The Subjective Nature of the Creative World

Many of you may know me as the very, very, very rejected writer/cat lady. There is truly no avenue of writing-related rejection that I have yet to go through – or at least, that’s what it feels like.  I could recap all the rejections for you in chronological order, but I do believe I have done so many times before, namely here and here.

If you clicked on any of those links above, you’ll notice I love sharing my writing failures. But why am I so keen to share? Well, for two reasons:

1) to make you feel better in solidarity and;

2) because my misfortunes are pretty damn hilarious due to their overwhelming and never-ending march toward my inbox (and makes for great blog fodder!)

Today, I want to highlight one particular story that you might have heard before. It relates to the time I applied for a string of volunteer writing positions for online magazines and websites. ‘Volunteer’ being the golden word. Because who actually gets rejected from volunteer positions?? Bad writers like me, right?

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image via pexels.com

We all know that the writing world is subjective to a certain degree. The way an editor, publisher, agent or judge interprets your work will always be influenced by their own unique perspectives, prejudices and particular tastes. Once you add shifting market demands, you can see why it’s so incredibly hard to figure out what the hell all those creative gatekeepers are actually looking for! To their credit, subjectivity is not something anyone can avoid.

I’m very much used to my work being rejected, but a few years ago I received an exceptionally mean rejection letter for a volunteer position at an online writing magazine (that I was particularly fond of). When I came across their position opening, I may or may not have squealed in excitement.

After I passed the ‘resume stage’, I was asked to submit a ‘test article’. I ended up spending around 10 hours writing, researching and editing my article to what I thought was perfection, paying extra special attention to the subject matter to make sure it would slot into their curated collection of writing-related articles, ranging from such titles as ‘5 Writing Rules to Avoid at All Costs’ and ‘10 Reasons Why Your Query Letter Sucks’ – or something there abouts.

A few days after submitting the article, of which I was particularly proud, the editor sent me an email. It was not a positive one. In the opening line she launched straight into describing my article’s many deficiencies. I was shocked. I was confused. I was heartbroken.

No surprise, I couldn’t bring myself to reply.

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iamge via pexels.com

To make matters worse, I had always loved their website and had been following it religiously for years (I have changed tack and no longer submit to my favourite sites so as not to interfere in my daily indulgence). I even secretly believed the editor and I would get along famously as friends, sipping wine at a trendy bar gossiping about whatever it is writer’s gossip about.

To this day I have no clue what the editor was thinking – she had to know what a newbie I was – perhaps she wanted to pull me down a peg? In any case, she nearly succeeded. It took me almost 2 years to get the confidence to publish the article to my own blog.

Which brings us to the pointy end… a few months ago I decided to post my unwanted article, not wanting to waste the ten hours I had spent researching the damn thing.  All I had to do was make a few *ahem* editorial changes, add a sprinkling of cats and voila! The article was ready!

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sprinkling of cats via pexels.com

I didn’t tell you guys the story behind the article when I published it, as I wanted to post it completely blind to see if it was as bad as the editor had made out. And guess what? It went on to be one of the most popular articles I’ve ever written! It has about two times the views as my normal articles, which just goes to show…

…the writing business truly is subjective (or perhaps you guys are just really, really nice?) Whatever you do, don’t let one person’s remarks get you down. You’re going to face a lot of hard rejection in this game and it will never be easy. But take it from me – you can turn that rejection around. Whether it’s by creating a Stephen-King-like paper sculpture or building a successful blog – just make sure you turn those rejections into the fuel you need to succeed.

(Legit, a few seconds ago I received another rejection email, probably at the exact moment I wrote the word succeed. I’m not even joking. It’s been two months since I’ve received a rejection email and I had to get one now? Time to take my own advice!)

Lots of love to you all!

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68 thoughts

  1. Oh god, rejection sucks. I’m right beside you, I received a particularly overkill rejection for my MS yesterday. All we can do is continue to persevere and hope a lucky break heads our way. Until then, let’s keep writing.

