Writers hate rejection. So does everybody else, but writers and other creative souls will experience more than their share of the dreaded scourge. There aren’t many other occupations that have to deal with such high levels of criticism and sheer indifference.
There are many ways to deal with rejection. Getting drunk and gorging yourself on cake is probably not the best. Ceremonially tearing the rejection letter into tiny pieces while blowing an enormous raspberry, then declaring the people responsible for your ignominy to be idiots, is marginally better.
So what can you do in the face of rejection?
I try to cultivate a stance of Zen detachment, but then usually fail at that too! It makes sense to concentrate your energies on the things you can control and let go of the rest, but it isn’t easy. You can’t control the outcome – whether others will accept what you’ve written, but you can control the writing – whether you actually sit down and write.
This is the beauty of writing. No matter how bad things get, you can always do something constructive. You can write.
So with that in mind, here’s five tips for how to deal with rejection:
1. Don’t Take Rejection Personally
Everybody gets rejected. If you’re writing and sending stuff out on a regular basis you will be rejected. It’s guaranteed. You may as well accept the fact, like a law of nature. You don’t expect to sprout wings and overcome gravity, and you shouldn’t expect everything you write to be greeted by universal admiration.
Rejection doesn’t get any easier the more you write. It isn’t something that will go away if you find the magic formula. Better to get used to it, suck it up, and toughen up. Grow an exoskeleton.
Rudyard Kipling was once told: “I’m sorry Mr Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.” So you’re in good company. Read more hilarious rejections here.
2. Rejection Is Subjective
There are many types of rejection and they’re not all equal. The reasons can be wide and varied, and often have little to do with the actual writing. One person will love your work, and another will hate it. Your manuscript may have landed on their desk on the wrong day, and sometimes you just can’t tell why they’ve said no.
There are 7 types of rejection:
- No reply (“……?” *sound of a shredder in the background*)
- Standard or form rejection (“thank you for giving me the opportunity to read your work, unfortunately, blah, blah…”)
- Nonsense (comments that are confusing and advice that shows they missed the point by light years.)
- Destructive (cruel remarks and aggressive criticism which is unprofessional and makes you think they suffer from a personality disorder.)
- Constructive (helpful criticism and encouragement and perhaps an offer to resubmit after more work has been done. Hurray!)
- Not for me (“I enjoyed reading your manuscript but it’s not for me.”
- Not commercial (“I enjoyed reading your manuscript but I can’t sell it in today’s competitive marketplace.”
Never respond or get into an argument (or fistfight) over rejections that you receive. Accept it and move on. Perhaps the next person will like what you’re writing and say yes.
Rejection is always subjective, except when it isn’t. The only time you’ll receive objective rejection is when your writing sucks! Bad spelling and grammar, bad craft, or not following the submission guidelines – all these deserve rejection. Which leads to the next tip…
3. Learn From Rejection
Be grateful for any constructive rejections you receive and do your best to take on board the criticism. Destructive comments should be ignored, but even so, there may still be something you can learn from them. Does everyone have the same problem with your story? Do they get stuck at the same point? Dialogue? Characters? Structure? Plot?
Rejection is tough, but a great way to learn about yourself and your writing, as well as the business side of the industry. Take the opportunity to rewrite and improve your work, rethink your strategy and learn from your mistakes.
What would you learn from this rejection? (from a Chinese economic journal):
“We have read your manuscript with boundless delight. If we were to publish your paper, it would be impossible for us to publish any work of lower standard. And as it is unthinkable that in the next thousand years we shall see its equal, we are, to our regret, compelled to return your divine composition, and to beg you a thousand times to overlook our short sight and timidity.”
4. Write For The Right Reasons
Success in writing isn’t about talent, it’s about work. To succeed you’ll have to work incredibly, insanely, hard, and no matter how much talent you have, you’ll still be rejected. Even a taste of success is no guarantee that your dreams will fall into your lap, as this great post from Such Small Hands reveals.
If you give up because you’ve been rejected, you guarantee failure. To keep writing you need to believe in yourself no matter what others think. Redefine what success means to you. If you think you’ll only be a success when you’ve landed a five book deal with a major publishing house, you’re likely to be disappointed.
Get your ego out of the way. Write what you need to say, not what you think others want to hear, and share your vision of the world. Even if only one other person understands, you’ve succeeded.
5. Keep Writing
No matter what happens, keep writing. Always have another project to work on while you wait for the rejections to come in on something else. It’s a great way to stay focused on what really matters – your writing.
Finally, here’s some great advice from Chuck Wendig:
“You need to see rejection as bad-ass Viking Warrior battle scars, as a roadmap of pain that makes you stronger, faster, smarter, and stranger. A writer without rejections under his belt is the same as a farmer with soft hands; you shake that dude’s hand and you know, he’s not a worker, not a fighter, and wouldn’t know the value of his efforts if they came up and stuck a Garden Weasel up his ass. Rejections are proof of your efforts. Be proud to have ‘em.”
The greatest danger for me lies in the murky swamp of cynicism that bubbles up between my toes whenever I experience a long spell of personal and professional disappointment. This has been my plight in recent years and I’m in danger of turning into Eeyore.
Some say you should keep your expectations low so when things don’t work out you’re not disappointed, but that’s just a recipe for mediocrity and misery. The real key is to not have any expectations at all. You don’t know what’s going to happen, so expecting anything (good or bad) is absurd. Somehow you have to balance all that passion and drive and inspiration that gets you up and writing, with the impossibility of knowing whether any of it will ever work.
There’s a scene from one of the Winnie-the-Pooh stories that illustrates this. It’s one of my favourite inspirations. In a nutshell, Pooh and Piglet are off to visit Owl and are walking through the Hundred Acre Wood. It’s a very blustery day and Piglet is getting worried. So he says:
“Supposing a tree fell down, Pooh, when we were underneath it?”
After some careful thought, Pooh replies:
“Supposing it didn’t.”
So my goal is to be more like Pooh, less like Piglet and not at all like Eeyore.
How do you deal with rejection? Share your advice below…
Image: Sweet Sorrow