And I’m not going to give you some saccharine-sweet truism about how every time your piece gets rejected is another step toward it being accepted. Yeah, you can learn from rejection, when the rejector actually gives you some criticism. But, rejection still sucks.
And it’s a kind of suck that you don’t really get used to.
You can experience rejection in all manner of ways in every aspect of your life, and yet, whenever it happens, you can’t help but feel disappointed.
It’s something that you’re told to expect as a writer. And you will get it. It can take many forms, too, not just rejection from publishers. Rejection from readers hurts just as much, even more so. And don’t get me started on critics.
Rejection in all its forms, whether it’s “We won’t publish this,” “We won’t read it,” “We don’t like what we read,” or, “What we read really sucks, and here’s all the reasons you should never read Ainsel’s stuff again,” hurts.
It’s also a part of being a writer, because even when you’re on top of the world like J.K. Rowling with the Harry Potter series, you’ll end up the scorn of your former fans, like J.K. Rowling with tweeting weird things she never included in the canon about her characters.
You can let rejection tear you down. You can let it stop you. And I can see why you would want to. More than once a week, I wonder if I should keep writing. So I get it. But, may I suggest an alternative?
There’s a form of cognitive-behavioral therapy out there called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). It’s got a pretty zen feel to it, arguing that the problem isn’t that we have thoughts and feelings that make us unhappy, but rather, that we fuse with them.
Think of fusion like this: Let’s say you take a fashion risk and wear a shirt you wouldn’t normally do. Someone, apropos of nothing, tells you that your shirt is hideous. Maybe it’s a shirt you like. Maybe you spent a lot of money on it. Whatever, you start thinking, “I have a horrible sense of style. I should never have worn this shirt.”
You’re embarrassed and disappointed, and you decide not to try any new styles.
You have fused with your thought. You have taken the thoughts “I have a horrible sense of style” and attached your identity to it.
What ACT argues is that the thought “I have a horrible sense of style” is just a thought. It has no real meaning. Is it true? According to ACT, doesn’t matter if it is. The question is, Is this thought helpful? If it’s not helpful, you need to defuse from the thought.
When it comes to writing, it’s really easy to “fuse” with your negative thoughts. It’s really easy to see that you’re not the next Stephen King, and think that you’re a terrible writer. “I’m a terrible writer,” is just a thought. It has no real truth to it, and you don’t have to fuse with it.
Similarly, when your short story or novel or poem or piece of artwork is rejected, it’s really easy to fuse with that and feel that you were rejected.
So, what do you do?
There are plenty of exercises that help, but I prefer the following:
When I noticed I’m having a harmful thought, and that I am fusing with that thought, I stop and say to myself, “I notice that I am having the thought that I have a horrible sense of style. I want to thank you, Mind, because I know you are trying to help.”
Usually that’s enough to distance myself from the thought.
And when I experience an authorial rejection, I find myself saying “I notice that I am having the thought that I’m not a good writer. I want to thank you, Brain, because I know you are trying to help.”
“I notice that I am having the thought that I could only write twenty words today and that I will never get published. I want to thank you, Brain, because I know that you are trying to help.”
“I notice that I am having the thought that because my story was rejected by a publisher that I am never going to be a real author. I want to thank you, Brain, because I know that you are trying to help.”
You see, your brain regularly throws out random thoughts to try to identify dangers. Is that a snake in the weeds? Is that a tiger by the water? And that’s great when you’re actually surrounded by danger. But when you’re surrounded by office settings and research notes, it can make you feel pretty trapped.
ACT argues that you will always have these negative thoughts. The point is to accept that you have them, allow them to pass, and move on with you life.
The next part is commitment. While you can get a “values worksheet” to help you write out all your values, let’s assume that you’re visiting this blog because you want to write, so writing is a value for you. So, you commit to writing.
When that niggling feeling comes that you want to quit writing because of the rejection, you ask yourself “Does quitting writing help me live a value-driven life, when writing is one of my values?”
That answer should be self-evident.
1) Accept rejection will happen.
It just will. The most popular authors still experience rejection. They still have readers refuse to read their writing, publishers refuse to publish it, and critics calling it garbage. Accept that it will happen.
2) Learn what you can from the rejection.
Maybe the publisher will tell you why they rejected the piece “the viewpoint keeps shifting,” “there’s nothing at stake for the character,” or “this is a cooking magazine, please stop sending us your Star Trek slash.”
Take the advice that is helpful.
3) Learn that some rejection will not be helpful.
My mother loves me, and she believes I am a very good writer. She, however, likes neither fantasy nor horror. She will never regularly read anything I write because I insist on writing in genres she just doesn’t like. It’s a form of rejection. It’s not a form that will help me learn anything.
And sometimes you just get a form letter saying something about how this just doesn’t fit them at this time and they wish you the best in the future, feel free to submit again!
That’s going to be a lot of the rejection you experience. Learning to decipher which is helpful and which isn’t will help you going forward.
That’s it. Commit to writing and write. Take a deep breath, recognize when you’re fusing with a thought that you shouldn’t, and move on.
But, Ainsel, how do I write when I’m so miserable over a rejection that I feel like my world is caving in?
Start at the beginning. First, if rejection makes you so miserable that you feel like the apocalypse has landed on your doorstep, that means that you are fusing with the rejection. You are thinking you’re a terrible writer who will never be published, and you need to work a bit on your self-awareness and re-examine that.
Take a deep breath, take ten, notice that you’re having these thoughts, and let them pass.
Then, well, let your imagination run for a bit. Maybe do some daily writing prompts to prime the pump. Maybe read through your ASeOWME IDEAS! folder to remind yourself that you are a good writer. Maybe toy with a pet project for a day or two. I have a comic I play with (not that I can draw to bring it to life, but I can still use it to inspire me) in my darkest times.
Then get back to your project and write.
And just keep writing.