Artists and writers face a lot of rejection. People will tell you to “get over it.” They’ll say: “Who the hell cares what other people think?”
I say: Don’t get over it, get into it.
I’ve spent my life peeling back the layers to find my authentic creative voice. As a journalist in Tokyo, London, throughout Asia, and in Seattle, I focused on giving voice to the voiceless. A strong call to find my own voice followed, and I went on a journey of exploration that lasted years to uncover my authentic creativity. I’m now a novelist and visual artist and I’m still working to remove the layers of resistance to my voice.
Part of excavating our authentic voices as women involves intense emotional and spiritual healing. We’ve been told to shut up. We’ve been ignored. I was negated almost into invisibility as a child. I was a visual artist as a small girl and then forgot who I was. I had to go find that girl back again when I grew up.
I’ve gone to therapists, alternative healers, coaches, shamans, mystics, and to self-help books for healing. I spent years removing piece by piece the blocks to my authentic creative expression, and will spend many more.
Recently, I launched my fourth novel, Water. Amid loving reviews from a lot of beautiful readers, one person didn’t like it.
“Who cares if people don’t like you?”
“What’s one bad reaction amidst so many good ones?”
“Who cares what other people think?”
Friends gave me advice. It was all valid, but it didn’t shift the core of why I was so upset. I’m a coach, and I know the difference between true healing, and barreling through something, and “toughening it out”.
Let me be clear. This has absolutely nothing to do with the person who didn’t like my book. That is absolutely every person’s right — to like or dislike a piece of art.
It has everything to do with my reaction.
After I launched Water, I was sick to my stomach. So sick that I spent days clutching my gut and not sleeping. My reaction to the book’s publication, and my reaction to one person not liking it — that’s what this blog is about. That’s what I want to look at.
Don’t we often tell each other as artists to not care what others think of our work? Don’t we often use anger to get over the rejection (What the f#$ck do they know?)
What if we stopped doing that? What if we turned to ourselves and asked ourselves, why does this hurt so much? What is my gut telling me? Why is this affecting me this way?
I think this is like the #metoo movement. We stopped saying, “Boys will be boys,” or “Oh just get over it, that’s just the way boys act.”
We stopped, and said: “No, this isn’t OK. My psyche has been damaged by this behavior and I want to heal.”
As a coach, and for myself, I believe as artists we need to turn, look at ourselves, and get to the core of why rejection hurts us so badly. So many women artists have been negated for so long. So many girls around the world watch their brothers being nurtured, their boyfriends, their husbands, and they’re left with nothing but the scraps.
In Water, I fully own my path to being a mystic. As a child, I felt attacked for being so different. I felt a threat of violence if I didn’t get in line with mainstream Catholicism. I know it goes further back than that too, back collectively to women who were killed for being metaphysical.
My gut was telling me that I was scared of being attacked for speaking my mystical truth. My reaction to the person who didn’t like my book was my fear that yet again I was being attacked for my beliefs. Why is it so important to pinpoint the core of the issue? Because now, I can do healing around that still terrified little girl. I can reparent her so that she is surrounded by love and support as a mystic. I can help her grow up to a woman empowered in her creative voice. I cannot do that by just barreling through the pain of rejection.
So the next time you find yourself telling a woman artist who has faced rejection to barrel through it, the next time you convey, “Who cares what other people think of your work?” — stop. Instead ask them why they’re so triggered. Ask them who else wouldn’t listen to them, wouldn’t hear them, told them to shut up. And for once, and forever, BE that listener for one woman.
Almost all women artists I know can say #Metoo when it comes to having our creative voices ridiculed or ignored. It’s time we heal.
I’m a book coach and a creativity coach. CarolineAllen.com