How I Declared Myself a ‘Rejection Expert,’ and Other Stories of Creative Reframing

I had a conversation with a friend recently where she told me that my whole “self-doubt demon” personification thing doesn’t really speak to her. She said it feels shallow, almost cutesy, and not like real coping.

It made me realize that if that’s all I was doing–personifying the voice of doubt in my head and making light of it–it probably wouldn’t work that well for me, either. There’s something deeper that has to happen.

Getting Comfortable with Failure

In my first post on Rejection Survival Guide, I wrote the following (emphasis from now):

I know what it’s like to be in the trenches. I’ve been there. I’m still there. I may be there forever. So I’m getting comfortable, setting up shop, and mapping this place out for those of you who haven’t gotten to know this place like I have.

And in my post for The Artist Unleashed, I wrote:

Along with the 100+ rejections I’d racked up from other agents, plus all the rejections for the short stories I’d been submitting to literary magazines, I started to wonder if my calling in life was to get rejected. ​Well, I reasoned, at least I’m pretty good at it.

No, seriously.

All the writers I’d heard of hadn’t been rejected nearly that much before getting published…. Getting rejected was the one area in which I could sincerely boast a great deal of experience.

These two passages reveal a shift that happened somewhere along the way in the way I viewed my failure to get published. Rejection was no longer something to run from and avoid at all costs. It was a place I could get comfortable and explore without feeling threatened. I knew that every successful writer has been there, and the fact that I had spent a lot of time there wasn’t something to be ashamed of; on the contrary, I should be proud of it. Heck, I’m so experienced at getting rejected, I’m practically an expert.

An expert at getting rejectedWhoever heard of such a thing? The idea was crazy–and so empowering. It turned this thing that had been giving me so much grief for so long completely on its head.

In psychological terms, this is called reframing: shifting perspective on a feeling, event, or thought and giving it new meaning. Sometimes, a cognitive shift is all that’s needed, and the results are immediate and powerful. Sometimes, the shift is a slower, deeper process that takes more time to unfold.

In this case, I think a lot of the groundwork was laid out by the work I’d been doing in therapy during the years before–a process of connecting with myself and becoming more confident and comfortable in my own skin. I think if I’d been told to think of my vast experience with rejection as “expertise” five years ago, I probably would have rolled my eyes and felt that whoever said that was making fun of me–and invalidating the real pain I was feeling, to boot. The change needed to come from within me.

Here are some other “reframings” I’ve done that help me cope with some of my creativity-related challenges:

Self-Doubt as Part of the Growth Process

For a long time, whenever I had a wave of self-doubt–a “writing crisis,” I called it–it scared me. It made me worry that I was losing faith in myself, that I was giving up, that I would never make it–or that it meant that I was finally facing the truth, that I really wasn’t “good enough.”

Only very recently, I began to reframe those “writing crises.” Now, when I’m thrown off by a stinging rejection or a bad review, I see the “self-doubt-demon festival” as a natural part of my processing. I almost welcome it. It means that the system is still working. If it didn’t sting, I’d be worried.

Why? Because self-doubt is part of the growth process. It keeps us humble; it makes us reassess what we’re doing and look for ways to improve. Thinking of it this way helps me avoid wallowing in it unnecessarily. That’s what I mean with my allegory of “inviting the self-doubt demons in for tea.” Self-doubt is an unpleasant, but not unwelcome guest. I let it in and hear it out, but don’t let it take charge. I think practically and follow all the concerns to their conclusions–which generally exposes how ridiculous or irrelevant they are. And when I’m done with all that, I show it the door and get back to work.

Writing letters or conducting “interviews” with a personification of self-doubt is a creative way to engage in this process, but by all means–do what works for you!

Jealousy as a Way to Connect to Your Dreams & Aspirations

This is a very recent one that I only managed to put in words in an offhand comment to my husband this past Saturday night.

