Taking It On The Chin: The Graceful Art Of Accepting Rejection

“Was I bitter? Absolutely. Hurt? You bet your sweet ass I was hurt. Who doesn’t feel a part of their heart break at rejection. You ask yourself every question you can think of, what, why, how come, and then your sadness turns to anger. That’s my favorite part. It drives me, feeds me, and makes one hell of a story.” ― Jennifer Salaiz

Rejection is akin to getting sucker-punched in the gut and, as a writer, you know this because you’ve undoubtedly experienced it in one form or another. We all have. Even with this blog, as harmless as it is, I sometimes receive comments that take issue with or flat-out reject things I’ve posted (hey, it happens, and you can’t fault people for having opinions that differ from your own).

While it’s no big secret that we all seek acceptance, rejection—impossible to avoid once your work steps out of the For-Your-Eyes-Only comfort zone and into the hands of the reading public—is an important part of your journey if your intention is to develop as a person and grow as a writer.

After you’ve gone through your initial grieving period (don’t deny or bury your feelings because that’s just not healthy), try these suggestions on for size to help you cope during the initial rejection rough patch:

1. Take yourself out of the equation

Your written piece is your baby, forever tethered to you by an unseen and intangible umbilical cord, and although it will always be a part of you, when someone disapproves of your work, they’re not necessarily rejecting you, the person.

Yes, I’m well aware it’s impossible to completely divorce yourself from something you’ve created. Especially when that sly critter Self-Doubt sidles up beside you and makes you question if there’s something wrong with you or your talent. But instead of taking this to heart and allowing it to consume you, you need to adjust your thinking.

When your work is rejected it’s usually more a reflection of the viewpoint, needs, or requirements of the person making the decision. The thoughts in your work may not align themselves with the thoughts of the target audience, which doesn’t necessarily make it bad, it’s simply not a piece that fits into their jigsaw puzzle.

Of course, if they offer you a reason why your work was rejected, you shouldn’t rush to dismiss it. Take a step back, look at the critique objectively, and if it has merit, consider incorporating it into your next draft.

2. Anticipate rejection

It’s coming whether you like it or not, so why not bake yourself a big ole Bundt cake, put the kettle on, and have yourself a little nosh when it arrives.

When writing, if you expect rejection, what it should do is make you up your game by challenging you to raise the yardstick, push the envelope and send your best work out into the world. And before you mistake my meaning, I’m not asking you to get down on your work and take the negative view that your writing isn’t good enough and never will be. I just want you to adjust your mental outlook. It’s like the saying goes, “Hope for the best, expect the worst.” It cuts down on the disappointment that may come later on.

Also, don’t let a verbal or written rejection kill your drive and lead you down the path of procrastination. Use it to become a better, stronger writer.

3. Stay focused

You can’t control your peers, society, or the world at large, so why not concentrate on your own thoughts, feelings, actions, and behaviors? Just because you’re not gifted with the inhuman ability to alter reality, doesn’t mean you’re powerless to alter your personal reality. By turning your focus inward, you acknowledge what you want and realize you have the power to set events in motion to achieve your goals.

How does this apply to rejection? You may be able to avoid the downward spiral of self-doubt by accepting there will always be cynics who are entitled to their opinions, be they informed or otherwise, and said opinions do not—and I repeat do not—have power over you. Instead of focusing on their negativity, turn your attention to what you can control, apply what you’ve learned from their comments, and move forward to produce more powerful work.

4. Spot the merit in rejection

I know I’ve taken an “it’s them, not you” approach in this post but honestly, not all rejection is unfounded. We’ve all produced work that exists on different levels. Some writings strike the right chord with the majority of your audience and others miss the mark by scant inches and even a country mile. This is when you let slip your inner critic and examine your work for uninspiring ideas, a poor approach, confusing views, unclear writing, passive voice, etc.

It also helps to learn to self-question, which is far and away different from self-doubt. Turning detective and analyzing why the editor in question didn’t accept the story, what were they looking for and what you could have done differently to meet their needs, may help you decipher learning points of which you were previously unaware.

A word of caution: Unless you have a personal connection with an editor or publisher, I would advise against contacting them directly to ask why your work was rejected. While you may see it as a means to improve your craft, your intent may be misconstrued. You never want to gain the reputation of being that writer. Or, perhaps you do. In that case, have at it. Who am I to tell you what to do?

5. Understand that rejection is growth

You’ve heard the saying, “One step forward, two steps back,” and you might believe receiving a rejection is taking those two soul-crushing backward steps, but you, my friend, are absolutely 100% incorrect. It’s the one step forward to understanding what people are looking for in the real world and how you can progress your writing to accomplish your objectives.

And if you have a piece of writing that has received more than a few rejections, instead of chucking it in the drawer of misfit tales, why not give it the once-over one more time, taking all the constructive comments into account while you do it. You just might find that you can spot and understand the weak points in your story’s structure and fortify them with the experience you’ve gained from learning how to cope with, deconstruct and master the lessons within the criticism you’ve received.

