Writers hear the words “No thanks” often. Whether you’ve submitted a story for a contest or a literary magazine or you’ve sent out query letters to agents, you know that sting when the results are published and your name isn’t on the list, or the sinking feeling when you get another reply from an agent, “Sorry, going to pass this time.”
Publishing is fraught with rejection. What if we could stop being afraid of it and instead plan for it as a natural part of our process? Hearing “No” doesn’t have to derail us when we have a plan.
The 3-Step Plan to Overcome Rejection
I’m convinced many writers stop or get stuck because of fear and disappointment. What are we afraid of? Rejection.
We’re afraid we aren’t good enough. We’re afraid no one will publish our work, or if we publish it ourselves, no one will read it. Or worse, we’re afraid people will read it and won’t like it.
Newsflash: All of those things are going to happen. We won’t be good enough (yet). We won’t find a publisher or win a contest every time we submit. No one will read some of our work. Sometimes people will read it and they won’t like it.
Don’t believe me? Go take a look at your favorite book and read through the one-star reviews. All of these things happen to writers. It is a natural part of the process.
Stop fearing it and start planning for it. Here’s a plan to help us stop fretting and wringing our hands, and get back to work.
1. Remember why you are writing
First, identify why you are writing. Are you writing solely to win? Then you will be disappointed.
Full-time, professional writers have pieces rejected all the time. New writers are often frustrated when they enter a contest, workshop a story, pour hours into revision, and then they don’t win. We get defensive: “Well, they didn’t read it right” or “My group loved my story and says it was better than the winner.” We waste precious energy trying to analyze why our story didn’t win.
If we are honest, we want validation that our work is worth it.
Hear this: Your work is worth it. Your voice is valuable. Don’t give up!
For many of us, we write to process our experiences, to explore worlds and ideas, to escape the everyday. Maybe you write to honor someone or to challenge yourself. Maybe you are writing to grow.
Whatever the reason, if you have spent time writing, workshopping, revising, then you are already winning, because you are defeating fear and investing time in your craft. Don’t lose sight of why writing is important to you and it will lessen the impact of a rejection.
2. Pursue satisfying work
I went to a writing retreat a year or so ago where Paul Willis spoke about writing in several genres over the course of his career. It was so encouraging, because so often, we hear advice that tells us to stick to one genre to be successful.
Paul said his goal was always to create “satisfying work.” Sometimes that meant poetry, sometimes it was fiction, sometimes essays.
The reality is most writers cross genre boundaries. Stop thinking about what you “should” be writing and pursue work that you are proud of, work that satisfies you first.
When the writing rejections come, you can stand firm knowing that not every piece will resonate with others. Who cares? It’s all a part of your process and your growth.
3. Commit to persevere
Finally, recognize that writing requires perseverance.
When Stephen King began writing as a young man, he sent out his stories for publication. He received regular rejections and he slapped them on a nail until it was so full he had to switch it out for a spike. He was committed to the process for the long haul.
Do you have a spike full of rejections? A folder thick with letters starting, “Thank you, but…”? Are you using those rejections to fuel better work?
All those notebooks full of ideas, the half-finished stories and novels, the finished stories that didn’t find a home are evidence of your perseverance. Celebrate every step forward and keep going.
We can’t let rejection stop us. It’s a natural part of the process. Writing takes deliberate practice over time.
Commit to persevering and you will grow into the writer you want to be. Keep doing the work!
Why do you write? How do you overcome rejection? Let us know in the comments.
Take fifteen minutes and write a scene where a character has just received a rejection. Maybe he receives a letter from a college where he’s not been accepted or a date who turns him down. Any kind of rejection. What will he do?
When you’re done, share your writing in the comments, and be sure to leave feedback for your fellow writers!