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  2. As the expression goes, “like water off a duck’s back.” We pay attention to constructive criticism and learn something from it but ignoring mean and/or destructive words sent our way is good for the psyche.

    To echo what others have said, writing is subjective!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you, this is something I needed to read. I hate the thought of rejection or people not reading my blog and I have a lot of unfinished articles on my computer. My latest blog post was something I had agonised over but in the end I just decided to post it.

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  4. subjectivity is something of which I am very aware. Why? No, I do not have the amount of rejection experience as you, but I do know how other people think. But the most important thing- I know how I work. I can write a piece and love it and then I read it some time after and wonder why I thought it was any good. Also, when I read other people’s stuff, I see that not everyone likes it as much (or as little) as me. Art is subjective. Not much you can do about it.

    At least you tried. Kudos for that. No matter you got rejected again. It just keeps you striving for more.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s funny to think that I’m someone with a lot of rejection experience hahaha. And yeah I know what you mean about reading other people’s stuff, and not understanding why everyone likes it so much (i.e. first prize in a short story contest). Like you said, Art is incredibly subjective!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Thete is never a rhyme or reason for mean spirited commentary. Take constructive criticism as a learning experience and keep writing. It’s all we can do.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. It is pretty cool that you used the article here on the blog and it is getting a lot of reads here.
    The big loss is for the readers of the magazine who never got to read your article.
    Have a super wonderful day.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Keep rolling with the punches, you Mad Cat-Loving Genius! You’ll get there in the end!
    Mind you (and I know I’m weird) I’d kill for a rejection that told me *what* they thought was wring with my work! I usually just get ‘We’re not taking this project up’ or ‘This just isn’t up to our standards’ and nothing that I could at least think ‘OK, well that’s what I need to work on next time’! Not much fun to read though, sadly.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Isn’t it just the worst when you have no clue if they rejected your story because the writing was terrible or the story simply wasn’t their cup of tea? For years I entertained the idea that I was a tragically bad writer, but no one had the heart to tell me. I’m still not even sure if I can write. My inner dialogue goes like this every time a get a rejection: Is it a subjective issue or is my writing too elementary?? Can you please just tell me??

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, that’s an awful feeling! And if the writing *is* bad, can you please what’s wrong? Is my sentence structure still iffy? Have I gone one and on with descriptions no one needed? Are my characters insufficiently interesting? Does the plot just need a shot of caffiene? What?

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  8. you are inspiring.

    After 100+ “This is not for me but someone else may enjoy it.”

    I started the process for self publishing.

    In the end, the only person whose opinion matters is you as the writer. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I find it difficult not to take criticism or rejection personally, but it’s good to remember all creative endeavors are subjective. Thanks for the reminder to take it in stride, and turn it into a positive. You’ve got a great attitude about it!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Ha! I love that you shared your article, and that it went so well- good for you! I’ll have to pop over and read it. It’s been a season of rejections over here, but your encouraging words make it a little less painful- thank you so much.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Congratulations on your great attitude! And obviously, as you have already discovered, everything is better with cats.
    Being self-published, I haven’t had to deal with publisher or agent rejection, but I’ve had plenty of rejection in other areas: review offers, distributors etc. And often (assuming they even bother to give a reason) it’s because my book is self-published, or because it’s under a Creative Commons license – which are two frequently misunderstood concepts!
    So thanks for your good example in how to graciously accept rejection from those who have got hold of the wrong end of the stick (and refuse to relinquish it)!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I truly appreciate the way you can turn your experience (some not so good) into wonderful blogs for us to read. Thank you.
    I am sorry that you’re facing an uphill battle, but we are behind you.
    I haven’t sent my writing out in a while….a long while, but I am gearing up to do it again in the near future. That is thanks to you and other people like you.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Well written Milly from the heart. I remember so well when you received that rejection email – you were quite devastated but took it on the chin and carried on. One day your name will be up on lights 😀😀

