As writers it's inevitable that we will all face rejection at some point. Whether it's a troll on social media, a person in our lives telling us writing isn't a real job, or an inbox full of rejection letters we all share these experiences and collectively cringe in response. The reality is that rejection doesn't feel good and it never will. No one likes to be told they aren't good enough after investing time and energy into a personal project. With so many hopes and dreams riding on a publisher saying "yes" or readers loving our novel, it's imperative that we learn to celebrate the rocky parts of the creative process rather than letting it drag us down into the depths of self-doubt, self-criticism and despair.
We know what you're thinking. What's there to celebrate about being rejected? Isn't rejection a bad thing? Isn't receiving negative feedback or rejection letters a sign that we should throw in the towel and quit altogether?
Rejection is a tool. Point blank. It's not a fun tool, but like fear, channeling our rejections can be useful. In some ways it can be more motivating than positive feedback. It is a utensil of growth that in the right hands, with the right perspective can lead to positive change. That's what makes it so powerful. We may not have a choice in whether or not we are rejected, but we do have the power to decide how we use it.
Creativity Takes Courage
There's no singular portion of the writing process that does not take courage. Read that again. You are BRAVE for writing your story, doing whatever it takes to make it the best it can be, and for unleashing it on the world. It's no ordinary task to put oneself out there and opening yourself up to criticism. It's one of the hardest things you can possibly do as a human being. It's the purposeful act of making yourself vulnerable in a way that you've probably never experienced before and that takes COURAGE. There's a reason that everyone doesn't line up to do it, and the fact that you've not only chosen to do so, but followed through enough to receive those rejection letters or that feedback is a testimony to your own strength.
Take A Moment of Gratitude
After experiencing the initial disappointment, it's important to take a deep breath and thank ourselves. Consider all the hard work, late nights, effort, time and sacrifices you had to make to send that rejection letter off in the first place. Consider how outside of your comfort zone you had to be to post about your writing on social media, to share it with your writing group, or to discuss it when you never have before. No matter the outcome, it took guts to get this far and you have to objectively recognize that without your determination, your novel would still be a pipe dream. That's a big deal! It also means that you deserve a pat on the back for all your hustling, even if it didn't lead to the outcome you hoped for.
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What Rejection Truly Means
What a rejection letter truly represents is the level of your own audacity and valor. As it turns out, you're pretty BADASS. If your growing pile of rejection letters has you feeling down or questioning your abilities as a writer, pause for a moment. Think about what each letter actually means. For each it meant hours of hard work, sleepless nights, anxious anticipation and thousands of wishful thoughts about a career opportunity you've dreamed about for forever. That's not nothing. It means that you've taken direct action in pursuit of your dream. You've turned your dream into an action plan, meaning that you're already steps closer to achieving your goal than you might even realize. Even J.K. Rowling had to deal with 12 rejection letters before Harry Potter was published. James Patterson received 31 rejections before his award-winning Alex Cross series was ever considered. Even Stephen King was turned down 30 times before his first novel was ever published. In conclusion, consider yourself in good company!
Rejections Are Stepping Stones, Not Stopping Points
One way you can change your perspective on rejection is by seeing it for what it truly is: A stepping stone. Often these letters come with context. Meaning that whenever and however you receive feedback, there's often something to be learned within it. Your first job is to feel that initial disappointment. The second is to objectively weigh the importance of said rejection. A troll online probably isn't looking to help your career or skill improve. But a rejection letter from a publisher pointing out a weakness in your draft is another story. Where constructive feedback is involved, consider it to be a roadmap to help you shape and polish your novel. It's free advice from industry professionals! That's literary gold. Take whatever feedback you've received and apply it. Learn and grow from it. Then pull yourself together and re-submit.
Celebrate Don't Elevate
Another technique that can help boost your morale throughout this stage of the writing process is to celebrate, not elevate. This means that rather than elevate the negative feelings brought on by rejection and wallowing in self-doubt, you can choose to transform it into something positive to celebrate. The message that rejection letters send is not that you're not good enough. That's your own ego talking and getting in the way. A rejection letter comes for a myriad of reasons. A publisher could be overwhelmed by the bulk of submissions, your novel may not fit the "theme" of what an agent is specifically looking for at that given moment, it could be that your book didn't quite fit the submissions requirements, or it was simply the luck of the draw that wasn't in your favor. It's typically not a direct account of why you and your writing stinks.
Keeping this in mind, it's an opportunity to change something that isn't fun into something that can be looked forward to. One more rejection letter means you're one less obstacle away from finding the publisher who will say yes! Ways to celebrate can be as unique to the author as their book. Some host a party with other writers. Others create art with their letters, transforming them into something beautiful, such as origami swans. Framing rejection letters, making a scrapbook, or even turning them into a book are all great options. Think of it as cataloging another stage of the writer's journey conquered. You're now officially a member of an exclusive author club!
Keep Going, Keep Growing
Writing is not for the faint of heart. You know that, we know that. What it is is a Darwin-level battle of the fittest. But here being the "best" doesn't necessarily mean being the strongest writer. It means being the most persistent, the most patient, and learning to promote yourself assertively. To fight for your work and its right to be read. It's about believing in yourself, your abilities and never giving up. There's something to be said about a writer who is stubborn enough to get the job done.
With that comes options. You can always submit new material to publishers who have rejected you previously. You can study current market trends and tailor your pieces to an ideal audience, thus increasing its value. You can explore new options of publishing such as self-publishing if it turns out your own is too niche for mainstream publishing. You can branch out and try new genres and styles of writing, learn new techniques of craft, and keep growing. The most important thing to remember is to keep going! Don't give up after three or thirty rejections. Your time will come, but you have to be willing to do the work that it takes to get there.
Let The Scab Heal
Lastly, let the wound heal. Rejection isn't the end of the world, nor should you let it be. If you find that you're devastated after receiving a single rejection letter perhaps it's time to re-evaluate your toughness level. If it's enough that a single unkind word or inappropriate comment sends you into a head spin that makes you want to tuck tail and run, perhaps it's time to ask yourself why. Criticism is a guarantee when it comes to being a successful writer. There's no way around it, there will be a lot of it, and there's no way to avoid it. If you're not strong enough to shrug it off and move on, then it's time to seriously reconsider what you're investing your time in. Being in a career field that is going to wind up hurting your mental health is not healthy for everyone. There's no shame in moving on if you truly feel like it's damaging more than helping. If you decide you can handle the pressure, it's time to get back out there! Remember, at the end of the day if you're proud of your writing that's what matters. No one can take that accomplishment away from you.
Writing can be a perilous experience. It will have its ups and downs, it'll challenge you, encourage you, break you, and rebuild you. But if you can toughen up and stay persistent you'll see great things happen and new doors open. Keep going!
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