Dealing with Failure

So, in my last blog post I mentioned that I had applied for the Clarion West 6-week writing workshop. Since then, I’ve learned that I was rejected. Yes, I am super bummed. Getting rejected sucks. I even applied knowing it was very likely I’d be rejected and I was still bummed when I found out. However, as that old cliched saying goes, what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. This isn’t the first time I’ve been rejected from something and it won’t be the last. I am a writer, after all, and rejection is a big part of this world. We all face rejection at some point in our lives, so in the interest of sharing and spreading some love, here are a few things I do to help me when I get the big metaphorical DENIED stamp.

Cultivate Realistic Thinking

This will probably sound super pessimistic, but in my experience you kind of need to do prep work to help prepare yourself for failure before you know whether you’ve failed or not. There is nothing worse than convincing myself I have something in the bag only to learn that I failed. Rejection always stings more when we don’t even consider the possibility. But, really, what I’m talking about isn’t about considering failure imminent (that is, being overly pessimistic); what I’m talking about is considering what is realistic in the given situation. For instance, in applying for Clarion West, I did some research on the program ahead of time. It’s very competitive, with writers applying from all over the world. The workshop also occurs only once a year and has 18 people. I also didn’t really have a good sense of what they were looking for in application materials. So, from all of this information (and, maybe my own self-confidence issues), I knew that it was anything but a sure-fire bet to get in. I also knew that if I didn’t get in, there would still be other workshops I could apply for and other opportunities to improve my writing. Taking time to prepare myself in this way before I got the news of my rejection really did help me move on. I’d recommend a healthy dose of realistic thinking for anyone facing a potential rejection situation.

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

Winston Churchill

Remember Your Past Successes and Failures

There’s nothing quite as draining and gutting as failure, and it’s pretty easy (for me, anyway) to start to spiral into depression when I get that kind of news. One thing I’ve learned really helps me combat this urge is to think back and remember my past successes and even failures. Thinking of my past success reminds me that I am not the most terrible thing in the world. No, I’m not perfect, but I’ve had some wins before and I most likely have some ahead of me. Thinking of my failures is helpful, too, because more often than not my failures were critical for my future successes. In high school, I was rejected for volleyball team tryouts. As it turned out, I had a really challenging high school experience, and not having to deal with a sport allowed me to focus on my school work and prepare for college. Being rejected, at the time, really sucked, but looking back, I can see it was for the best. When I remember this, I have a better outlook on my present circumstances.

When I feel depressed about a recent failure, I try to remember times where I put myself out there and it was a success. I was really scared to go white water rafting in New Zealand, but I did it anyway and had a blast!

Make a Plan to Move Forward

Maybe this is just me, but I find that the best thing I can do after I’ve experienced a failure is to do a little triage and figure out what could have led to my failure and if there’s anything I can do moving forward to improve. In the case of Clarion West, I realized that while I have put a lot of work into my novel I have not been working on any short stories, which has limited my growth in certain aspects of the craft. I came to the conclusion that I need to start working on short stories, both to build up my craft and create a writing portfolio I can pull from when applying to workshops in the future. Having a plan, any plan, makes the situation feel less hopeless, more manageable, and is a good reminder that my journey as a writer is not over because of one rejection.

Taking a moment to take stock and evaluate your rejection/failure can help you make a plan to move forward, but it’s also important to remember that sometimes we get rejected for reasons totally outside of our control and through no fault of our own, and it’s important to note this as well.

Talk To Your Friends

Even with all of these thought exercises and plans, being rejected still sucks. It’s hard not to take it personally and it’s very easy to feel worthless. I’m very lucky in that I have a bunch of friends and family I can talk to who encouraged me and reminded me that I matter to them. This, of all the tips I’ve offered in this post, is the most important advice I have: talk to your loved ones. Share your feelings with them and listen to what they have to say. Often, it will be supportive and a crucial reminder that things aren’t as bad as they seem.

So, has anyone had to deal with a rejection lately? What about a success? What have you found that works and doesn’t work?

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