By: Amanda Winstead
Worried About Rejection? You’re Not Alone
“For every accomplishment there were twenty rejections… In the end, though, only one attitude enabled me to move ahead. That attitude said, “Rejection can simply mean redirection.”— Maya Angelou
Writing is a profoundly private and isolated practice. It takes excellent imagination to craft a single sentence or plan a captivating narrative arc. Writing is also notoriously time-consuming: you probably spend hundreds, if not thousands, of hours every year creating characters, adjusting syntax, and fretting over dialogue.
All this means that rejection is tough on you as a writer. It’s easy to lose confidence when you receive a rash of rejections for your writing, as even the kindest of rejection letters can leave you feeling disheartened.
But rejection is part of writing. Stephen King’s novel Carrie was rejected 30 times, and the extremely popular books by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen, Chicken Soup for the Soul got a whopping 144 rejections. Not giving up, Jack Canfield offers these words of wisdom, “If we had given up after 100 publishers, I likely would not be where I am now,” Canfield wrote. “I encourage you to reject rejection. If someone says no, just say NEXT!”
Even writers like James Joyce, Kathryn Stockett, and William Golding amassed hundreds of rejection letters during their careers, but they used these rejections to motivate them to write, revise, and grow as writers.
Likewise, you can use the following tips to cope and grow while working through rejection.
1. Dealing With Rejection Without Feedback
Receiving a rejection without any feedback is a writer’s worst fear. But, if you’ve sent in a few manuscripts, you’ll know that most editors do not have the time or make time to respond to individual submissions. While this is understandable, harboring a grievance against all editors isn’t going to help you produce better prose or more realistic dialogue.
After receiving a “thanks, but no thanks” letter, it’s essential that you practice a coping strategy that works for you. Depending on your personality, you might want to jump straight back into the most recent draft and get to work with the red pen. Alternatively, if you need some time, you might try to soothe the feeling of rejection with some light exercise or by spending time with your loved ones.
2. Evaluate Your Writing After Rejection
Eventually, however, you will need to sit back down at your desk and start typing again. But, this time, try to read with an editor’s eye. Start at the beginning and double-check that your first paragraph is grammatically correct and suitably attention-grabbing — a poor first paragraph is a sure-fire way to end up in the “rejection” pile.
Next, read through stand-out elements like your dialogue or particularly lengthy paragraphs. Editors will often focus on clunky dialogue or needless exposition and reject even a great story.
Don’t panic if you still can’t see your next move after reading your work from an editor’s perspective. Assessing your own story is complicated, and you should always be gentle with your creative efforts. Contrary to popular belief, tearing your work apart and calling it “garbage” won’t help you write a bestseller — it’ll just dampen your spirit and make you a grouch to be around. The key is to keep writing and seek out trusted feedback from peers, mentors, and friends.
3. Interpreting Feedback
As heart-wrenching as “We’re not interested” rejections are, receiving unclear or cavalier feedback is almost worse. When an editor says, “I don’t understand your story,” one of the worst things you can do is start making changes based on the feedback as it’s open to interpretation. In this case, you may need to reconnect with the editor to see where your story is unclear.
Fortunately, most editors are writers and have developed a knack for delivering firm but fair feedback. You’ll know that you’ve received feedback from a great editor when you finish reading their suggestions and can’t wait to get back to your keyboard to start writing again. However, before you begin accepting every suggestion you receive, you need to know how to use feedback productively.
4. Don’t Act On Every Suggestion
First and foremost, you need to protect your writing. Simply accepting every suggestion without thought will not help you in the long run. Instead, you should spend time with every suggestion and think about how it impacts your manuscript. Even minor changes like syntactical re-arrangement might compromise your voice or dampen your prose. So, before you start striking sentences, ask yourself, “why?”
Why did the editor suggest “x” or “y,” and how does that fit into your overall goal as a writer? Editors are expert readers, but that doesn’t mean you have to take their word as law.
On the other hand, it’s important not to become defensive when receiving feedback. Even poorly wrought feedback can be helpful, as it gives you an insight into the reader’s experience. Having an open mind is particularly important if you tend to get defensive when reading feedback or are unaccustomed to seeing comments next to your work. You can grow as a writer and learn to fail forwards by taking suggestions and learning from them.
5. Always Fail Forwards
Very few authors have a natural grasp of creative writing. There are a few exceptions — like Frantz Kafka and Virginia Woolf — who were seemingly born with the ability to produce perfect prose. The rest of us, mere mortals, have to learn through failure.
Growing from your failures requires excellent resilience. Resiliency helps you adapt to new situations and promotes a productive mindset even when dealing with rejection. You can develop greater resiliency by learning to reframe the problems you face as a writer and managing your stress away from the keyboard.
6. Reduce Your Stress Before You Deal With Feedback
Give yourself a pep talk using positive affirmations before you jump in and make changes based on feedback. If you still feel stressed when you sit down, jogging, swimming, or taking a casual stroll through nature can help you reduce your stress. Then you’re ready to write.
As painful as it may be, you should try to record all helpful feedback you’ve ever received. For example, if an editor noticed that you struggled with troublesome pairs or your writerly voice, you should record their feedback as a helpful guide for future reference.
7. Don’t Let Rejection Trigger Writer’s Block
Sometimes rejection strikes a little too close to home and steals the proverbial wind from your sails, which is entirely understandable and is something every writer must go through. Even Hemingway — famous for his confidence and boisterous approach to writing — struggled with writer’s block from time to time. In his memoir, A Moveable Feast, Hemingway described:
“When I was starting a new story, and I could not get it going, I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the flame and watch the sputter of blue that they made.”
Hemingway overcame his fears by focusing on writing “the truest sentence” that he could muster, but even this might sound a little daunting.
You can overcome your fear of rejection by validating your feelings and reminding yourself of your worth. Look for a sentence that makes you particularly proud, or recall when someone praised your writing. Click To Tweet
8. Moving On From Rejection
“This manuscript of yours that has just come back from another editor is a precious package. Don’t consider it rejected. Consider that you’ve addressed it ‘to the editor who can appreciate my work’ and it has simply come back stamped ‘Not at this address.’ Just keep looking for the right address.”— Barbara Kingsolver
The key is to find a positive, productive mindset that helps you fill the blank page all over again.
Writing is an exercise in handling rejection. You’ll build a fine collection of “thanks, but no thanks” letters in your lifetime. But to continue growing as a writer, mustering the courage to submit a guest post or query your novel, you need to move on from these rejections to realize your potential as a writer. When moving on from rejection, try your best to use feedback and always fail forwards.
Bio: Amanda Winstead
Amanda Winstead is a writer from the Portland area with a background in communications and a passion for telling stories. Along with writing she enjoys traveling, reading, working out, and going to concerts.
If you want to follow her writing journey, or even just say hi you can find her on Twitter.
Other posts by Amanda Winstead
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