Get Rid of Your Fear of Rejection Once and For All

Broken_cracked_glass_265858_lRejection.  It is a fact of the writer’s life.

I wish I could tell you that this was not so.  I wish I could tell you that everything you send off would get picked up immediately.  But I can’t.  It is just not the way the world works.  And so, alas, if you are a writer you will need to get used to rejection.

For some writers, the thought of rejection is so paralyzing that they simply won’t send work out to begin with.  This fear or rejection is, um, counter-productive to say the least.  Because you know the old saying: nothing ventured, nothing gained.

To help you with this fear, I could tell you all the rejection—>triumph stories.  You’ve heard the one about John Grisham, who sent his first book out __ (the number varies according to the telling) before someone saw the brilliance of it.  And we know what happened to him: gazillions of dollars later, he’s a happy man (or at least I damned well hope he is).

I’ve also often told the story of one of my MFA mentors who sent one short story out 34 times.  It got rejected 34 times.  On the 35th time, she got it accepted–and that story went on to win a Pushcart prize.

Or there’s my own story, about my first novel, Emma Jean’s Bad Behavior.  I sent queries to 60 agents.  Yep, 60.  Its worth noting that I was getting encouraging rejections (we love this novel, but…).  The 61st time I sent it to a publisher.  And they picked it up.

So, rah rah rah and all that.  I do know from personal experience that stories such as these can lift me up in the moment until its time to actually send stuff out again.  And then … the voice of doom in my head begins.

But here’s help.  Because I’ve recently realized we deal with our fear of rejection from the wrong end of the equation.   We deal with it when it happens, when the it has the power to lay us out flat on the couch sobbing for days.  A huge part of the reason we get so discouraged over rejection is because we have such high hopes for our work.  We are convinced that we will send the story out once, and sure enough, it will get picked up.  We’ll contact an agent and she’ll snap us before the book is even written.   We send off the query, and every time we think about the results of it–publication, fame, accolades–we get a warm, glowy feeling inside.

Okay, so I’m here to tell you: the easiest way to deal with rejection is to get rid of your expectations in the first place.  Instead of thinking about publication and how glorious it will be, let your work be the reward.  When you know its time to send your piece out–and you will know if you’re honest with yourself–do your research and ship it out the door.  And then quit thinking about it and move on.

Cultivate an attitude of non-expectation.  Be Buddhist. Be Zen. Do not be attached to the outcome, period.  And get to work on your next project.

Let your work be your reward.

Then, when the rejection comes, it is far, far easier to shrug your shoulders and say to yourself, I guess it just wasn’t right for them, and move on.  And by moving on I mean, send it out again.  Because you haven’t put the weight of the world on your poor little query, it will be much happier to go out into the world and try once more.

Right?  So go send something out.  Right now.  I’m serious.  Do it.  And report back when you’re done.

Photograph by Jfg.

How Many Times Has Your Writing Been Rejected?

Last night, one of the members of my writing group got married. Love-marriage-weddings-39211-l

All but one of the current members of the group were there, and a couple former members turned up as well. 

Talk turned, as it will amongst such groups, to rejection.  Soon we were attempting to outdo each other with how many rejections we'd each received.

  • I allowed as how I'd sent out Emma Jean at least 50 times.
  • My retreat partner said she'd sent out her book of cat photographs well over 100 times.
  • And yet another writer told me he'd submitted his novel 120 times.*

Lest you think we're all just bad writers, consider this:

  • My novel will be published by Vagabondage Press in February of 2013.
  • My retreat partner just got word yesterday that the cat book will be published next year as well.
  • And the other writer's earlier novel has been made into a movie that will be released in September.

Rejection.  It is part of the writer's life.  To become a successful, published writer, you have to steel yourself againt rejection.  You have to learn to live with it.  And you need to be able to bounce back from it and submit again, as the numbers above testify.  Too many writers stop after getting two or three rejections.

Here are some posts I've written about rejection:

7 Steps to Handle Rejection

A 5-Step Process to Deal With Rejection

Handling Rejection

Getting Your Work Out in the World: The Mindset

Getting Your Work Out in the World: The Mechanics

That ought to keep you reading for awhile.  While you're at it,

Create a successful, inspired writing life: Submit something.  Maybe it is something that's been rejected before, maybe it is something new.  Doesn't matter.  Just do it.

Please, please, comment.  Care to admit how many times you've been rejected?  How do you handle it?

*Names have been omitted to protect the rejectees.

Photo by clshearin.

7 Steps to Handle Rejection

Luck-hope-help-3596-lI do my best to stay positive about writing.  I feel lucky every day that my passion is writing, and I think most of you do, too.  So even on days when I feel like I have a million things to grouse about, I try to find a way to be positive about something.  Because it just feels better being positive than being negative.

So it grieves me to introduce today's topic: rejection.

It grieves me because there's really not a lot of positive things to say about it (other than the usual, at-least-you're-getting-your-work-out in-the-world platitudes.) But it is a fact of a writer's life.  If you're going to send your work out in the world, you've got to learn to handle rejection.

In the old days, back when all publishing business was done via snail mail, you could expect a form letter back.  And the old adage was, if you got a handwritten note on it, that meant your writing had promise.  Nowadays most rejections come by email and honestly, some of the stock rejections are so carefully worded it is difficult to tell if they are personal or not.  An even worse trend is that many agents now state that if they're not interested, they won't contact you.  So you end up never hearing, either way.

Anyway it arrives, as a writer, you can be certain that rejection will come to you.  And it will sting.  But you must experience it.  I hate that this is so, but it is.  It's the rare writer who gets everything they send out accepted.

