3 Practical Ways to Cope With Rejection as a Writer
Locked inside my head are multiple famous stories of writers who got rejected, only to become famous and make it big: J.K. Rowling, Theodor Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seuss), Jack Canfield, John Grisham, and Stephen King are just a few people who heard “no” from publishers and agents. These tales remind me not to give up. They should offer the same encouragement to you. But is there any way to strategically cope with constant rejection and make it bearable until you join their ranks?
Why is rejection so agonizing in the first place?
Rejection as a writer is can be hard on a logistical level. You have to figure out which publisher/agent to target next and find the time to try again. That alone can be stressful. But what makes rejection truly so gut-wrenching as a writer is that it feels so personal. Because you poured your heart into the work, it feels like they’re rejecting you instead of a manuscript. It makes you question not just your talent, but your entire sense of self-worth. It’s these kinds of overwhelming feelings you need a plan for.
Strategies to dull the hurt
Real truth moment here: You’ll probably never eliminate the pain of rejection totally. But you can manage it in a few ways.
1. Focus on process, not numbers.
When you’re submitting, it’s tempting to quantify how many submissions are out and how many times publishers/agents have rejected each one. Part of the reason for this is that writers often want to know when to pivot and perhaps self-publish. But too often, instead of seeing the number as a way to draw a strategic line, writers see their rejections add up and take it as collective proof that they’re not cut out for the job at all.
If you truly believe in the work and understand just how subjective the publishing industry is, then don’t numerically keep track of your rejections. Instead, develop a sequence you can immediately engage in once a rejection hits your inbox.
The first thing I do when a rejection comes in is update my spreadsheet. This tactic helps me avoid accidentally resubmitting to the same house twice.
When you know exactly what comes next, instead of ruminating, you take action on a task. Because you can do something, you can get a better sense that you’re taking control of what will happen. Because most people like familiarity, the predictability of a sequence can offer even more comfort, too. Clear sequencing also smooths out many of the logistical issues you might run into. Putting those problems to rest can mean you end up submitting more. At the end of the day, you also end up with a verifiable list of things you can say you accomplished.
Process thinking in your writing is critical when you view your writing as your career or business. No entrepreneur goes to work without a game plan. If you are serious about your writing, then you shouldn’t, either. Know what to do and just execute, tweaking as necessary as you learn.
2. Limit social media.
Social media can be an amazing way to find beta readers and connect with others in the industry. It can let you get everyday support and empathy. It’s also a great venue in which to market when you do it right. So I’m certainly not going to say don’t get online.
But people tend to compare themselves to others, especially online. So browsing social media sometimes can leave you feeling “less than”.
My personal experience is that, every time I saw someone online announcing that they found representation or launched something, my heart just tanked. I was happy for them because I know the struggle of the work. But underneath all that, the overwhelming thought in my head was, “How come they’re having success and I’m not? I must not be any good.” It shoved all the rejections I’d gotten back in my face.
So now, if I get onto Twitter or other platforms, I do so with a specific purpose. That purpose might be to respond to others to develop new relationships. Sometimes it’s to share something interesting related to writing I’ve come across.
Instead of aimlessly scrolling through your feeds, know what you’re looking for or can offer to others. Once you’ve taken care of that or spent a designated number of daily minutes on a platform, log off.
3. Work on something else.
The point here isn’t to distract yourself. Rather, by having multiple projects going at once, you know you’re not putting all of your eggs in one basket. If you get a rejection on something, then you know you’ve still got a lot of work in play or that you can offer later. You know the rejection isn’t the whole or final story for you.
Another big reason to do other writing when you’re submitting is that it’s additional practice. Even if you never see the work you sent out published, you can be more confident knowing that you’re honing your skills over time so that future work does get a yes. This relates to point #1 above . If you take real action in a reliable sequence, then you’re more likely to feel like you’re still in the driver’s seat.
Additionally, writing more helps remind you that publication/representation isn’t really the main goal. Enjoying and expressing yourself is. You must write first and foremost because you love to do so. If you don’t stay in touch with that, then it’s all too easy to lose motivation and quit.
Can your “something else” be work or a hobby other than writing? Of course. Stepping back and taking a break can give you a bigger perspective of who you are and what you can do. This bigger perspective means that, when a rejection comes in, you understand that it’s not a mark against everything you are.
Building your rejection tolerance starts now
What separates successful writers from the ones that don’t make it is that successful writers intentionally build rejection tolerance. They find techniques that make rejection seem more like getting poked by a thorn, rather than like a vicious stab to the heart from a knife. That’s what allows them to keep submitting day after day, over and over, and that eventually gets them noticed or working with the right people.
The tips above are just three rejection-tolerance techniques that could work for you. If you focus on the task at hand with a business-oriented way of thinking, and if you make sure that your interactions have a clear purpose, rejections can lose their teeth and draw less blood. Weave the above strategies into your personal approach in a customized way, be patient, and don’t give up.