As I said from the start, you’re not the only person who’s dealt with rejection. Click this link to view some of the rejection letters received by bestselling authors. If they can handle it and press on, so can you.

Sally forth and be brush-your-shoulders-offingly writeful, my friend.

21 responses to “Taking It On The Chin: The Graceful Art Of Accepting Rejection

  1. A rather successful salesman friend of mine once told me that if it takes 9 “No’s” to get to 1 “yes”, then why wouldn’t you get through as many “No’s” as possible?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I highly recommend hunting down a book called ROTTEN REJECTIONS, which collects the rejection letters authors received for books that became classic pieces of literature. It’s actually quite funny, but also enlightening and heartening.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you so much. After having kids I started writing again, something I dabbled in my entire adult life. For the past year I have been trying to find a literary agent to represent me and have received countless rejections. Most agents don’t even bother to reply. Although it is extremely discouraging I have received such glowing reviews from my writers group which includes many published authors that I have good reason to believe my suspense/thriller novel is good. For that reason I have continued to revise my book, and most recently I revised my query letter to include the hook in the first paragraph. I’m just wondering at what point I should move on and write a different type of book. I will not give up as a writer, but maybe I would do better in a different genre, I really don’t know. I already discovered with another book that self-publishing is a waste of time, effort and money. Thanks again, Rhyan!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Suranne, use those glowing reviews you get from the writer’s group as coal to keep the writing engine going. As for the route you’re meant to take, only you can decide that. Self-publishing works better for some than others. Don’t be afraid to explore all your options. Cheers for the comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Definitely had rejections, I suppose I just wish they’d say what the issue was! But I’ve used the time to revisit the work and hired an editor (from Reedsey, no less!) So I’m not giving up. I was really pleased the editor felt the work was strong. So keep at it 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • I read somewhere from an editor that she’s reluctant to offer suggestions because writers will implement the precise changes and resubmit the story and become enraged once it’s rejected again. Congrats on getting an editor, Peri, I hope it all works out for you!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. You know the irony of rejection? When you have published four-five works in your native language but still can’t get a tiny piece through the barrier of a different language. It’s rather uncomfortable. Makes you wonder what the hell did you do wrong this time and brings you to the conclusion that a GRE tattoo might come in handy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You know, Cuca, I never even considered the plight of writing in English as a second language and how frustrating that would be to be published in your native language and rejected in another. You should definitely write about your experiences. Cheers for sharing.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you. No matter how long we’ve been writing, no matter how many things we have published, rejection still bites. And we all need to be reminded that it’s part of the process, and part of this life we’ve chosen.

    Liked by 1 person

    • People always talk about the things you need to develop as a writer, and in my humble opinion, two of the more essential ones are thick skin and intestinal fortitude. The only way is forward. Cheers, M.A., for the read and comment.

      Like

    • Form letter rejections are bad, to be sure, but getting absolutely z-e-r-o response is worse by far. I am getting used to the phrase “your story doesn’t fit” which is a scary thing in itself. Keep on truckin’, Kirsten. Cheers for the comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I absolutely love this, of course rejection is going to hurt, any, “attack” if you will, on your character, your values, yourself as a whole is going to feel like a punch to the gut, but I feel as though at the end of the day every experience deemed good or “bad” is a learning experience as we are constantly growing and learning about each other and ourselves. I believe rejection can be an important lesson and/or experience you can take and grow from or you can choose to dwell and pick yourself apart which is fine for a short while but we can’t let it last a lifetime. Anyway rant over haha I absolutely love this piece!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It certainly is bizarre how picking yourself apart is so much easier than lifting yourself up, but if you understand that negative thoughts and dwelling on flaws is a normal part of the growth process, as you pointed out, as long as you don’t allow yourself to become trapped in the quagmire of low self-esteem and self-worth. Picking flaws apart and learning to correct and not repeat them is also a part of the process that’s a little more difficult to master but is absolutely doable.

      And for the record, positive rants are always welcomed. Cheers for the read and comment!

      Like

  8. My “best rejection” was from the editor of a large teen magazine (YM Magazine) back in the late ’80s who actually included a hand-written note on the rejection slip explaining why the story wasn’t a good fit for the magazine but offering suggestions to make it better. For a young dude just out of his freshman year of college, this was huge (it was my second rejection for that particular story; the first rejection came from Seventeen Magazine and was a form rejection slip). My worst rejection was the place who never even bothered to inform me I was rejected. Just…nothing, not even the return of my manuscript. The rest were form rejections with boxes checked. But I’ll never forget the kindness of the editor at YM and how she took time out of her ridiculously busy day to interact with me in a human, personal way. That kind of rejection is incredibly helpful and hurts much less than a form rejection slip.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Handwritten rejections letters ought to be framed and displayed prominently in your workspace because someone took the time to write to you personally to help guide you along your journey. When you make it big (just around the corner, I can feel it), be sure to drop her a thank you note, handwritten, of course.

      Liked by 1 person

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