You know how sometimes the world feels like it’s conspiring to make you feel a certain way? It started off with turning on my phone after the Sabbath and learning that my sister- and brother-in-law were on vacation in Barcelona–and didn’t want to tell me about it because they were worried I’d be jealous. Well, of course I’m jealous! I’ve been dreaming about traveling to Spain for years! But I’d be jealous anyway; at least let me know so I can live vicariously through you!

So I gave them the contact information for Josep (the long-suffering addressee of Letters to Josep, who lives in the area), and while I was still nursing the jealousy that they may have an opportunity to hang out with a good friend of mine who I hardly ever get to see, I scrolled down my FB feed (NEVER a good idea if you’re trying to recover from jealousy!) and saw not one, but two posts from fellow authors getting excited about their book deals.

You’d think such things would no longer spark my jealousy, seeing as my own novel is finally being published in under two months. But there’s always something. One of the authors in question has an agent and I’m certain she’s signing with a Big Fancy Publisher. The other has tons of connections in the publishing world and her only trouble is producing enough stuff for agents and editors to happily snap up. “Clearly,” my self-doubt demons said, “these authors are the Real Deal, and you, by contrast, are a Nobody.”

As I settled into bed and told my husband Eitan that the theme of the evening seemed to be Things that Make Daniella Jealous, he told me this is why I should avoid Facebook and Instagram; and I found myself saying to him that on the contrary, I think a little jealousy every once in a while is good for me. It reminds me of my dreams and aspirations and gives me a chance to re-explore them.

I don’t want to forget how much I want to visit Spain. That would suck, especially since one of these days I will get to go, and if I forget how much I want it, it won’t be nearly as satisfying, will it?!

I don’t want to forget that I always have higher places to strive for as an author–but that it is my choice whether I want to spend the effort and make the necessary sacrifices to reach them. Reminding myself of these aspirations helps me reevaluate where I am in my writing career and ask myself what I really want my next step to be–and whether those goals I longed for in the past are really relevant to what I know of myself now as a person and as a writer. Jealousy is a somewhat painful, but powerful reminder.

(For more on coping with jealousy, see: How to Not Strangle People Who Are More Successful than You)

Writer’s Block as “Slow Cooking”

There is a ton of literature devoted to coping with creative blockage–and there are many different things that may cause it. I am a passionate proponent of doing what works, and I think these methods can be extremely helpful.

I find, though, that most often, when I feel like I’m forcing something out, what that means is that it just needs more time to “brew.” Creative processes can be slow and build over many years. There are always going to be those obscenely prolific artists who effortlessly churn out amazing work on a regular basis. We can’t all be Mozart. Some of us are more Beethoven. (And between you and me, Beethoven owns Mozart’s pretentious Austrian butt. Mozart didn’t have the emotional complexity of a trombone, let alone enough to achieve the pathos of Beethoven.) (Who? Me? Jealous? Of course not. I’m merely… um… connecting to my aspiration to be prolific.)

Ahem. Where was I?

Ah yes. Slow cooking. When I find myself feeling stuck, I get up and do something else. As I’ve written before, the vast majority of my creative process takes place during meditative, mindless tasks, preferably ones that involve running water. (Like doing the dishes or taking a shower.) Sometimes I’ll put down the manuscript for a while to focus on background research. I don’t think of it as being blocked. I think of it as needing some more cooking time.


What are some other challenges creative people encounter that we might be able to frame differently? How have you used reframing to help you in your creative endeavors? Let’s discuss it in the comments!

The Creative Resilience Manifesto: How to Stay Strong in the Face of Criticism & Rejection

In my first post I introduced what I’m calling the “Creative Resilience Manifesto.”

It’s basically a collection of affirmations, beliefs that have helped me stay focused on my goals as a writer and weather the storms of difficult rejections.

The purpose of this post is to elaborate on them and explain why I think they are important.

