Our question of the week concerns something that all writers go through…rejection. How do we handle it?
How I handle rejection: three days of debilitating depression, sporadic crying, and self-loathing.
Er. No. But that’s how I did respond to rejections back in 2008 when I first started sending out story submissions. I was crippled by self-doubt and rejections only confirmed every awful thing I thought about myself and my writing. A lot of those initial stories, I only sent out once because I thought one rejection meant the story was obviously awful and would never sell anywhere.
My skin’s a lot thicker now. Most rejections do not bother me. I read them and say, ‘Well, that stinks,’ and send the story or poem out again. There are exceptions to this. There are always some stories that feel especially personal for me, and having those rejected is hard, especially when it’s a higher tier letter (“We really liked this but just bought something similar, so with regret…”). Novel rejections are the worst of all.
E. C. Ambrose
At this point, it strongly depends on who’s doing the rejecting. . .there’s a big difference between being rejected by a magazine choosing among a zillion stories, by writers large and small, many probably better than mine (bummer, but hey, those are the odds!) and being rejected with a project you hope to write by your own agent or editor who is not interested in the work.
The first kind no longer phase me. I’m happily surprised to be accepted by magazines or anthologies, but I have pretty low expectations (novel seems to be my ideal length). The second kind, on the other hand, can make me second-guess everything. My agent recently took a pass on representing a YA fantasy I still like, leaving me anxious and wondering if The Dark Apostle books were a fluke and nothing else I write will Ever Sell AGAIN!
The first kind really aren’t personal (though we sometimes take it as if they are) but the second. . .well, it’s probably *still* not personal, she just doesn’t think this book is marketable. It just *feels* more personal. Can’t pretend she doesn’t know who I am. Can’t think she just doesn’t understand me and won’t get my work. Can still stomp around the office and eat too many chips, tho!
M. K. Hutchins
Rejections tend to hit me in a variety of ways.
Sometimes (often with short fiction), rejections feel rote. Is there anything I want to revise? Nope? Off to the next market on the list. Not a big deal.
Some rejections make me want to go write an even better, shinier story and sell that. I wish I knew how to encourage this reaction. It’s easy to dive into a new project when I’m full of a yes-I’m-just-that-stubborn attitude.
And sometimes rejections just stink and it’s impossible to focus on what I’m currently writing. What if it’s all crap? No one will ever buy this! I generally find taking a break to stress-clean my apartment generally cures me. And, as a bonus, I end up with a nicer space to write in.
I’m not the world’s most experienced rejectionist by any means, but of course there’s times in everybody’s everything when the game’s not going your way, and disappointment reigns supreme.
One of the things I’m only just now beginning to appreciate is how my social circle has grown over the past few months – and how much that’s deepened my perspective. Sure, we all intellectually know that a story or manuscript rejection is the quintessential First World Problem – but it’s been such an eye-opener to have friends whose Big Awesome News is that they are officially six months cancer-free, or that the ex-partner has agreed to modify the custody arrangements, or that the kid’s rehab looks like it’s going to stick this time. I’m finding it much easier not to sweat the small stuff when there’s capital-B Big Stuff also situated somewhere in the frame.
I’m also working really hard to make sure I always have other irons in the fire, as it were. Putting my emotional eggs in multiple baskets – writing stuff, teaching stuff, family stuff, whatever – definitely helps minimize the damage whenever any single one of them falls and splatters on the floor. I don’t think it’s possible to sink thousands of hours into ANYTHING and not be deeply invested in the results, but I’ve learned the hard way how important it is to diversify your mental portfolio.
J. Kathleen Cheney
First of all, I’d like to state that I handle rejection with the utmost maturity. I do not eat ice cream. Or tamales. (I’m actually more likely to resort to tamales. I’m not an ice cream girl.)
Truthfully, though, my reaction to rejection often surprises me. There are times when my work is rejected, and it hits me like a pile-driver to the stomach. Other times I simply shrug it off and move on. Often I don’t know which one of those it will be. It’s only afterward that I realize I wanted a particular sale more than I’d previously believed. And I’m surprised that my mind can trick me that way.
If it’s one of those instances when I can’t just shrug it off, then I resort to the old standby…a RomCom. I don’t cry for myself. But when I see Sandra Bullock getting beat down over and over again in Hope Floats or Katherine Heigl ruining her own life (temporarily) in 27 Dresses, I cry for them, and that lets out all my angst over my own situation. It never fails me.
I love a passage from Connie Willis’ 2013 collection (The Best of Connie Willis, Del Rey 2013) – which has commentary on each story. After the post-apocalyptic “A Letter from the Clearys,” she wrote:
“What saved me from [quitting] was those already made-out and stamped envelopes and SASEs. I mean, stamps were expensive, and what would it hurt to send everything out one last time?”
She’s chronicling the moment she got eight rejections all on the same day. I’m so glad she didn’t quit then. I try to remember that when I get a rejection (usually I’m remembering that while munching chocolate and considering a career making tin cans). And then I make another go at it.
How do you handle rejection???