How to handle rejection

November 14, 2016

As writers, we need to have a thick skin. When sending our work on to publishers, we sign ourselves up for more than our fair share of rejection. And rejection hurts. It truly hurts. We pour our hearts and souls into our projects, not to mention endless days and nights, so the last thing we need is rejection. But you’re in luck! Today I’m going to give you my foolproof secret method for handling it. It’s basically just like those Writer’s Digest courses you always wish you could afford to take, only this is free!

 

Step 1: If you're very lucky, you will receive a perfectly polite and inoffensive rejection letter saying the 'work' is not in their criteria at the moment but please do NOT stop trying

 

Step 2: Tear hair out, howl and cry, and head straight for the wine cabinet

 

Step 3: Retreat into your study with said glass of wine and live like a hermit while re-reading rejected manuscript

 

Okay, I confess. I don’t have a miracle cure for handling rejection. But I do have a simple strategy that can help when the self-doubt and worry really gets to you. We’re all familiar with that nasty inner voice that criticises every word we write. When you’re dealing with rejections, that voice gets a lot of fresh ammunition to use against you. The most insidious thing about this voice is that it’s usually not very loud. It’s a whisper in the back of your mind that you can mostly ignore, at least subconsciously. But it’s persistent. And because it’s quiet and persistent, it can become white noise, wearing away at you when you’re not aware of it.

 

So here’s what I suggest: Instead of letting the voice whisper subconsciously, sit down and focus on it. Really hear it, loud and clear. Do this by imagining the worst case scenario you can. (This can be helpful for all kinds of problems, not just writing-related worries, by the way.) What is the fear that rejection stirs up? Why does a simple “no thanks, not for me” feel like it means so much more than that?

 

In the back of our minds, where all our dumbest ideas lurk, we dream up all kinds of nightmare possibilities. Getting turned down by every agent there is: getting blacklisted by the whole book industry for wasting everyone’s time: realizing that our writing itself is hopelessly bad… Underlying them all is one core fear that rejection feeds: eventually we’ll have no option left but to quit.

 

How does it help to envision such miserable scenarios? Because that’s when you realise they’re ridiculous.

 

Here’s the secret. The real worst case scenario of everyday problems—even the most depressing of rejection letters—is never that bad. (Pro tip: don’t use this strategy with non-everyday-type problems, like “trapped in serial killer’s lair,” or “walking tight-rope over Grand Canyon,” etc., where the worst case scenario includes gruesome death.) Even if you get rejected a hundred times, a thousand times, no one can make you quit. Again, I'll refer back to J.K.Rowling. And as long as you keep writing, your work will improve. Once you get the irrational fears out of the way, you can see the real worst case scenario. In this case, it’s simply that this particular story isn’t ready yet. That’s all.

 

If you’re used to taking a year or six to finish a first draft, then sure, shelving a story to start a new one is daunting. But your outlook will be much different after you learn you can churn out a first draft, or a good chunk of one, in a couple of months.

 

And now you have one more strategy for gaining control over that voice: Listen to it. Give it free reign…but only long enough to hear how irrational it really is. Then forget rejection, forget fear, and get right back to work. And enjoy it!

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