Positive Writer

Writing through doubt and fear, and you can, too!

What Art School Failed to Teach Me About Writing & Rejection

Note: This is a guest post by Frank McKinley, he’s a writing coach, an entrepreneur, and an idea guy. His mission is to help writers engage readers, sell their ideas, and build their tribes. His blog can be found at frankmckinleyauthor.com

If you’re like me, you hate to hear the word “No.

Let’s face it. Rejection sucks. I’m an extrovert, so I generally expect a “yes” every time I ask anybody anything.

The truth is nobody is that charming.

When I was in college, I was an art major.

The instructors focused a lot on the craft of art. When we were finished with school, we could take the Art World by storm!

The only problem was they didn’t teach us how to sell our art.

“You’ll have to go to the business school to learn that,” my advisor remarked, as if marketing was a four-letter word that made your mom wash your mouth out with soap.

My sculpting instructor was even worse.

“You might have to work at Burger King for awhile before you make it.”

Okay, so how do I “make it”?

“Get a job as a teacher,” my instructor remarked.

That’s cool, but it’s not what I signed up for.

Learn To Love Rejection and You’ll Never Be Out of Work

I dropped out of art school to work in a retail store.

My first job was as a commissioned sales rep at Radio Shack. I wore a tie, wrote sales on 2-ply carbon paper, and learned how to hustle.

While I was there, I read Tom Hopkins’ How to Master the Art of Selling. When he wrote about prospecting, he had some strange and unconventional advice.

Learn to love no.

Excuse me?

Sales is a numbers game. If you want to play to win, you’ve got to hear some no’s. A lot of them.

The trick was to figure out how much your average sale is and how many calls you have to make before someone says yes. For example, your average sale is $250. It takes 10 calls to make that sale.

Divide $250 by 10 and you’ll discover every no is worth $25.

With that in mind, every time you hear someone say “No”, you can say, “Thanks for the $25!”

Writing is a Business

Recently I asked the members of my Facebook group what their biggest dream was.

Over and over I heard, “I want to make a living with my writing.”

As writers, we just want to write. Why do we have to worry about hustling products and services? Can’t we just write great books and have the money roll in?

As someone who has sold a lot of books myself, let me say this: You need multiple streams of income if you’re going to make it as a writer.

Here’s what I’m doing.

  • Writing books.
  • Creating courses.
  • Coaching writers.

And that’s just the beginning. You could also sell these services:

  • Public speaking
  • Book editing
  • Website copywriting

The possibilities are as endless as your imagination.

Now let’s get down to why you should love rejection.

You Have to Play the Numbers Game

Sure, you’re a great writer. You’re awesome. You have something to say, and the world needs to hear it.

They won’t come running to you until they know you.

That means you’ve got to introduce yourself to people. In other words, you’ve got to build a network.

When my family started going to a new church a few years ago, my son and I had a talk before we went inside.

“Drew, there are probably a lot of nice people in there. But don’t wait for any of them to talk to you. You introduce yourself to them.”

He nodded, and we went inside.

I stopped and chatted with everyone I met in the hall. As I was doing that, Drew was finding people for me to meet. In fact, he had met so many that we were the last people to leave!

When my wife and daughter started coming with us, we already knew half the church on a first name basis.

I’ve applied this same technique online. I’ll connect with people who have similar interests. I’ll start a conversation. Once I get to know that person better, I learn more about how we can help each other.

Here’s the golden rule of networking. Feel free to tweet this, tattoo it on your arm, or frame it and put it on your wall. Whatever you do, don’t forget it.

Be generous first. Let reciprocity kick in before you ask for anything.

When you’re generous, people want to pay you back. If you go straight for a sale, you’ll find closed doors everywhere.

You Need to Fail to Succeed

Remember when you learned to walk?

Your mother does.

You didn’t just get up one day and suddenly become a master. First, you crawled to get around. Then you lifted your body a little. Soon you pulled yourself up and walked beside the furniture.

Then you let go, walked 3 feet, realized what you were doing, and plopped down on your butt.

It’s good that you had a cushy body back then. You fell hundreds of times. But again and again, you got up and tried again. You were going to walk, by God – and nothing would stop you!

When you finally walked the length of the living room, your family cheered!

Succeeding as a writer is no different.

You’ll write crap before you write something great.