    Liked by 1 person

  14. 100% subjective! I’m glad you share your failures in the writing world – it lets other writers (like me) know that we’re not alone in the struggle for publication and validation. We’re never truly alone in our struggles; it’s a matter of having the courage to reach out for others who can relate. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I’ve never had a manuscript rejected, mainly because I have never sent one anywhere. 😆 Can you imagine their faces? “Oh wow, a manuscript about life in the court of the Sun King, Louis XIV!” [reading on] “Oh. What the heck IS this?” So I just tap away on WordPress instead!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I think the person that sent you such a fowl rejection letter was just in a bad mood that day and took it out on you and who knows how many others! SHE should be fired. I’m glad it didn’t kill you. It made you stronger. And me too.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. I admire you for sharing your struggles while trying to follow your passion! Just goes to show that you should never give up. J.K. Rowling got rejected, I believe, 12 times before Harry Potter captivated someone enough to publish! Keep your head up and do you!

    Liked by 1 person

  18. At least you’re trying. I’ve not submitted anything. Wouldn’t even know where to begin. I’m still new here. I get some good feedback usually from the same dozen or so folks. But my numbers are going down and inwxoectnthats because I don’t engage as much as you, Milly. I want to but am trying to keep my head above water and blog thrice a week and write in the book the other four days. Not having any income, biking an insane amount (18 hours and 184 miles last week), walking, yoga and my many hours wasted on reading or watching stories on film or tv are all time sucks. Mostly it’s finding work I can tolerate and then I fear my creative and exercise hobbies will wither or die. I digress. You are an inspiration, so thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. At least you get the rejection letters. 😛 Nobody even bothered reverting back to me with a “rejection mail”.

    In the first week of April, I pitched to a satirical magazine that brands itself as a platform built -especially for “gay, gender non-conformists, women of color..etc.”.

    They even promise to get back to the writer with “authentic” feedback “within 3 weeks”, even if the article itself gets rejected. I haven’t heard from them till now.

    So yeah, march on. And you write beautifully. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Rejection either in the form of a letter, poor sales, or little feedback are always heavy burdens for any writer to bear, be they new, or very experienced and thick skinned. After all that effort just to be dismissed. It’s a downer. To my mind the most infuriating ones being those which come back so quick you are sure the editor did not read the whole piece (E-mailing a piece and getting a ‘no-thanks’ rejection in 2 hours?….Really???)
    I have developed my own knee-jerk response to an editorial rejection which runs along the lines of :
    ‘I cannot be held responsible for the failure of this editor to grasp the fundamentals of this piece. Their loss,’
    We all need a smidge of arrogance.
    Best wishes with your continued writing.
    Roger

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I completely agree – writers need a smidge of arrogance otherwise they would wither and die. I like to believe that my stories are okay (they may be tragic but I can’t afford to entertain ideas like that). My belief in my work, misguided or not, is sometimes the only thing that gets me through the constant stream of rejections. Sometimes, when I lose hope, I am gripped with this sudden determination that my writing WILL be good one day. It has to be.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. This is the spirit which keeps us going, even when there will be a group of naysayers fluttering about the place.
        Whereas we can always find ways to ‘improve’ our work, and possibly never find the ‘perfect’ version I feel we should also be wary of trying to determine whether the work is ‘good’.
        There are many ways the shallow parts of the world determines ‘good’. Sales. Positive Reviews by the current critic of the day and so forth. For me the bottom line is how much effort was put into the work at the time. If a writer has spent some revising and honing something to the best of their ability then that is their ‘Good’.
        Once a book or story is finished and put out into the world then a writer has placed that in the hands of the reading community and can never be certain who this will resonate with or when. In it’s own way ‘It belongs to the Ages’.
        Just keep on keeping on Milly, never, ever give up. Success is an ephemeral thing and has no constant measuring device. To keep writing is the goal.
        Best wishes
        Roger

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  21. I’m about to dive into the rejection pool myself. I’m about to start pitching my book to agents…if all goes according to plan, I should have some wonderful rejection-related blog posts in the 9 to 43 weeks it’ll take to actually hear back from my soon to be arch-nemeses… 🙃

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hahaha good luck! I hope you get some personal feedback rejections, they’re the best. I sent my YA speculative novel off to a few agents in Australia and some of them were dead set legends! One sent a reply back for a partial within 20 minutes. YES 20 MINUTES! She rejected it the following week, but I didn’t even care. Her personal response was just such a breath of fresh air 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  22. I was one of the millions of people who enjoyed your rejected post. This only proves that nobody actually knows what people want.