If any or all of the affirmations resonate with you, you can print them out and post them near your workspace, on your bathroom mirror, or on your fridge. When you get a rejection, take a deep breath and read them aloud to yourself. (You can find the manifesto without the explanations here. I hope to create a pretty PDF version of it that you can print out–or to inspire a graphic artist to do so! How about you? 😉 )

I create because creation is an act of love.

Creation is taking elements that exist–words, paint, clay, musical notes, movements and gestures, mathematical formulas, whatever–and connecting and combining them in a way no one has ever done before, breathing your own life into them.

Like the Creator breathing life into Adam, this is an act of love. When we create, we channel the Divine.

When we create, we give expression to the dreams and thoughts and images and sounds from within us. This is an act of love for ourselves. We create because we love to.

When we share what we create, we give of ourselves to the world and leave our unique handprint on the tapestry of humanity. This is an act of love for the universe.

I share my creations because I believe in their worth.

When we share to seek approval, or to please or impress others, we make the worth of our work conditional on that approval. That means that when someone we share it with disapproves or criticizes it, we crumble.

Creation is an act of love, and true love is unconditional. A resilient sense of worthiness cannot be conditional on someone else’s feelings about our work. We must start out believing that our work is worthy to withstand disapproval, criticism, and rejection.

Not everyone is going to share that belief,
but the only opinion that really matters is my own.

Disapproval and rejection are always going to hurt. But they don’t have to destroy us.

We don’t need the approval of some “higher authority” to tell us that our work is worthy.

We have been trained to think this way. “If my book is published by one of the Big Five publishing companies–then my work is worthy.” “If my poem is accepted by a high-ranking literary magazine–then my work is worthy.” “If my piece is put on display in a prestigious gallery–then my work is worthy.” “If my piece is approved by an elite professor–then my work is worthy.”

This is BS.

When it comes to your work, you are the highest authority.

When I was a teenager and already the author of several novels, I thought I wouldn’t be a Real Author™ until I was published by a “traditional” publishing company. I thought I wouldn’t qualify for that title until I was “approved” by an editor in an office somewhere.

It took until just a few years ago, when I read one line by singer-songwriter Amanda Palmer, to realize that that wasn’t true. She says, “You’re an artist when you say you are.”

That’s it.

That’s all it takes.

“And you’re a good artist,” Palmer goes on, “when you make somebody else experience or feel something deep or unexpected.”

If you find an audience, even if it’s an audience of one, who believes in your work–you are a good artist.

And your work is worthy of sharing because it can cause other people to experience or feel something deep or unexpected.

This has nothing to do with the approval or validation of some “authority.”

That said, I embrace constructive criticism and opportunities for growth.

There is a colossal difference between believing that your work is worthy, and believing that your work is perfect.

Constructive criticism hurts. All criticism does. And you definitely shouldn’t take everything anybody says about your work as gospel. If you do, you’ll end up creating only what other people think is good, and not what you think is good. And remember whose opinion is the only one that really matters?

If someone says something negative about your work that does not ring true to you–ascribe it to a difference in taste, toss it in the garbage, and move on. If it does ring true, though, and starts to give you a vision of a way your work could be better–seize the opportunity to engage with your work and play with it some more. (After all, why do we create in the first place? Because we love it. See item #1!)

Constructive criticism is just that–it builds you rather than destroys you. Once you get past the initial wave of hurt, you may find that the criticism actually inspires you.

After I wrote my latest novel, I actually found myself craving constructive criticism. I had so much fun writing the book that finishing it was like losing a friend. Finding opportunities to improve it meant that I could go play with my imaginary friends characters some more.

I cultivate hope.

This is a big one.

So big, I wrote an entire guest blog post on the topic of hope for poet Trish Hopkinson’s blog. You can check out the full post here, but here are the highlights:

I used to be terrified of hope.

Well, I was actually terrified of disappointment. But I saw hope as a seductive and deceptive force that enticed me to climb higher, making the inevitable fall hurt that much more…

Here’s the thing… maybe [hope] entices us to climb higher, and maybe the fall from that place hurts more. But that place it takes us is not just a place we fall from. It’s a place where we see farther, where we breathe better, where we reach higher.

