A number of years ago I heard a first-time author speak about getting her book published. She was rejected 27 times before landing a contract. The 28th time was the charm.
For some reason, it felt hugely insightful to hear that number. While it may not represent any sort of average, I couldn’t help but wonder:
What would I do differently if I knew the first 27 times were practice?
I would probably get my butt moving on numbers 1-10 a whole lot faster. I wouldn’t be so much of a perfectionist. I’d use my early drafts – or artwork, or projects, or whatever it was – as practice, in the same way a pianist plays scales or an athlete sprints. More importantly, I wouldn’t put so much pressure on the first one. Or the second. Or the third. Or the 20th. I’d see it all as a process.
But shouldn’t I be doing that anyway?
The saying in the writing world is “paper your walls with rejection letters”. As in, if you haven’t been rejected enough times to wallpaper a room with the formal response, you aren’t trying hard enough. You’re not submitting your work to enough magazines or publishers or agents. You’re playing it safe. Protecting yourself from the 27 bee stings that come before someone says yes.
What’s the equivalent in the visual art world? Or music? Or dance? We don’t have one, but I think we should. What would you do if you knew the first five, or ten, or 27 times were only meant for an audience of one: you?