    You might want to add B&N Press to the list of book printers. I interviewed them for my blog and think they’re a worthy place to get your books printed. They probably weren’t around when you originally wrote the post.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. After almost thirty years (27 to be exact) actively pursuing the writing career, I have a three drawer file cabinet stuffed with rejections.I honestly don’t know how many of them there are in there. I do know that a good few of them are rather mean, to my mind. I doubt the person who wrote it thought so, and many, I would even say was them trying to offer constructive criticism.

    Being a writer is to live in a purely subjective world. From editors to readers, everything we do is viewed completely through a subjective lens. Even in success, we are only as good as the last thing we wrote that people liked. We can go from hack to genius and back to hack in a blink.

    So, here’s my purely subjective advice. Write what you are passionate about, and never mind the rest. When you love what you write, it comes through, and that is what people will really pick up on. All writers are stronger when they are passionate about what they write, no matter how outside the current market demands it is.

    To be terribly silly, and even more terribly cliche, never give up, never surrender. Take it all, and grow stronger, better, and more capable as a writer. Eventually, you will succeed. Shoot, even a guy who writes crazy fantasy like me got his novel published, so anything is possible, ya know?

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I absolutely agree about writing what you love! I remember pitching a novel to this editor face-to-face, where we were matched to publishers based on GENRE. Yet, as soon as she found out my genre (which she was supposed to be on the hunt for), she got this sad look on her face and said “there’s no use me even asking you to submit it to our publisher and getting your hopes up. It would NEVER get through an acquisitions meeting. You should be writing sweet contemporary romance instead”. I was pretty angry to be honest. I don’t like writing sweet contemporary romance. So what did I do? I got home and started writing a brand new novel – a dark psychological thriller hahaha

      Oh and ‘Never give up, never surrender’ is my motto! Cliché’s are the best for getting you motivated, I think.

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  24. Rejection is so hard and I don’t know how to not take it personally. I started querying again this week on Monday and already heard back from one agent. It was a “not for me, this is a subjective business …” response but it’s still always a bit of a sting.

    Liked by 2 people

  25. For those of you familiar with the UK education system (at least how it was), I approached my GCE ‘O’ Levels in the Summer with a high degree of trepidation … except for Art.
    I was always in the top few of my Art class throughout my 5 years at Grammar School. For my GCE ‘O’ Level Art exam, and in the “painting” section, I selected the title “A Day at the Seaside” and proceeded to paint a night scene on an English pier, with the amusement stalls etc. I was very happy with the end result …. which received a Fail at Grade 9 (lowest grade possible).
    I re-took that exam later that year and selected “Market Day in Town”). I repeated the same painting as in the Summer, but replaced amusement stalls with food stalls, and the strings of coloured bulbs with simple white bulbs. It received a Pass at Grade 1!
    Sadly, all forms of art are highly subjective and should be recognized as such, and compensated accordingly, by any “judge”. Failure to do that simply stifles creativity …. which stifles the art form. Why would anybody in the creative business wish to discourage their own interest????? 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree. I definitely do believe there are certain times when creative work shouldn’t be criticised – when it’s actually harmful. But editors are human I suppose. I can pick a handful of times when the criticism was really needed, another handful when it was completely uncalled for. It’s nice to be nice, you know?

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  26. Thank you for sharing. I, too, have been rejected countless times. Not good for the old self-esteem. Btw, that editor not only was “exceptionally mean,” but also obviously missed a great opportunity – your article was great!

    Liked by 1 person

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