3 Practical Ways to Cope with Rejection as a Writer

Hand photo created by master1305 – www.freepik.com

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, Stephen King are just a few people, for example, who heard “no” from publishers and agents. Their tales remind me not to give up and 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, for example, 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, as though because you poured your heart into the work, they’re rejecting you instead of a manuscript. It makes you question not just your talent, but your entire sense of self-worth. And 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.

It’s tempting when you’re submitting to quantify how many submissions are out and how many times publishers/agents have rejected each one. And 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 line, writers see their rejections add up and take it as collective proof that they’re not cut out for the job.

So if you truly believe in the work and understand just how subjective the publishing industry is, then don’t numerically keep track. Instead, develop a sequence you can immediately engage once a rejection hits your inbox.

For example, the first thing I do when a rejection comes in is update my spreadsheet to avoid accidentally resubmitting to the same house twice.

When you know exactly what comes next, you can shift your thinking toward a task and actually do something, rather than ruminating. You can get a better sense that you’re taking control of what will happen, because you’re taking action to move forward. 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, which can mean you end up submitting more. And at the end of the day, you end up with a verifiable list of things you can look back at and 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. And 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, connect with others in the industry and get everyday support and empathy. It’s also a great venue in which market when you do it right. So I’m certainly not going to say don’t get online.

But researchers also know that people tend to compare themselves to others, and that 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, of course, 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 all just 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, such as intentionally responding to others to develop new relationships, or 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, although that kind of is a natural consequence. 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, and that 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 in print, you can be more confident knowing that your 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.

Now, 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 so 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 the 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 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.

How to Deal with Other People Finding Writing Success Instead of You

Abstract vector created by macrovector – www.freepik.com

You know those social media posts.

The exuberant ones.

The ones where people announce they’ve just found an agent, met some ridiculous word count goal or had a publisher snap up their book in a six or even seven figure deal.

On the one hand, I am genuinely over the moon for the writers who are putting up those messages on Twitter, Facebook and other platforms. And that’s because I empathize. I know first hand all the hours that goes into creating the manuscript, editing it and sending it out into the world feeling crazily protective and hopeful. And so I make it a point to congratulate them. They deserve every kudos, and I mean what I say in my responses.

Yet, there’s also the side of those posts that’s kind of like a punch in the gut.

With brass knuckles.

Maybe some razor blades.

And you know what? Just throw in a random bomb embedded with rusty nails and screws in there, because you know, what the heck.

There’s something about those posts, which I admittedly and ironically dream of putting up myself one day, that holds a crappy message. Something that says, “See? If you were just ‘good enough’, too, then you’d have that agent/deal/paycheck/fame. Comparatively, your writing is stinkier than the rear end of a hippo.”

Talk about a motivation killer.

But the thing is, none of those writers is saying that. They’re not trying to rub it in. They’re just genuinely so elated that they can’t contain it. And deep down, I know better. I understand that the industry is highly subjective and very much about making the right editorial connections. And I understand that even “bad” writing that’s a grammatical mess still can have a great story at its heart. So the real question is just how to bounce back from the temporary blech that seeing others’ success inspires. Because if I (or you) can just bounce back from that, you can keep writing, submitting and pursuing the writing goals you have.

So here’s what I’ve found personally works:

  • Read other types of posts. I’m not going to tell you to go on a social media fast, because that might not be realistic given your need to promote your work. But what you can do is focus on particular types of posts. Look at how many people are still drafting, querying, or just looking for advice on which writing tool is best. You might not have the deal or agent yet, but there are tons of people right where you are who can offer support and remind you that you’re not alone. Pay close attention to the posts where people share little bits of drafts–favorite lines, for example–or talk about a beautiful moment they had with writing. Those kinds of posts reveal what matters to other people and can remind you that writing is about a lot more than money or other perks.
  • Stick to a plan. If you are going about your writing inconsistently or without a plan, it’s easy to feel like you aren’t making real headway. But a plan lets you measure progress based on a specific strategy. Every time you post something, every time you send a query or take the half an hour you slotted for outlining, you can say you really did something. You are trying. You are not idle. You’re moving forward. And that’s a heck of a lot better than feeling like you have zero direction.
  • Trash your own writing. This might seem a little counterintuitive, but ripping your drafts to shreds teaches you not to get too attached, and to be open to trying new options that ultimately could make the content work significantly better. Even if you end up going with your original version, the exercise in exploration can give you a sense of progress and development that’s a huge confidence booster. You also might end up with snippets or new concepts that could lead to entirely new works later on.
  • Do something other than writing. Writers are just like other professionals in that they can attach a huge part of their identity to their work. That’s why it’s so painful to see the other “I made it” posts from others–it’s not just about having your project validated, it’s about having you validated. So if the sting is getting too sharp, go spend time in other activities or hobbies. This doesn’t mean stop writing. It just means that the writing should be balanced with other aspects of who you are. Do whatever you enjoy to remind yourself that, although writing is part of you, it doesn’t define your worth.

People who find writing success deserve to celebrate it and brag a little. This applies to you just as much as to anyone else. But since it might be a while until it’s your time to celebrate, don’t just wallow. Be proactive about staying in a positive mindset. You’ll produce better when you aren’t depressed and stressed, guaranteed.

Top 10 Signs You Are a Writer

1. You have at least one type of notepad or word processing application on your smartphone and use it to jot down ideas on the go.

2. Paper and pencil are on your nightstand, just in case your dreams are novel-worthy or you get inspired at 3:00 a.m.

3. The amount you spend on office supplies is dangerously close to your income.

4. There is always some kind of pen mark on at least one of your hands.

5. Your computer is always on, and you leave Microsoft Word running no matter what else you are doing on the machine.

6. Coffee and breakfast are fairly synonymous.

7. You wonder what people mean when they say they “clock out” for the day.

8. People always give you gift cards to stores like Barnes & Noble for your birthday or the holidays.

9. You run through possible lead lines in your head while in the shower, wondering if they’re good enough.

10. You actually care what weight a pencil lead is and what type of ink a pen has.