.

Whether you’re building a business, casting for a role or writing a great novel, don’t put too much into a single day. Things are rarely as terrible, nor as great, as your feelings would have you believe. You will have future wins.

5. Ultimately it’s about the creative process anyway.

As Ernest Hemingway got wiser to the creative process, he began to specifically tell his publisher that he didn’t want to know what happened to his books. He wrote manuscripts and sent them off and that was it. This is worthy of therapy to fully learn, perhaps. But here is the biggest lesson:

Every creative must eventually come to grips with the fact that there is only the work itself, and the inherent joy that comes from making. The more you can divorce yourself from the outcome, the better off you are.

We do it not to make people happy; we do it because it’s what we do.


About the Author

Len Wilson

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Christ follower. Storyteller. Strategist. Writer. Creative Director at St Andrew. Tickle monster. Author, Think Like a Five Year Old (Abingdon).