Hope is the basic human emotion that keeps us moving forward, that keeps us striving for a better future, and that fills us with a sense of purpose in life. We deserve to feel it in our lives. Which is why…

I refrain from the use of “prophylactic pessimism” to numb myself to disappointment.

“Prophylactic pessimism” is forcing yourself to expect the worst outcome in order to avoid the pain of disappointment. As I write in the guest post I linked to above:

I became a pro at “Don’t get your hopes up.” In fact, I made an art of killing hope at every opportunity. When an unread e-mail with the subject “Re: Query” would pop up in my inbox, I would automatically assume it was a rejection. Usually I was right. Occasionally, I was pleasantly surprised with a request to see more material. When I found myself fantasizing about The Call, I immediately shot it down by imagining how awful the rejection of that full request would be. I wanted to be prepared for the let-down, so I practiced it. This system—preventing disappointment by preemptively shutting down hope—seemed to be working well for a while.

Until it didn’t.

We all do this sometimes. Because disappointment hurts. The greater the hope, the more we wanted something, the more it will hurt, and we want to protect ourselves from that hurt by suppressing our desire and our hope.

This may seem reasonable, but here’s the problem: when we numb ourselves to negative emotions like fear, sadness, disappointment, and anger, we also numb ourselves to positive emotions like joy, hope, love, and excitement. (If you haven’t seen Brené Brown’s TED talk on the power of vulnerability, you need to get on that pronto.) I believe that we deserve to feel the highest heights of these positive emotions even at the expense of having to experience the negative ones. That’s why…

I invite myself to feel everything.

Experiencing the negative emotions can give us invaluable gifts: empathy, understanding, self-compassion, self-nurturing. We deserve to cultivate and experience these things alongside the positive emotions.

I think we are so afraid to feel pain because we haven’t been taught how to care for ourselves through the pain. We have been taught to numb it or to “stick it out” or do anything we can to make it go away. We have not been taught to be kind to ourselves, to ask ourselves what we need to heal, and give what we need to ourselves as generously as we can.

When we learn how to do this, when we trust ourselves to be there for ourselves through the pain, it becomes a lot less threatening.

Read more about the case for hope and against prophylactic pessimism here.

Getting criticized or rejected means
I dared to hope,
I dared to create,
I dared to share my work,
and I dared to face disappointment.

How many people do you know personally who have ever dared to risk getting a creative work rejected by an agent, editor, judge, or curator, or criticized by anyone at all?

If you can count them on two hands, you hang with an unusually awesome crowd.

The vast majority of people don’t do it. Most people are too afraid of exposing themselves and making themselves that vulnerable.

I give myself permission to mourn the loss that each rejection represents: the death of a dream.

Every time we submit something, we give birth to a dream–a dream that our work will be accepted. When we get a no, the dream dies.

It’s okay to grieve for it.

In our culture stoicism is often mistaken for strength. It does not take strength to shove your grief under the rug and pretend it never happened. It takes a lot of strength to face your grief head on and let yourself feel it. This is the only way to really work past it. When we deny our grief, it comes out in other, sometimes harmful ways. The only way out is through.

I also give myself permission to honor that I dared to dream in the first place.

If you have ever created something, you are brave. If you have ever shared something you created with somebody, you are very brave. If you have ever tried to get your work in front of an audience, you are unbelievably brave.

I celebrate the incredible courage I showed in trying to make that dream come true.

Life won’t always reward you for your courage, but you can.

I keep a stash of mini chocolate bars in my closet. I call them “rejection chocolates.” When I get a rejection, I treat myself to one. It may seem silly, but it actually makes a big difference for me. It associates rejection with something positive to look forward to, however small and insignificant. And it makes rejection into something more than just the loss of a dream. It makes it a celebration of courage, too.

I highly recommend this practice.


Is there anything you would add to this? What rituals or perspectives have you developed to help you handle rejection?