Here are a few guidelines to help you handle rejection:

1. Make sure work is ready.  A little advance work can help you handle rejection.  Namely, figure out if your work is ready.  I think all of us have been guilty of being over-eager about our work and sending it out before its time.  I know I have.  Ways to combat?  Join a critique group or find trusted readers to send it to first.

2. Cry.  You know you want to.  So do it.  Let yourself feel the full range of your emotions.  Were you absolutely, positively certain this was the agent who would take you on as a client?  Let your disappointment rage.  Were you sure this was the literary journal that would accept your beloved story?  Sob out your anger.

3.  Remember the only way out is through. No professions are so intimately linked with our souls as the creative arts.  We're writers in every cell of our being and so rejection can feel like it affects every cell of us.  It can feel like the world is ending.  Literally.   If my work is rejected, than what does it say about me and my life?  The only way to get through to the other side is to observe and honor these feelings you're having.

4.  Treat yourself. This is a time for tender self care.  Do something nice for yourself, something special.  You deserve it.  This is hard work, this writing business, and if you're going to keep it up for the long haul you'll need to temper the bad with the good.

5.  Seek support from others.  Call another writer or a trusted friend.  Warning: don't assume that a family member can give you the comfort you seek.  They might not understand the life of a writer well enough to do so.  Talking to another in-the-trenches writer who has experienced the same thing can be an enormous salve to the soul.

6.  Get back on the horse.  Yeah, yeah, I know, it is the last thing on earth you feel like doing.  But do it.  Send the novel out again. Find another publication to submit your article. It can help to keep a list ready for this. That way, you'll always have a place to go.  And remember, every time you go through rejection, it gets easier.  (See below.)

7.  Celebrate.  Probably not the first thing you think of when you think of a rejection.  But remember that getting a rejection means you're sending your work out into the world, which is what you have to do to make it as a writer.

So there you have it, my seven steps to dealing with rejection.

Postscript:  As I was writing this, I got an email from the folks promoting a new service for writers.  The Rejection Generator Project actually sends you an email rejecting your work before an editor does.  Why?  Because research has shown that after people experience pain, it gets easier to deal with in the future.  So you reject yourself first to take the pain out of it.  Pretyy cool.

Create a successful, inspired writing life: Choose a project you want to market and do your research on where to send it, whether you're sending to agents or editors.  Now choose the top three on your list and get it out there.

Please comment!  Do you have a rejection horror story?  What's your favorite way to deal with rejection?

Photo by jfg.

A 5 Step Process for Dealing With Rejection

So, I'm looking for an agent.  I have an offer to publish my book and in the old days this would be a slam dunk.  I remember sitting in sessions at writing conferences hearing stories of people who got a contract with a publisher and were told it was a sure-fire way to get an agent.  Now, not so much.

Mostly they just ignore you. Baseball-sports-woman-441118-l

And it turns out that indifference is just as bad as rejection.  So I'm thinking a lot about rejection.  (And, for the record, I sent out my novel to a gazillion places before I got this acceptance.) 

It is important to remember that rejection is not just a mental and emotional response, but a visceral, physical one, too.  Here's how it goes for me:

It starts as a shimmery feeling all through me, then a surge of adrenalin and a punch in the gut, sometimes so hard it makes me want to double over.  This is no doubt a fight or flight response, and it is damned uncomfortable.

Then the head stuff begins:

  • I'm a failure
  • This is the one thing I love doing, and nobody will let me do it (note victim mentality)
  • All is lost
  • Now everything is ruined, even my Work in Progress (WIP)
  • No use working on my WIP because I'm such a failure

Sound familiar? 

After quite awhile of wallowing in this stage, comes the false bravado:

  • I will do it!
  • They can't stop me
  • Who are they to judge me?
  • I'll make it happen if it kills me

This is a semi-helpful stage because it indicates you're moving out of the wallowing, but be aware that false bravado is predicated on the empty space inside you that remains when your ego collapses.  And this is not the empty space the gurus speak of, it is the empty space that is hurting and scared.  Not a good foundation to build upon.

So what's a writer to do?  How in the hell does one deal with rejection?  Like this:

Feel your pain.  Our automatic response to an uncomfortable feeling is to run from it, or try to change it.  Don't.  Sit with it.  Feel it fully and deeply.  Ask yourself, what am I feeling right now and identify it.  One of the keys to dealing with hurt and rejection is allowing yourself to process it fully, which we don't do.  Because it is scary.  But then number two comes in:

Let go.  Oh lordie, it is easier to let go when you've processed something fully.  You can feel it.  But whatever feeling you are feeling is going to hang around until you've felt it, so don't think you can skip number one to get to the good part.  Huh-uh.  A handy visual for letting go: imagine your thoughts and worries as balloons and watch yourself release them into the air.  Feels good, doesn't it?

Affirmations.  They really do work to change your mindset, but not when you're busy trying to cover up stuff that is still clogging you up.  So do not skip to this step whatever you do.  But when you've processed and released, get you some positive statements to say to yourself.  It's like laying sod on a new field or planting new seeds.  Okay, I'll stop with the cheesy metaphors.

Begin the process again.  Get back to work on your WIP, or start a new one.  Here's your job: set your intention (sell my novel, get an agent, etc.), put it out into the universe, trust that the universe will act on it for you, and get writing.  Rinse and repeat as necessary.

Enjoy success.  Don't forget to celebrate even the smallest of victories along the way.  It is what makes living worthwhile.


Create a successful, inspired writing life:  Next time you get a rejection, remind yourself it is all part of the writing process.  And then activate the process above to help you through it.

I'd love to hear how you deal with rejection?  Do you scream and cry?  Throw things?  Or maybe you've developed some more useful reactions.  Please share them with everyone.  Fairly often the best part of my blog posts are in the comments, cuz my readers rock.

The photo is public domain from the Library of Congress.