You’ll make lousy proposals before you pitch something perfect. You’ve got to take all the steps if you want to arrive.

So collect those no’s. The yeses will come.

The More You Risk, the More Doubt Dies

Fred Smith, Sr. wisely said, “There is no growth in the comfort zone.”

That’s not totally true.

If you stay where it’s safe, your fears increase. Doubt festers. Your writing muscles grow flabby.

You just don’t know it because you never take a chance. Risk is scary and potentially painful. It’s easier to stay home and do nothing. It’s safer to keep your big ideas in your head.

Now let me scare you.

You have a gift. It’s wrapped when you get it. You got to peel off the wrapper and take it out before you can enjoy it, don’t you?

Otherwise, it’s just another box, pretty but worthless.

The world needs your gift. So use it whenever you can. Here are some practical ways you can do that today.

  • Find 10 blogs in your niche and ask to write for them.
  • Send a short complimentary email to someone influential.
  • Go on LinkedIn and make connections with people who do what you do.
  • Join groups that share your interests – and participate.

Do this every day and you’ll be so busy achieving your goals, you won’t have time to doubt.

Want to know how to have an unstoppable mindset? Want to be so strong rejection rolls over you like water over a duck’s back?

Decide what you want beforehand.

Take a minute and get a clear picture in your mind. Imagine what you will feel like once you’ve accomplished your goal.

See the sights.

Feel the feelings.

Experience the thrill of victory.

What’s amazing is when you do this, you’ll find you have everything you need to make your dream come true.

Any rejection you experience becomes a step on the journey to your ultimate destination.

With such a bulletproof mindset, everything you want will one day be yours.

Your doubts will seem insignificant – and may even vanish!

And you’ll become the writer you always dreamed you’d be.

About Bryan Hutchinson

I'm a positive writer and when that doesn't work, I eat chocolate. I help fellow writers overcome doubt and thrive! In my free time, I love visiting castles with my wife, Joan. Join me on Twitter and Facebook.

Did you like this article?

Get future articles delivered directly to your inbox and you’ll also receive an extremely popular eBook included with signing up, all for free. More free stuff to come for subscribers only, so don’t miss out. Enter your email address:

Like a good friend, Bryan guides you through the process of facing your inner demons, conquering the craft, and creating work that matters. ―Jeff Goins
endofpostW Audacity-banner-G610
  • David Mike

    Great ideas Frank! My favorite is, needing to fail to succeed. It’s ok if you haven’t hit your goal, gotten as much attention on a post or sold as many books as you thought you would. Learn from it and keep moving. Two steps forward and one step back is still one step forward.

    • Frank McKinley

      Exactly, David! We don’t know it all, but that’s no reason not to proceed with what we do know. We must be willing to test, adjust, test, and try again. If we’re on the right road, we’ll get there so long as keep moving.

      And as a man, I’ve found it’s okay to ask for directions when I feel lost!

  • “Any rejection you experience becomes a step on the journey to your ultimate destination.”

    Frank, I have to admit, the first things did not go the way I wanted, I really felt like I failed. It had been my first “no.” Then when someone gave me a review that was less than 5 stars, I wondered why I was even trying. I If we could just memorize your statement about rejection and realize it’s part of the process. That would be so helpful. Then when it happens, and it WILL happen, we would not be thrown off course. Great article. Thanks for being willing to share what you’ve found helpful.

    • Frank McKinley

      Anne, it’s funny. As we get older, say, in our twenties, we think we know it all. We expect to succeed on the first try – or close. When my friends started having kids, it hit me that failure is essential to maturity. It’s a hard pill to swallow for sure, but we must. I’m glad you persevered through all your doubts and setbacks. You’ve really accomplished a lot!

  • Cori Leigh Mann

    Very good article Frank! Tweeted and shared!

    So true… learned this while in sales for years. No’s are opportunities disguised as a rejection.

    “Sales is a numbers game. If you want to play to win, you’ve got to hear some no’s. A lot of them.” (Had to tweet this!)

    • Frank McKinley

      Cori,
      Thank you! Once I figured out writing is a business, everything changed.

  • K.B. Owen

    Frank, thanks so much for this perspective, I think it’s going to be very helpful to me. One part particularly resonated: “If you stay where it’s safe, your fears increase. Doubt festers. Your writing muscles grow flabby.”

