photo craft: how to deal with rejection or leave it to the stars

After I settled into the squeaky wood chair pulled tight to the kitchen table, I opened my email and read my third rejection note in one week. Two rejections were from juried shows I submitted photographs to and the other was from a film festival (this one was a bit of a stretch, but I tried anyway) I entered. Naturally, I’m invited to attend the shows and in one, my work will be archived.

conjuring Apollo

I stared out the window across from me. All I could see was a bright blown out square of light. The sheer curtain swayed with a soft breeze. I poured a second cup of coffee, determined to wake up after a night of strange dreams. Maybe I shouldn’t read cookbooks before bed since I’m left groggy and unwilling to part from sleep, however fitful it became.

a break from words, one

Beyond the swaying curtain, light fell across a chair. I wondered Am I really cut out for this sort of work? After all, I am a sensitive artist type. Do you know that King Missle song? I listened to them in college and liked their self-deprecating honesty in their music.

a break from words, two

By cosmic law, I’m required to laugh at myself. To not take rejection seriously. Just look at Apollo (Greek god associated with light, truth, and the sun—along with music, healing, plague, prophecies, and poetry), he slayed dragons and inflicted a plague upon the Greeks. He also mastered the lyre and had a romping good time while doing so. What does this mean for us mortals?


It means, get tough. Make more work. Study. Reflect. Find what is true and slay your internal critic, at least during the early drafts, shoot plague arrows at said critic if necessary, do whatever it takes to find something true to say or photograph and then offer it to the world. Eventually the stars will align and the yeses will rain down upon us.

In the mean time, I’m listening to Brenda Euland’s advice on writing which applies to all the creative arts as far as I’m concerned, “Be careless, reckless! Be a lion, be a pirate! Write [or make art] any old way.”

What do you do when the rejection slips come pouring in?

p.s. My friend Marie of Food Nouveau invited me to write about my favorite Edible City as part of her ongoing series. You can read my piece on Waiheke Island, New Zealand and olive oil along with all the other Edible Cities on her blog, although you’ll probably want to hop a plane to Ho Chi Minh City, Positano, Budapest…maybe that’s just me.


  1. says

    I had never heard King Missile’s Sensitive Artist, it’s hilarious! I think I will bookmark it to listen to it every time I feel down after being said no. What’s hard is to keep on going after the “no” – keep believing someone will say yes, sooner than later. Stop being paralyzed by the fear of the no. I’m trying to come out of an inertia phase right now so your post came with the right timing. I’m not alone, right?
    Thanks for linking to Edible Cities – that column is both a blessing and a curse. I love love love reading everyone’s experiences, but it makes me want to pack up my bags and fly to a different place every week! Not good for productivity, but amazing for day dreaming sessions :)

    • ArtandLemons says

      Marie, I know, it’s one of my favorites of theirs and bookmarking it is a good idea. I write encouraging post its and place them on my computer and desk for such occasions and try to change them up occasionally so they don’t become expected, like yellow wallpaper squares. No, you’re absolutely not alone. One of the biggest challenges of getting published or into shows is constantly pitching work, regardless of what the response is. Thanks for inviting me to be part of Edible Cities, I too have the urge to sample all the cities in your series. It’s so good and even though it leaves me with wanderlust, I love that you make it happen!

  2. says

    I like your (and Brenda’s) advice to get tough with oneself. It’s easy to wallow. The no’s pile up. What can you do? Stop in your tracks and be done with it all? No… I need your advice to keep at it, even– and this is where I am right now–when what the “it” is is unclear. Keep working. Keep writing. Keep making photos and films. You do beautiful things and someday the yeses will rain down on you like sunshine.

    p.s. I’m terribly afraid to go visit “Edible Cities”, but I think I’ll face that particular fear…

    • ArtandLemons says

      Rebecca, Brenda’s book is one of my favorites. She reminds me to get at the truth of the matter and to sit in the chair or wherever and do the work. Thanks for that. It’s sweet of you to say and I like the sunny outlook. I wrote the post because I wanted to turn my rejections into something positive, useful to everyone. Not just myself. I have full confidence that you’ll make it to Edible Cities, my travel list grows whenever I visit and am glad for it.

  3. says

    Rejection is tough. Even though we artists are sensitive, I think we also have a strong belief that our work is special in some way. When others don’t agree, it’s either a sign to take a hard critical look at the quality of our work, or that we’re just knocking on the wrong doors.

    • ArtandLemons says

      Jess, It’s true. Rejection is tough and presents an opportunity to take an impartial look at one’s work and to find a market where it will fit. That, of course, takes time. To understand one’s own work by continuing to make it and learn from it.

  4. says

    Yes, I know and love that song… and sing it very loudly in the car. I was up all last night too with fitful thoughts about the nature of writing, confusion over my professional path, etc. etc. Yet here I am, back at the computer since 8am, plugging away. It’s all I know how to do, so even when the rejection slips pile in, I can’t help but keep writing.

    • ArtandLemons says

      Casey, I like that you sing sensitive artist in the car. We should all follow your lead. That’s the thing about choosing creative paths, the alternatives aren’t appealing and often by stepping away from rejection notes or writing block or insecurities or fear or any number of obstacles that can bring one down, there is a sense of freedom in the morning. The ritual and love for the medium that keeps us coming back.

  5. says

    A very long time ago, while inhabiting another world (the corporate one), I took a seminar on how to grow the yeses. The advice was to “count the nos.” Yeses are a function of how many times you ask and nos are part of the equation. My sense is that if the nos are stacking up, you are on the path, doing what you have to do to get to yes. Carry on…

    • ArtandLemons says

      Thanks Amy! I like that advice. I’m counting my nos and shredding them along the wooded path to yes!

  6. says

    hang in there Nikki! I know you will get exactly what you want, I’m just not sure when it will happen for you. you are talented and thoughtful, and good things WILL happen for you. rejection is never easy, in any form, and it is far too easy to sit and wallow about it (but sometime frankly, you need to a little bit) but then you pick yourself up and move on. good things will come!

    • ArtandLemons says

      Karen, Thanks for your encouragement! I appreciate your insight and comment and yes, while it’s easy to wallow, it’s good to get tough and use the rejections as motivation to move ahead.

    • ArtandLemons says

      Ann, Yes, they are. I like to think they get easier with time but really, they don’t. It’s hard knowing how much work went into something and to not take anything personally. I recently read one of these letters in a magazine, I think it was in The Writer. I’m glad you shared the link. The letters are funny and I find so much comfort in reading rejection letters sent to many of my heroes. Thank you for your comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *