90% Failure Means You’re Doing Great

I heard an incredible interview today on WABE, the local Atlanta NPR affiliate.

Radio host Lois Reitzes sat down with Matthew Diffee, a cartoonist for The New Yorker, to talk about Diffee’s new book “Hand Drawn Jokes for Smart, Attractive People.”

During the interview, Reitzes asked Diffee about his work process, and Diffee explained that, on average, he submitted 10 cartoon ideas per week. And if he sold ONE of those ideas he considered it a great week.

“Ninety percent [rejection] means you’re doing great,” Diffee said.

Diffee went on to explain that many artists come up with three to five ideas and little more. Some, he said, only have their one cartoon–and if (or, more likely, when) that one is rejected, they have nothing else in the pipeline. They have no recourse for dealing with the rejection.

It reminds me of Seth Godin’s approach to shipping your ideas: you have to consistently come up with ideas–good and bad–before you land on something great.

Rejection is part of the creative process. It’s part of finding your way to where you’re meant to be.

Personally, this resonated with me because I haven’t written much for publication lately. I’ve been hiding behind contract work and the excuse of “not having anything important to say.”

But the truth is, I’ve had lots to say–I just haven’t wanted to go through the hassle of writing something, believing its good, and then going through the process of having people say, “No thanks.”

Sadly, that’s the life of a writer. Or a cartoonist. Or an actor. Or a musician. Or anyone else who creates things of beauty and value.

If you create, you must understand the inevitability of rejection as well as its value. Because each rejection has within it information to make you that much better the next time out.

Or, as my boss says, “Experience isn’t the best teacher. Evaluated experience is.”

The key is to keep submitting. Keep creating. Keep putting your work out there, and continually learn from each rejection.

Every artist is rejected; only those who keep creating and submitting make a difference.

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