I’ve been working in the comedy, acting, and writing industry for over 10 years and I’ve experienced a lot of rejection among the many positive responses I’ve had. For every ‘yes’ there are a dozen ‘no’s’. I’ve accepted that for most auditions I’ll never hear back (something casting directors are now working on – lack of feedback is a very contentious issue with actors at the moment!). I’ve sent scripts and pitches to people who didn’t reply, watched friends get parts I went for, and announce their latest commissions while mine go in the bin.
So why do I still do it? Well for all those rejections or silences, there are lovely replies, yesses, recalls, and even that call from your agent which makes you fist punch the air and forget how tough this industry is! A yes can make you feel like a million dollars. A no or being ignored can make you feel like shit.
I’m sharing this with you because rejection is tough, it’s painful and sadly it comes with the job. I’d love to say it doesn’t affect me anymore, that I don’t care, or that my skin is now so thick I just stick two fingers up at the bad times. But I’m not a sociopath. I’m human. And I’ve learned over the years to manage it. I’d like to tell you how so that you can find it a little easier to face rejection in your own creative journey…
A lot of people will enjoy saying ‘but look how many rejections JK Rowling got before Harry Potter!’ in an attempt to make you feel better when that agent you wrote to says no, or that competition you entered says you just didn’t make the longlist. It’s not massively helpful because JK Rowling is now a billionaire and sometimes you just want to punch the wall and have a cry.
So have a cry...
First rule of rejection is IT’S OK TO FEEL SHIT. Don’t try and fight it. Don’t let people invalidate your perfectly normal feelings by saying ‘well, you chose to do this so what do you expect?’. Not helpful! It’s perfectly ok to just say to yourself (and your friends/family) ‘I’m feeling a bit crap about that rejection. I am going to let myself feel a bit crap for a day and have a little cry’. I like to allow myself a little walk, to focus on nature, have a little cry, and maybe then eat some chocolate and have a cuddle with my cat. I just allow myself to wallow in it for a day. The next day I wake up and feel reset. It makes me feel so much better. I get tension headaches if I don’t cry strong feelings out. So go and cry it out.
Angry? Use it!
Sometimes a reaction to a rejection or a comparison to others you see sharing their good news on social media can be anger. Perhaps the anger is directed at the person who didn’t get what you were trying to say, perhaps the rejection you received was dismissive, perhaps it was the 5th one you’ve had in a row and you’re now just very angry at the world/the industry/your friend who seems to get EVERYTHING. Anger is fuel. When utilised into something else it can be very powerful.
I once got dumped by a boyfriend by email (while I was living with him). I was SO angry I joined a gym. And I HATE gyms. Or used to. I would pound a treadmill for ages listening to loud angry music because I didn’t know where else to put this anger, this energy, this RAGE!. And it made me get fit, get toned and discover the power of exercise endorphins. It kind of changed my life. So when I face rejection and have an angry reaction – I use it as fuel to work harder, write more, write BETTER. After the sadness, I sometimes find a fire in my belly. ‘Right I’ll show them! I’m NOT giving up’ and I become more proactive, email more people, write more, challenge myself. It’s hard to do but it gets me back off the floor and raring to go even more.
This thing I and many others struggle with is the inner voice. The negative inner voice. Our brains seem to enjoy focusing on negative stories, comments and words. We don’t procrastinate on the positive – the yesses, the nice reviews, the retweets, the kind words from strangers who we’ve made laugh. The negative inner voice sometimes says ‘see – told you! You’re rubbish! Just give up! Who do you think you are?’. It can be very loud, and very powerful. And it’s painful. You wouldn’t say that to your friend, would you?
If you’re having a very negative reaction and it’s really denting your confidence – take a step back. Let the voice calm down. It’ll soon get bored. Once you’re feeling a bit more calm and rational, get a notebook. Do some journaling and clear your head. Some basic CBT techniques are great for this. Write down the statement which keeps popping into your head. Where does it come from? Was it a teacher who told you at school you weren’t good enough? A parent? An ex? A line in a review? Or maybe you’re not sure and it’s just a habit.
Now challenge that thought. Write down the FACTUAL EVIDENCE to support it. What is the evidence that you are not good enough or rubbish? Did that ‘sorry you didn’t make the longlist’ email have an extra line telling you you’re rubbish? No. Did that agent who said they wouldn’t take you on tell you they thought you were rubbish? No. I bet you can’t find any factual evidence to prove that thought. Now write down facts to disprove the thought. The gig you did when your jokes got laughs, the friend who read your script and smiled gave great feedback, the part you got in college in that play. There’s a reason you’re on this journey – you have talent. Believe in it. Dust yourself off and tell the negative voice to F**K off!
Pause social media.
Sometimes it doesn’t help when we see others posting their good news while we’re feeling a bit rubbish about ourselves. If you get triggered into the compare and despair trap, why not come off social media for a few days or weeks? Take it off your phone – you don’t have to delete your accounts. Just have some self-care and take a break.
Sometimes the lack of control is the most frustrating part of rejection. When you’re waiting for somebody else to decide if you got that part, if you won that competition, if your script is going to be made. This is partly why I created so many live shows. I took control – I didn’t have to ask anyone to decide to let me display my ideas, my humour – I found festivals and rooms to showcase my work. I found an audience. Sometimes you have to accept the things you can’t control in this industry, and focus on the things you can – now go and create something and show someone!
Finally: books and resources
You’re not alone. Millions of people in this industry face rejection every day. There are some great books out there to help if you are really struggling. I re-read some of them even now when I can’t shake myself out of feeling down about it. They always make me bounce back!
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. An incredible kind of artist’s self-help book about living a creative life and accepting fear. Some brilliant advice about dealing with rejection, fear, and writer’s block from the best-selling author of Eat, Pray, Love.
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. A classic book which I think everyone should own! A book that encourages the creative journey and deals with writer’s block, self-discovery and is like a therapy manual!