Day: September 22, 2017

On Creativity and Rejection

A former student of mine and I had a conversation right before he left; I remember it often. (The student has been working for a software giant ever since he graduated and he seems happy.)

During the conversation, he said that the job that I have, which he characterized as having to come up with new ideas all the time, was emphatically not what he wanted. What he wanted was to be given/told what to do, do it, and then move on to something else. He enjoyed the challenging tasks, but he did not want to be the one coming up with the tasks or the big picture into which these tasks fell.

I think about my job, and what he described as his dream job would be the definition of hell for me.

In my work, there is constant rejection. Papers get criticized, even if they don’t get rejected. Proposals get declined all the time, and awarded very rarely. Now I have taken up fiction writing as a hobby, which will likely come with even more rejection.

Let’s say you are like me, and you have a job and/or a hobby, where you come up with something potentially novel (e.g., an idea or a piece of art) and offer it to the world, with a high chance of the world rejecting it. Creating something new is in and of itself rewarding (to people who find it rewarding). Is rejection the price of creating? Could we just create and not seek feedback or acceptance, not engage with the world? Or is this possibility of rejection inextricable from the drive to create?


In real life, very few people know that I blog. Basically, only my immediate family knows about the blog and the book, and one colleague at a different institution.  (There are several people whom I first met through the blog and who know who I am, but the other way around there’s essentially no one.) You’d think the only reason is the protection offered by the pseudonym, and that is indeed a large portion of it, but there’s more.

When my mom visited last year, I gave her two hard copies of the book to take back home: one for her, one for my dad (they are divorced). Academaze was published by a small press, and small presses thrive owing to the print-on-demand concept. The concept helps even traditional publishers, as books can stay in print indefinitely.

Well, I don’t think my mom knows anything other than traditional publishing (a certain number of hard copies printed and distributed to bookstores). Plus, she might be a bit of an a$$hole. The first thing she asked me when she saw the book was, “How many copies were printed?” To her, and within traditional publishing, a good book means many copies. I tried to explain about the print-on-demand concept, and I saw that within 5 seconds she completely dismissed both me and the book as worthless. I felt foolish with my print-on-demand spiel, since she’d already made up her mind.

Over the following couple of weeks, she tried to read the book (she speaks some English, and can probably read and understand much more than she can say). She came to tell me, visibly disappointed, “You write so simply. I could understand almost everything.” My mom is not a big reader, but even she somehow expects a “good” book to mean convoluted prose. Sadly, she is not alone in this belief. (This related essay  is a long read, but engaging and thought-provoking.)

The experience with my mom is an example of why letting the people around you know what your (artistic) outlets are may be a bad idea. Sure, they might be offended by what you write about them (or how you otherwise relate to them through your outlet/art). More likely, and this is the part that bothers me about as much as someone being angry with me, is that they simply won’t give a $hit. They won’t care that you produce anything, they won’t care about what you produce, or they won’t like what you produce.

I showed a few of my stories to my DH. He liked a number of them, but the one that I thought was very good and that featured some stylistic challenges that I was proud of tackling, he didn’t like at all; he was actually irritated by it. I don’t want him to lie to me about liking or disliking something I wrote, but it just saddened me.


Is it meaningful to come up with scientific ideas without trying to get them funded or trying to do the work and submit it for publication? Is it meaningful to write or paint or sculpt without ever planning on showing your work? I think for some people it is, but, for many, it is not. These people who really need to engage with the potentially indifferent world can be found in all professions.

We’d bought Eldest a car about a month ago and we just had the interior detailed yesterday. I took it to this place that did a great job. The operation is small, and the owner himself also works on the cars; he’s been at it for 30 years.

It struck me how this small business owner puts himself out there every single day. He provides good service, and all he can do is offer it to people. Some will take it, but many won’t. Some will appreciate it, but many won’t. All he can do is try to be better and cheaper than the big chains, which he is, and offer what he has to the world. The world might care, or not, but he has to offer.


I guess there are people who want to do what they want to do, even if the price of it is rejection. Or perhaps there are people who want to do what they want to do, and cannot imagine not trying to offer the products of their mind or their hands to the world. Their creations make no sense unless there is someone on the outside of the creator to appreciate them.

People like my former student don’t seem to have that need. I am guessing there are many people like that, who are happy doing what they do, living their life, not emitting into the world. That’s a life with little rejection, and it’s certainly not a bad life if you have the right personality and mindset.

I need to emit into the world, hoping the world receives some of it.