What a Year of Tweeting Rejections Taught Me (with some help from the Hot Priest)

 Let’s talk rejections!

Over on Twitter, I’ve been doing a thing this year: every time I get a rejection, I tweet about it with a gif of Andrew Scott, and add £5 to my ‘rejection pot’. The rejection pot was not my idea, the tweeting Andrew Scott gifs very much were.

Why do it?

Firstly, the money (you can put any amount in, £5 seemed reasonable back when I had a job). The point of the rejection pot is to take that money and spend it on something utterly frivolous. Something you couldn’t usually justify. Originally, I had intended to use it for a big ridiculous meal. However, 2020 happened and that’s less fun. So I intended to use it for something I couldn’t normally justify spending money on. I’ll say what it is at the end of this post. The point is to get a treat out of it. We spend hours, days, weeks, applying for things, submitting, doing forms. All unpaid. So why not, if we’re able pay ourselves a little something, and as the saying goes, treat yourself. So that’s what I did. Also, if you care to do the maths, it helps you track how many rejections you got.

A quick note that I didn’t include job applications as ‘rejections’ unless I got to interview stage (or I’d be broke, especially given even pre-covid I knew I would be job hunting) and I didn’t (personally) choose to include pitches I did as a journalist, because those are so many, by the law of averages to get any bites.

So, what constitutes a rejection?

That’s really up to you.

For me it was a mix of the following:

·  Script Submissions (to theatres, and competitions)

·  Applications to writing programmes.

·  Book proposal submissions (this reminds me I left at least one off my tally to add).

·  Any other writing opportunity calls.

·  Jobs at interview stage.

We are gathered here today to discuss rejections

Why share my rejections?

I’m sure some people look at my Twitter rejection reactions and think one of two things. Either ‘Man she must SUCK’ (as one man basically said to me, charmer). Or ‘wow she LOVES attention’

Hopefully, anyone who knows me knows these things aren’t true. But why share them?

Firstly, not for attention, no but solidarity and catharsis. Even pre-lockdown, writing and the arts can be a lonely business. We sit with our laptops, in our rooms, getting rejected time and time again. And we’re mostly alone in the work we put in, and in those rejections. I wanted people to feel less alone. You know in theory you aren’t the only person who got that rejection, but usually, the only thing you see is the person that didn’t get the rejection.

And that’s the other side. I wanted to be honest about the rejections we all get. How many rejections it takes to get a ‘win’? I had dark times this year, when I thought dark, sometimes bitter things about myself, about people who were getting ‘wins’ while I was losing. Those are perfectly human emotions. But we don’t speak about them, because we seem to think talking about rejection either shows we aren’t a good writer, or that we aren’t a good person.

It means neither of those things.

It doesn’t mean you aren’t a good writer (or actor, or director or artist). It means you didn’t fit for this thing. Or yes, someone with a foot in the door opened it first. Or a dog ate your submission. It doesn’t mean it was bad. All those people with wins got rejected too. From 10, 20, 100 other things. They just only shared the win.

And you’re not a bad person for feeling those things. For feeling angry, sad and yes bitter that all those hours on that submission seemed to be for nothing, again. It’s human. We pour ourselves into our work as artists so of course, it stings when someone doesn’t want it. Of course, it feels like a reflection on ourselves.

And we should be honest about what it takes to succeed- and to fail. And about what we can learn from both.

Lessons in rejection

What did I learn from sharing my rejections?

Firstly, and most importantly, that I’m not alone. And that’s why I did it. To make myself and others feel not alone. So often when I tweet, I’ll get a DM from someone saying either they got rejected from the same thing, or something else, and they felt awful about it. But that seeing someone else get rejected made them feel less alone, less useless, whatever.

Do I think some people see those tweets and roll their eyes, call me attention seeking, say I clearly do suck? of course. But those people probably roll their eyes at all my tweets, and think I suck anyway. What I also learned is how supportive the niche you carve out can be. Yes there’s plenty of the eye rollers in my acquaintances. Probably a few who really enjoy every time an Andrew Scott pops up thinking ‘Yes that bitch got rejected again’ But there’s also so many people who say ‘you’ve got this’ or ‘forget that bullshit you’re better than that’ or just ‘Yay I love to perve on The Hot Priest’ either way it’s a lift in a dark moment. And the perving on the Hot Priest is important (in general, but also here), we should add levity to this. As much as it’s important, as much as we take our work, our art, our career, seriously, it’s also important to keep a sense of humour, of perspective. And if that perspective is a gif of the Hot Priest, so be it.

