Writers get rejected. They get rejected all the time. It’s not an exception. It’s the norm. Gone With the Wind was rejected 38 times. Gertrude Stein submitted poems for 22 years before having one accepted.
I’ve written before on writer anxiety, which is a related but not identical to fear of rejection. Writer anxiety comes from how you judge your own writing. You think it’s terrible. You feel like an imposter who’s going to be found out any day now.
Fear of rejection, on the other hand, reflects what you think will happen if you send your work out into the world.
The unfortunate part is that rejection probably will happen if you send the work out. That doesn’t mean the work is bad. It actually means you’re a professional writer.
So if you want to be a writer, you need to learn to manage rejection.
A Radical Practice: Try to be rejected—one hundred times.
Would-be entrepreneur Jia Jiang set out to cure himself of fearing rejection by deliberately trying to be rejected 100 times. To learn to steel himself against rejection’s pain, he started asking complete strangers for outrageous things. On his first try, he asked a mall security guard for $100. Unsurprisingly, the request was rejected. One down, ninety nine to go.
Along the way, Jia learned how to be better at asking for something. What’s more, people sometimes surprised him by giving him what he asked for. It’s a terrifying thought, but a small plane pilot even let him fly the plane.
He did develop a thicker skin, which he found enormously freeing. “When you overcome the fear, the feeling is awesome,” he says. “Regret is the worst. So much worse than if you try something and bomb.”
Jia did a Ted Talk on his experience that’s fun to watch.
Less Radical Ways to Handle Rejection
You don’t need to go as far as Jia did to learn to manage rejection, though if you spend much time writing and submitting, you’re likely to experience the kind of toughening up that Jia talks about. After a while, you kind of get used to it, though I must admit I still experience a day or so of mild depression each time.
But here are some things I’ve found make rejection less crippling.
- Assume the answer is no until you get a yes. I keep a list of places where I submit or intend to submit. When I send a piece in, I enter the title in the “rejected” column. It’s a little game I play with myself to normalize rejections and make acceptances a pleasant surprise.
- I also enter the next place I intend to submit if the piece bounces back from this one. If the rejection is a form or I feel I’ve done the best I can with the piece, I automatically send it back out to the next place on the list so I don’t even have to think about it.
- However, if the rejection is not a form but gives you a reason, it’s better to take some time, especially if it’s a piece you’ve invested a lot in. Allow yourself time to feel hurt. Take a few days. Then go back to it and see if you can get some use out of the rejection.
- Evaluate whether you can use that reason to revise or whether it’s off the mark for what you want to write. But again (I can’t stress this enough), give yourself a few days before you do this so you have time to get some perspective.
Rejection is part of a writer’s life. That being the case, you have to learn to live with it, even if you don’t try for 100 rejections!
Farm boy, turned street kid, turned scam artist traps himself in a scam that works a little too well. And there’s a dog!
The Wind Reader (Inspired Quill 2018) by Dorothy A. Winsor is available in e-book and paperback. E-book only $3.99.
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