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Rejections are a challenge. But they are also inevitable, so you’d be wise to learn how to deal with rejection as a writer….
Most of us have had jobs we didn’t get, partners who dumped us, schools we didn’t get into and teachers who didn’t like us. We’ve all had lots of experience with rejection. So, why is it so exquisitely hurtful to be rejected as a writer?
Rejection always feels personal
The major issue is that writing is so personal. We put our thoughts and our feelings onto the page, and suddenly, we’re sharing private parts of ourselves. Then, to have someone say they didn’t like what we wrote feels like a criticism of us as human beings.
Making matters even worse, we learned to write in grade school. To be told we’re not very good at writing takes us back to the state of being young and vulnerable. We experience those feelings all over again.
I know many people who are tough, mature and tenacious, and yet, they are frequently undone by a writing rejection. I’ve produced a video on this topic, but it struck me as important enough to emphasize again today. After all, rejection is part of a writer’s life. You’d better learn how to handle rejection.
Understand, it’s entirely normal to feel like hell after facing rejection. If you want to keep writing, however, it’s equally important to have a strategy for dealing with those feelings. Don’t allow yourself to stop writing.
How to recover from rejection as a writer
First, remind yourself that rejection is never personal. What others think about your writing is always a subjective evaluation. There is no universal standard for quality writing. Instead, the editors (and other “judges” out there) respond to what they read through the lens of their own history, education and preferences.
If you are unlucky enough to have to write for an editor whose tastes don’t match yours, your odds of being rejected are much higher. This does not make you a bad writer or a bad person. It is often a question of luck.
Delay your analysis of the rejection
True, there may be some ways in which you can improve your writing. And, for this reason, you should eventually evaluate the possible merits of a rejection.
But don’t do this analysis right away. Instead, take the time to allow yourself to feel bummed out. We are neither soldiers nor computers. We are allowed to have feelings. In fact, ignoring feelings will be more damaging to our psyches.
This is why you shouldn’t try to be a Susie Sunshine or a Happy Harry about a rejection. You need some time and space to allow yourself to recover before you can achieve greater levels of insight. So, spend a few days wallowing in your anger or despair.
After that, undertake some specific steps to become more comfortable with failure:
Share your feelings with someone you trust
To get over rejection by your supervisor, publishing house, peer reviewer or freelance writing outlet, talk to a trusted colleague. (And try to identify someone at your level — not someone who is already much more successful than you. Not everyone succeeds right away!)
Express your frustration, anger, hurt, or whatever emotions you’re feeling. Getting this stuff off of your chest is an excellent step towards healing.
Remind yourself of other famously rejected people
Here are some statistics that show you to be in very good company.
- J.K. Rowling was rejected 12 times before selling Harry Potter.
- Stephen King was rejected 80 times before selling Carrie.
- Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen were rejected 134 times before selling Chicken Soup for the Soul.
- C. S. Lewis was rejected 800 times before selling The Chronicles of Narnia.
- Margaret Mitchell was rejected 38 times before selling Gone With the Wind.
Do something you enjoy
We all have activities that make us feel better. For example, I like cooking. It makes me feel relaxed and calm. But many writers have other activities that centre and ground them.
You might enjoy playing cards, listening to music, reading a novel (whether literary or trashy) or flipping through a magazine. Or going to a movie, concert or play.
Getting physical exercise — whether yoga, running, lifting weights or walking — is an especially good way of dealing with rejection. A little bit of sweat can help get those negative feelings right out of your system.
Reaffirm your sense of purpose
Ask yourself why you are writing? Is it for money? Or is it because you find writing satisfying and rewarding? Do you have something important to say? All writers write for different reasons.
Try to connect with your underlying, intrinsic motivation so that the extrinsic goals — a publishing contract, a thrilled boss, devoted readers — seem less important.
Always work on more than one writing project
In the book, Origins of Genius: Darwinian Perspectives on Creativity, psychologist Dean Simonton says that “creativity is a probabilistic consequence of productivity”. What he means is that successful people produce more. And they do that by failing.
Consider the inventor of WD-40, whom I’ve written about previously. If you have another project you can resume after a rejection, you’re less likely to feel anxious and upset about the piece of writing that was rejected.
If you’re an academic writer, always have more than one peer-reviewed paper on the go. Sure, one should be on the front burner, but always have another one (or more!) on the back burner. And if you’re a novelist, start your next novel as soon as your first book goes out for submission.
Look for more opportunities to be rejected
American poet Brett Elizabeth Jenkins set out to get 100 rejections in one year. Read about her project, here. The delight of her strategy is that it takes something horrible — rejection — and turns it into a game.
Here’s another interesting bonus: some of her initial rejections turned into acceptances. Overall, she judged the project to be a massive success.
Remember you are your own worst critic
Here’s where the Socratic dictum — know thyself — becomes especially important. Be aware that the urge to edit-on-the-go may become particularly acute after a rejection. You might be tempted to believe that — if you’re careful enough — future editors will have no possible reason for turning you down.
When you are most desperate to succeed, double down and aggressively stop yourself from editing while you write. Write faster and take a break. Then, spend more time editing. More determined editing is the surest way to improve your writing.
Rejection is just part of the package that goes with being a writer. Just as actors fail at a certain percentage of rejections, writers can’t be published without hearing “no” many times first. Take this as a motivational cue to make yourself strong at being rejected.
This is a substantially updated version of a post that first appeared on my blog on Oct. 2/18.
How do you deal with rejection? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section, below. Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by July 31/23 will be put in a draw for a digital copy of my first book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. To enter, please scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join Disqus to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest. It’s easy!