Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Dealing With Rejection: The Writer's Guide

The only writers that don’t experience rejection are the ones that don’t attempt submission. Yeah, rejection stinks, but not even trying stinks more. If rejection is an inevitable part of the process, then smart writers learn strategies to deal with it. But first, you have to understand what’s going through your head. Here are three common (if simplified) stories we tell ourselves about rejection:

  • It boils down to innate ability: People with talent get accepted. I got rejected. Ergo, I have not talent.
  • It’s the industry, stupid: Do you know the odds of being published? Of course I got rejected. Publishing’s too tough.
  • It’s a roll of the dice: Will the right editor see the right manuscript at the right time? Getting published is all about luck.

Those three stories have one very potent similarity: they take the control out of your hand.  Most of us have those niggling (or chasming) thoughts of self-doubt – about our talent and/or our chosen vocation. When a rejection comes in, it just affirms what we knew to be true all along. And when you think about the process that way long enough, anything other than quitting seems insane.

Then there’s one last way of understanding rejection. Let’s call it the eye of the tiger story. It’s the story that acknowledges that, yes, the publishing world is unpredictable and tough, but you are tougher. Garnering rejections is just one part of the effort you need to put in to arrive at your goal. And effort is nothing to shy away from. It is a powerful story that all successful writers share, in one form or another.

The Five-fold Path of Indulgence

You will be surprised how effectively changing your perception of rejection affects your reaction to it. But let’s face it: it will rarely give you a warm and cozy feeling. That’s where coping mechanisms kick in. In a nutshell, be good to yourself.

Indulge in Your Feelings
Rejection stings. It aches. It makes you feel rotten, nauseous, angry. More importantly, it makes you want to dive head-first into the closest pint (gallon?) of cake batter ice cream.  Whilst pummeling a pillow. And screaming at that character you love to hate in that HBO series you hate to love. As the tears pour down. Reach out to your partner, your critique buddies, your cat – heartache need not be a solitary activity.

Regardless of how the details shake out, throwing yourself a pity party is a perfectly reasonable response to rejection – as long as it’s time limited. You are only allowed to feel sorry for yourself for so long (how long depends on the exact nature of the rejection, but let’s set a general limit of 24-hours). Yes, the publishing business is tough. Yes, rejection sucks. Now channel that misery or ire into your writing project and move on.
Indulge in Your Dreams
Writers are a creative lot, and should not underestimate the power of positive visualization. Vivian Kirkfield envisions an agent being wowed by her submission. Dee Ann Waite emerges “donning armor and sword, prepared for the fight ahead.”  My personal dream involves an invitation to The Daily Show. Yours might involve a best seller list or Oprah’s book club. Whether you are fueled by optimism or indignation, imagining a successful future can give you the confidence to move forward.

Indulge in Your Passions
Remind yourself why you write in the first place. Read that book from that gobsmackingly talented author. Remember the people or events that inspired you to start stringing words together. Look up inspirational quotes.  And, as author B. J. Lee reminded me, know that there is something inherently valuable about writing itself – regardless of what the publishing outcome is. Refocus, refresh, and resolve to move forward.

Indulge in Your Craft
There’s no point attempting to deconstruct a vague rejection letter – and most rejections will be boilerplate vague. But take any actual feedback to heart. If you disagree with it, at least consider why the reader had that response. Study new markets for your project.

But by far the best and most important way to deal with rejection is to KEEP WRITING. Nothing puts that auto-rejection that came seven months after submission into perspective like having another manuscript or two in the works.

Indulge in Yourself

There is one last key ingredient to handling rejection. Even if you spent every spare waking moment on your opus, you are not defined solely by your writing, and its worth is not defined by agents or editors. You are a beautifully complex creature that contains multitudes and can create worlds with the flick of a wrist. You have a body that needs good fuel and exercise. A mind that relishes in having a multitude of experiences to grow. A spirit that finds strength and comfort in community. You ARE an author, but not only that and the more different parts of yourself you can tend to, the more capable you will be of putting any rejection that comes your way into proper perspective – it is but a speedbump.


  1. Such wise words, Ella! As creatives, we must always remember to nourish the body, mind and spirit- and that makes the going a lot easier!

    Thanks for the informative post! :D

  2. It just occurred to me that every pity party needs a piñata! And lots and lots of tequila and margaritas. ;) It's very important, like you said, to have a time limit on the wallowing-in-self-pity/loathing process because even good parties need to come to an end, let alone pity parties.

    1. Pity Party Piñatas! There's a market niche for you! Great post, Ella!

    2. Wanna go into business with me, Julie? :D

  3. Ella, I loved the last part. Often on a quest to get published, we make 'writer' or 'author' the most important part of ourselves. We are many, many other things than writers. Or, at least we should be! Sometimes, when we stop putting our publishing dream on such a high pedestal and focus on being well-rounded people and professionals, we realize that the goal is so much easier to reach.

  4. Hi Ella! Great post. Rejection does stink, but victory smells oh so beautiful! Like you said, it's okay to give yourself no more than 24 hours to feel the sting, but never, and I mean NEVER pity yourself. Pity will scar your soul and zap your inner fortitude. Get up, brush off, and move on. And always remember, if you continue to believe in yourself and your work, ther WILL be someone out there who will do the same. Love this post. It's things like this that keep my focus straight and my will alive! Thanks. :)

  5. Love this post, Ella! You put it together really well! It's great to have all the tools at our disposal in this post. I will refer back to it when I've got the rejection blues!

  6. Wonderful post, Ella! Thanks for the wise words. I will come back to this often.... well, hopefully not too often. :)

  7. Thanks for putting all of these rejection coping mechanisms together in one post, Ella...if we keep this arsenal of ideas close, we can sail over this writing/revising/submission ocean knowing we have plenty of life preservers, jackets and rafts to keep us afloat until our ship comes in. :) :) :)
    And thanks for adding my little two cents. :)

  8. Might be one of the best posts on rejection I've ever read. Thank you!

  9. I love this post. I wrote about visualization this week on my blog. What would we do without coping mechanisms?


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