Rejection June 19, 2018
In the last several years, as I have become a filmmaker, I have been learning to embrace rejection. No matter how many people warn you about the rejections you will face as an artist, you have to learn to accept it on your own.
I was in my forties when I went to grad school. I had to find a job when I graduated. I had no money, no support, and nowhere to go without a job. I had gone through hard times before. I had lost everything, been homeless, gone bankrupt, and lived on people's couches in the past. I knew I had used up all my safety nets. Sheer fear drove me to apply for jobs. I applied for over forty academic jobs that first year. I got one phone interview, and one interview.
That same desperation drove me to submit my films to festivals. I had to get my work out there to be recognized in order to get more work.
Over the next couple of years, I applied for 50-60 more jobs. I got five phone interviews and three campus interviews leading to one job offer.
Now I am in a tenure track position. I must raise money to fund films that I must get peer reviewed and disseminated. I must publish and demonstrate my productivity and quality of creative work.
So I submit. I submit grant applications. I submit films to festivals. I submit writing to journals and abstracts to conferences. In social media, I promote my work and announce my successes. Privately, I humbly suffer the weekly rejections that I don't shout out on Facebook and Twitter.
On submittable I have one acceptance and 25 denials. On Film Freeway and Withoutabox, I have about 500 rejections to my 130 selections. FIVE HUNDRED REJECTIONS.
Although every rejection causes me a little disappointment and a moment of sour grapes, I know they are not indicative of my talent or worthiness. My rejections are proof that I put my work out there again and again until it finds a home where it is appreciated. If I want to screen my film in a festival, I submit it to 10 festivals. If my writing gets rejected, I send it out to five more places. I can't make someone love me. I can't make someone love my work. I can keep sharing my work. I can keep putting myself out there. That is something I can control.
Now, when someone turns down my work, I feel compassionately sorry for them that they are missing out. I send it back out into the world and I write and make something else. I trust that the accumulation of my work is manifesting voice and style and themes. I know that someday soon, after a few of those rejection letter, I will get that email or phone call from the person that has seen my work and loves it and can articulate to me exactly what I was trying to do and why it is relevant. I know it will come, because it always comes. I write for those people out there. I send my work out into the world to help me find those people.