In June of 2016, a writer named Kim Liao published an article on Lit Hub talking about why she started aiming to get rejected from literary publications 100 times a year. She said she got rejected 43 times in 2016, well short of her goal. That only meant she had to try harder next year. But why? Why would anybody want to get rejected so many times?
Recently on The Cale Clarke Show, Cale dove into this piece of advice and the driving factors it can provide to future success.
Liao said in her article that she once visited a friend and peer in the industry to catch up. Upon chatting and giving each other life updates, Liao admitted she longed for the success that her friend had. She had been published in so many different publications, was writing constantly, and was getting accepted to all sorts of fellowships. How did she do it? The piece of advice she offered to Liao was to start collecting rejections. While she aimed to produce top-notch work, she forced herself to submit enough of it to accumulate 100 rejections a year. That was her goal. The reasoning behind it was that if she was putting enough work into racking up so many failures, there were bound to be at least a handful of successes and acceptances in it.
Not only that, but every failure provided an opportunity for learning and an opportunity for practice. By default, Liao’s friend was advancing her profession, excelling in her industry, submitting work at a tremendous rate, and meeting her rejection goal! To this point, Liao referenced a book written by David Bales and Ted Orland called Art & Fear. In it, the authors talk about a ceramics class in which the students were split into two groups. The first group was required to make as many ceramic pots as they could during the semester. If they were able to make at least 50 pounds worth of pots, they automatically got an A. The second group was required only to make one pot during the whole semester, but it was graded based on quality.
Surprisingly enough, the group that ended up producing the highest quality pots was the first one. Through making pot after pot all semester and not having to worry about quality, they learned how to make the perfect pot. The second group was so paralyzed by fear of failure because everything they had was riding on this one pot that they didn’t get to practice as much as the first group.
While getting rejected so many times in order to succeed may sound like a cop-out, it’s much harder than it sounds. We all have egos. Those egos want to be loved and they want to be praised. They want to be accepted, so sometimes our egos block our ability to take a risk because it might mean denial. And these denials can come in all forms. It could be applying for a job, applying for school, asking somebody out on a date, honing a craft, or learning a new hobby.
Liao referenced another story about how Stephen King used to have a nail sticking out of his wall when he was in high school. Every time he received a letter from a publication or magazine rejecting his stories, he would pin the slip onto the nail. Soon, the nail was covered with a “fat stack” of rejection notices. King went on to become the most successful horror author of all time, and he maintains that status to this day.
Therefore, you should try to fail as many times as possible. This process of producing work at a high rate will help you get better, exponentially increase your chances of success, and acclimate your brain to getting rejected. So, start today. Start right now!
Listen to the full talk below:
Tune in to The Cale Clarke Show weekdays at 5pm CT