And beyond tweeting, and an ever-growing rejection pot, what else did this logging of rejections teach me?

Well firstly it’s no magic bullet. Some rejections just sting, no matter what you do. Some you’ve put your heart and soul into. Or pinned your hopes on. Or just thought you know what ‘Maybe this time’ and you get shot down. Again. Or you see the wave of people who DID get accepted, and you start to question everything. (I swear to the theatre Gods the BBC and their percentages can take a hike, I don’t need to feel like I’m in an American High School and everyone else made the top percentile and I failed thanks). And you still have days, where it all feels a bit pointless.

This is just to make the place pretty now right?

I did learn, to open my big mouth and speak up. Even if nobody is listening.

I have two pet hates in rejections, and I’ve been speaking out (though not calling out) the people who do it.

1. Sending rejections at ridiculous times. Save your rejections for business hours. Every basic email package has a scheduling option. Email me, I will teach you how to do it. And send them between 9-6 during weekdays. Not 9pm on a Sunday. I wish I could say it was only one of them I’d had. And before someone says ‘well don’t check your email out of office hours’ that’s not the point- it’s not on me, it’s on the organisations not to send people who put themselves in a vulnerable position by sharing work, to be in a spiral of self-doubt at 10pm on a Sunday. When two clicks could let them see it in the better light of day on a Monday.

2. Poorly written/callous rejection emails. Just take a tiny step back, think ‘would I like to read this’. Don’t put ‘you didn’t even make the first round’.

And we’re busy. I get it. It’s been a hell of a year. But that’s exactly why organisations should be choosing kindness.

What else did I learn?

I leaned to be mindful of my time, my energy. And what was worth applying for. There’s something sometimes in the numbers game. You do have to be in it to win it of course. But I deploy the same approach with submitting as I do writing; will this serve me in the longer term. Can I use it for something else? And this experience has taught me to be more mindful than ever about that. I don’t need the drain on my energy, my time when I know in my heart it’ll be a no., I don’t mean that in a self-deprecating or self-defeating way. I just mean, some calls you know it’s a waste of time, but you feel you ‘should’ because it’s ‘what you do.’ And what this year has taught me, what logging the rejections taught me, is actually you don’t have to, and to save that energy for elsewhere.

And on that note, this year, as it accidentally turns out, has been a good year to log those rejections. Because it’s a year, probably like many of us, I’m considering what I do next. If this fight is one, I stay in or if again, it’s time to not bother directing my energy at things that might be pointless.

And again, it’s not a self-deprecating or self-defeating thing. Its very pragmatic. I’ve not had a bad year, all things considered (losing a job aside). And as cliché as it sounds, I’ve learned a lot about who I am, as a writer, as a person, all that jazz. And for me looking at those rejections coming in, more and more I just didn’t care about a lot of them. And that’s as important as caring.

At least the Hot Priest cheers us up right?

The things I found myself caring about this year in terms of writing. In terms of what I put my energy into, what I was really pinning those hopes on…it wasn’t mostly, the things I’d submitted for. I started the year determined that I should make my mark as a playwright, continue my work as a critic, move on from my job to get a better one… that’s the dream, right?

A year of rejections. On particularly hurtful job…acceptance then taking away of said job before I could even start (oh then the job magically reappearing later) I’m looking at that array of ‘nos’ behind me and thinking…actually I’m ok with that.

Obviously in terms of job applications, being so fussy isn’t a luxury any of us have now. Or any time. But in terms of artistic things, a year of looking at, and sharing the rejections made me ask: Is what I’m chasing what I really want?

And right now, the answer is no.

And yes, it might be a 2020 thing. It might be a decade of fighting burnout thing.

Or it might be the right thing. Because like rejections, giving up isn’t always a bad thing. Not if it leads you to something better.

So I’ll pick up my rejections pot next year. But I’m not sure I’ll be applying to theatres. I’m not sure I’ll be picking up my pen to write a play any time soon. But that’s ok. Just like the rejections are ok too.

Oh and what did I buy with my rejection money? I bought a pair of Daniel-Levy designed glasses. I could never have justified buying otherwise. And who knows, maybe they’ll have some fortuitous writing-vibes for next year’s projects.…it’s worth a shot, right?

Wait that’s not the Hot Priest…time for a fresh start maybe.

Published by Emily Garside

Academic, journalist and playwright. My PhD was on theatrical responses to the AIDS epidemic, and I continue to write on Queer theatrical history. Professional nerd of all things theatre.

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