Are You Letting Rejection Make You A Better Writer?
I just posted last week about handling success as a writer, so this week I’m talking about the other side of the coin: rejection.
When I taught high school English, I tried to keep in mind that negative comments have about seven times as much power as a positive comment. As an editor, I try to give my clients “critique sandwich”- one positive comment on either side of a negative one. People simply feel negative things more intensely- and take them more personally- than they do positive things.
This is especially true of querying and being on submission. It’s hard, discouraging work, with more ups and downs than most people can imagine. We feel rejection intensely. Someone said no, and it’s hard to hear- even though we know agents can only take on projects they love, think they can sell, and are willing to risk their income on. All the reasons aside, someone still said no. Some days I handle it better than others. We can tell ourselves all sorts of things about how many famous authors had X number of rejections, how long it usually takes to get an agent/publishing deal, and how many factors affect those decisions- but those rejections pile up. Even when it’s not a huge pile, it can feel like one.
What rejection feels like is actually really important. For a long time, it felt like no one was interested in the story I poured my blood and love into, it felt like “the call” would never happen, and it felt like I’d trying forever without results.
Remember those are just feelings. They are a normal part of the process. Every writer feels them. Writers have to be able to take rejection, try harder, persevere longer, and keep going.
Continuing on when you’re feeling those rejections is hard. Even normal efforts can be draining when you’re discouraged. A lot of people just quit at that point- way before they should. But don’t quit. Use those feelings to make yourself a better writer. Here’s what I try to do:
- Recognize the feelings are normal. Almost every writer has gone through the rejection blues. It’s not a sign from the universe that you can’t do this. It’s both natural and expected. It’s like the ache after working out; you tried really hard, and now it hurts. That’s okay.
- Allow yourself some time to wallow- but just a little. Call in sick for a day if you need to, but don’t quit the job. Recognize that it’s discouraging, that it’s hard, and that it makes you worry. Admit it to get it out in the open. Don’t feel like you need to pretend.
- Use those negative feelings to push yourself. Writers push themselves a lot already in a hundred ways- but when I’m feeling those rejections, I have to remind myself that writing is a job. I have to work when I don’t want to. I have to do things that are boring and frustrating and discouraging. If I’m serious about being a writer, I have to keep doing it.
- Get back to work- but don’t just slog through feeling like your writing is worthless. I can never keep going if I am functioning like that. Make a plan for dealing with rejection.
Making that plan for handling rejection is important. I use my “rejection plan” all the time. When I don’t have the physical or mental energy to keep trying and manage my mood, I fall back on my rejection plan, and it works. Here’s what mine looks like:
- Find a critique partner to cry on. They get it like no one else. As supportive as my husband and friends have been, they haven’t been through this in the same way CPs have been. Vent, rant, spew disparaging diatribes if you must. Get it out in a private environment with someone who understands. (Not in public, and not with a professional contact. Keep venting where it belongs.)
- After wallowing, I pick up a great new book to read. I try to save one that I’ve been dying to read. They helped me discover again what I love about writing, and they inspire and encourage me again. A great new book lets me check out of my problems and discouragement, and gives me the time to find some emotional distance. TV and movies and hanging out with friends often don’t do this for me when I’m discouraged, because even with friends I’m still likely to be discouraged about the issue, and TV and movies (unless they are really wonderful) might let me check out of my problems, but they don’t inspire me to go back to writing and keep trying in the same way a great book does.
- Then, I resort to my lists. When I’m too discouraged to put words on the page, when I don’t trust my diction and hate all my sentences, I work on items I can break down into lists with a yes or no check-mark. Character profiles, chapter outlines, scene lists, research, etc. I don’t have to finesse those, and they do need done. Sometimes it’s just sending a new query. When I was querying, part of my plan was to send a new query immediately every time I received a rejection. It was hugely helpful, because it was exciting to find a new agent who might like my work, and send off that email. Hope! And eventually, I sent the query that got me the request, which got me the call, which got me the offer.
Those short-term rejection plans really help me bounce back and limit the damage my discouragement does. Try making one for yourself that hits those same goals– venting, inspiring, and continuing to make progress.
Long term, of course, the most important element of my rejection plan is this: start a new project. Beginning a new MS is exciting and encouraging and full of potential. Having something like that to fall back on kept me going while I was querying and on submission, and it’s what’s keeping me from freaking out during the waiting months before my debut releases. It keeps me from obsessing and it keeps me working, both absolutely necessary things.
So here’s my encouragement: Keep at it in spite of the feelings. They’re natural, and they just mean you’re in the thick of it.
Writers are tough people. Being tough doesn’t mean we don’t want to quit- it means we keep going anyway because we know its worth it. We have stories and characters and what-ifs to share. We love pulling all those things together, and we’ll do what it takes to make it happen.
What do you do when you get discouraged? How do you handle rejection?