One Writer's Take on Rejection



For writers, rejection is the toughest obstacle to overcome. 

Forget writer's block, it's not even a close second to the big "R". I know many authors and can't think of one who ever thought about quitting because he or she couldn't get the words out. 

Rejection is a far worse evil than the writing muse checking out and taking all the good story ideas with her. She always comes back, with both hands full of inspiration. However, stacks of rejection letters stifle writers and sometimes end careers prematurely.

During a writer's workshop that Jaimie Engle and I taught earlier this week, I noticed that fear of rejection was a big concern. When artists hold back, their work suffers and their careers lay dormant, sometimes for years. 

Sometimes, a writer thinks a story is a good fit and an editor doesn’t agree. It’s not personal, it’s just business. Stories are rejected for many different reasons: a similar story may have been picked up, the editor may hate the topic matter for personal reasons, or the publication may be moving in a different direction. None of that has any bearing on a writer's talent.

When an editor rejects a story, that’s all he or she rejected. I’ve never received a rejection letter that in addition to declining my story also stated that I’m an awful writer, lousy cook, and unappealing to look at in broad daylight.

Writers often struggle with rejection because they are so close to their work. So much of a writer is devoted to his or her stories that attachments run deep and close to the heart. A distance must be developed to make rejections easier to endure, but only on the business side of things. Writers should strive to be distant from their material when submitting, not when creating. 

Rejections are a necessary evil for writers, but often they are internalized as more of a valuation of self worth. To overcome this, writers should reframe their perspectives on rejections and limit their scope to the business level. The story was rejected for a reason, but that reason has little bearing on anything outside of its realm, if any at all. 

The key to dealing with rejection is being resilient enough to persevere through it. Writing partners, family, and friends are never ending sources of inspiration. Their encouragement can help writers build resilience and keep them plugging away during all the painful edits and frustrating rejections. When writers feel overwhelmed, they should reach out to friends and family for pick-me-ups. That's what they are there for.

Sometimes all a writer needs is for someone to tell her that her writing is good enough, or that the dishes can wait.

If nothing else, rejection ends the painful process of waiting to hear back from a publication about a story's fate. It's better to know than wait and wonder, and then wait and wonder some more. It also helps to remember that each rejection is a step closer to acceptance.

Repeated rejection in many other forms of social interaction leads to retrospection and sometimes a change of course. Successful writers stay the course in the midst of rejections and reframe their perspectives. They improve upon their craft and keep writing, even when it doesn't make sense to or they don't really feel like putting pen to paper. And they never let rejections define their value or talent, because they know "this is not right for us at this time" means simply that and nothing more.