    I’ve been struggling with writing the 6th book of my historical mystery series, and have been completely befuddled as to why that would be. Shouldn’t it be easier, I asked myself – after all, I’ve written 5 other books with this character, I know where it’s supposed to go next, etc. But now, I’m wondering…maybe the cosmos (or my own subsconscious) is trying to tell me something. And there has been a kids’ mystery story kicking around in the back of my mind that I keep pushing away as I wrestle with my current WIP.

    It would certainly be a big risk to drop what I know and try to write in a new genre and for a totally different audience. Yikes.

    • Phil

      Hello K.B.
      Reading your post, I understand you dilemma. I have been working on my novel (90,000 words) for the last 3 years. Every time I re-read it I find gross mistakes. I don’t even think I can ever finish to re-write the darn story.

      • K.B. Owen

        Is this your first novel, Phil? The first one is the hardest. It took me 8 years from first idea to publication with book #1. I’m so sorry you’re struggling. If you’re still in first draft, try writing without re-reading. Sounds crazy – and it takes a LOT of willpower – but it works. There will be time enough for editing after you’re done.

      • Frank McKinley

        Phil,
        Do you free write the manuscript first, and edit later? Or do you edit as you go?

    • Frank McKinley

      K. B., I know what you mean. I used to write about Leadership. I’ve sold books on the subject. But I felt a pull in my heart to teach about writing. It was a risk, but let me tell you, it has paid more handsomely than writing about leadership ever did. Follow your heart. You won’t know how bi something will be until you give it a go!

  • Meg Konovska

    You have a gift. It’s wrapped when you get it. You got to peel off the wrapper and take it out before you can enjoy it – I love the metaphor! Thank you, Frank!

    • Frank McKinley

      Thanks, Meg. Developing your gift is like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly. He must struggle to shed the cocoon. If he doesn’t, he dies. In the end, you’re more beautiful for having struggled.

  • Wonderful post – so rich with practical wisdom!

    • Frank McKinley

      Thanks, Mike!

  • Eric S Burdon

    Amazing article and I learned a lot from this article Frank. I can really relate to some of the things that you’ve been talking about. As a former salesman selling credit cards, rejections was natural but one thing I remembered was something called the law of averages. Eventually you’ll get a yes the more you get out there and apply yourself. I’ve realized that a lot with my work. Each time I come up with a new idea or I hit a problem, I don’t get discouraged. I see it as the way I need to go next.

    • Frank McKinley

      Absolutely, Eric! Gary Goodman says that sales success is governed by the law of large numbers. In business, you should always overestimate what it takes to make a sale. By doing that, you prepare better for the meeting and increase your chance of hearing a yes!

  • Richmond

    It’s amazing how many people say that they didn’t learn the practical aspects of what they majored in in school. Seems we have to learn by doing and failing and growing. Great piece man!

    • Frank McKinley

      Thanks, Richmond! Applied knowledge is the most useful.

  • Terry Gassett

    Thank you Frank for reminding us that rejection is part of the journey. I love the mindset changes you made and recommend – really puts a positive spin on what could otherwise be a real downer!

    • Frank McKinley

      What you think really does make a difference. Thanks, Terry!

  • Great article. Thank you.

    • Frank McKinley

      You’re welcome, Deborah!

  • Appreciate your vulnerable topic, Bryan.
    Hearing how you also struggle with rejection is surprisingly encouraging.
    ~Keri

    • Frank McKinley

      I’m glad to share! It’s so good to know I’ve encouraged you today.

  • jesspetersonart

    I wonder why schools don’t teach about the business side of art, it would be so helpful. It’s frustrating. I remember asking one of my drawing teachers about pricing art, and he said, “Price it so low it almost hurts.” How is that valuing your work?

    I like the tip about Learning to Love No: “Collect the no’s, the yes will come.”
    “When you’re generous, people want to pay you back. If you go straight for a sale, you’ll find closed doors everywhere.” So true. Great post Frank!

    • Frank McKinley

      How irresponsible of your professor to say that! Unfortunately, academia is often clueless about real life.

      If professors were paid on commission, they’d care more about their students’ success.

      Thanks, Jessica! I’m so glad you didn’t listen to that twit. Keep on being awesome!

      • jesspetersonart

        lol! I’m glad I didn’t listen to his advice on that too. I would’ve become resentful.