Keep doing what makes your heart sing

‘I am a writer to my core, so if the world decides to reject my writing, what then?’

I recorded a wee piece on surviving rejection in the creative world for Foolproof Creative Arts. Recently they have been running a fascinating series of #FoolproofBites: short nuggets of wisdom and inspiration from people working in all sorts of different creative areas. It’s well worth dipping into the whole series to see what you discover.

You can listen to my musings here or, if you prefer, here’s the transcript:

Hello, I’m Flora Johnston and I’m a writer. My first novel What You Call Free was published in March 2021 by Glasgow based indie publisher Ringwood.

It took me many years of rewrites, disappointment and rejection to get the book published. Rejection is common in the creative world but it can be soul destroying. So much of you goes into this thing you have created, and if people don’t value it, that can be really hard to deal with. So I thought I’d share just a few practical things about how I’ve dealt with rejection. Believe me, I am talking to myself here. It’s not as if the path to my literary dreams has suddenly become smooth. Far from it!

Rejection is part of this creative life, so while we might not be able to embrace it, we can try to make use of it. As artists we can take every experience, the joy and the pain, into our creative process. What better place to express those frustrations and disappointments?

Keep doing what makes your heart sing. I love the line from Chariots of Fire when Eric Liddell says, when I run I feel God’s pleasure. Now, when I run, God’s pleasure is the very last thing I feel, but when I write I know I am where I am meant to be. If that’s the same for you in your area, then whether your work is rejected or not, no-one can ever take away from you the pleasure of actually creating it. Do everything you can to keep that joy alive. Remind yourself why you do this in the first place. That might mean taking a break from the big project and creating something just for the sheer joy of it, for no-one else’s eyes. For me, I know it’s really important that when I’m being worn down by the process of submitting work and refreshing the inbox with dread, that I’m also already working on the next project, even loosely, to keep being creative.

This next point is probably the one I find hardest, and it’s about identity. I think one of the reasons rejection of our creative work is so hard is that it is so closely bound up with who we are. I am a writer to my core, so if the world decides to reject my writing, where does that leave me? That’s when it’s really important to consciously hold onto other parts of my identity. I am more than my creative work, you are more than your creative work. If you have relationships you value, if you are a person of faith, if you have a special place you like to go or other activities you can lose yourself in, hold onto all of these on the wobbly days when you feel as if the thing you want may never happen.

Finally, find someone you can share this with. Your friends and family might care, but they’re unlikely to fully understand. I went on a writing retreat and made some friends there who really get it, who are going through the same sort of stuff, who can encourage me and spur me on. There are lots of opportunities online and in person to connect with others who are working in the same area as you. Seek them out – and good luck!

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