“When you’re following your inner voice, doors tend to eventually open for you, even if they mostly slam at first.” ― Kelly Cutrone, If You Have to Cry, Go Outside: And Other Things Your Mother Never Told You
The first rejection I had was when I was 12 years old. It was at a journalism workshop taught by a prominent local reporter.
Our assignment was to write an editorial about any topic we wanted. At that time, I was obsessed with medical stories and thought a piece about viruses would be a great idea. After about two hours, we each presented our drafts. He announced that he would grade us on the spot.
It took him about 15 seconds to scan my text before he shook his head and heaved a sad sigh.
“You’ll never be a writer.”
Harsh words for a 12-year-old, don’t you think?
Looking back, I was more shocked and bewildered than hurt. I didn’t understand what was wrong because, all my life, my English teachers always said I was good. My friends always agreed I had talent. For a few days after the incident, I tried to ask him for feedback, but he always seemed to be preoccupied.
This left me feeling confused. I eventually decided to show friends and family my work. I was looking for all kinds of opinions as to what made him say what he did. But no matter what they said (i.e., this is a good piece, you’re really good – don’t mind what he says, etc.), at the back of my mind, I knew I only wanted an answer from him.
Today, I write for several blogs about success, careers, and motivation. I’m by no means a pro – my goal is to simply inspire others. I’m still in the game.
If there’s one thing the journalist’s comment taught me, it’s how to positively deal with criticism – no matter how out of place they may feel at first.
Whenever I receive similar negative responses in the mail or hear them in person, I simply recall the following points to help ease the sting of rejection:
It’s going to feel like it at first, but it’s really not about you.
If you’re new to writing and you’ve never encountered rejection before, several thoughts could run in your head:
“Am I not good enough?”
“I knew I shouldn’t have pitched my writing at all!”
“Maybe they’re right: I have no talent for this.”
I understand, because I said the same things to myself. These thoughts still haunt me at times, but I simply compare it to making friends: some folks will like me, others won’t – and that’s okay!
It’s great if the editor gave you a reason why your work was rejected. If not, these thoughts may stick with you for several days. I hope you don’t dwell on it too much.
As writers, we do have the tendency to over-think stuff. Rest assured that most editors aren’t cruel, human-eating monsters whose only joy is to see us lament over our unpublished works.
It just happens that what we offered was not what they were looking for.
Even the most successful authors and writers out there had their fair share of NOs.
Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen, of the book series Chicken Soup for the Soul, were rejected 140 times before their book became a bestseller. Author Judy Blume was rejected for two years before she finally broke into publishing. Vladimir Nabokov, the author of Lolita, had to go to France before his work was given a chance.
Even if you’ve been snubbed multiple times, rejection will still sting. Let it – just don’t let it linger.
For every blog post that is published under my name, I get about ten rejection emails. Then, there are editors who don’t reply at all. Yes, they hurt. Often, I need to pause for a bit, so I can put things into perspective.
After that, I write again. As the wise Chinese proverb goes:
“You cannot prevent the birds of sorrow from flying over your head, but you can prevent them from building a nest in your hair.”
Perhaps one of the things that most writers are tempted to do whenever they receive a no is to immediately close the door.
After all, that person didn’t like your work, so what are the chances that he/she will like any of your future compositions.
There’s still a chance they will.
Remember that I like to pause each time I receive a rejection? It’s not just to help manage my negative emotions, it’s also so I can quietly reflect on what to say next. In these cases, I like to reply with a short but open answer. Something like:
“Thank you for taking the time to review my work. I hope that we can still stay in touch for future projects together.”
By giving a polite response, you show that a) you’re a professional who doesn’t take rejection personally, and b) you don’t hold grudges.
However, there will be times when you’ll feel that further effort is futile. An example is an editor who NEVER replied to you – even after sending several follow-up emails.
Here, you have two options. The first is to accept the fact that maybe said editor is really not going to warm up to you (at least for now). The second is to use another approach (maybe mention them on social media?).
This is where the delicate art of discernment comes into play. As the old saying goes “there’s a time for everything”. Understanding where the fine line is between submitting a pitch again vs. just letting it go is not easily learned. You can only find it out through experience.
As you write more and become acquainted with numerous editors, you’ll know how to read subtle signs (i.e., changes in language, different types of rejection, how your name is mentioned in online conversations, etc.) that should guide you in your decisions.
As a writer, you want to save valuable time and energy. Eventually, you’ll learn which doors to close, and which to keep open.
One of the best things about being a writer is that we use our skill as an outlet for our emotions.
That is why I usually write AFTER I get a rejection in my inbox.
After a brief pause (normally to stop myself from sending a sarcastic reply), I put on my headphones and blast some invigorating music. Then, focus on the blank paper or document in front of me, letting my fingers do the rest.
Most of what I write during this period is chaotic, but driven and uncensored. It needs plenty of editing afterwards.
This method is often referred to as a brain dump. Most writers are familiar with it from Stephen King’s book, On Writing. For those who have difficulty putting emotions on paper, the brain dump can be good practice.
No rules, no angles. Simply let the words flow from your heart or soul. Don’t worry, you’re free to come back to it later.
I find that writing while I’m angry and frustrated helps me concentrate better. Plus, I feel a lot better afterwards!
Are you currently writing a novel? Do you have characters that experience a roller coaster of emotions? Try writing whenever you’re in the throes of a powerful sentiment (like anger or sadness). In fact, experts recommend writing in order to sort out negative feelings. If you’re not a talker, you can use your talents to fuel your works.
I love editors who give me feedback.
On rare occasions, these lovely people point out the reasons why they rejected my work. It will sting me a bit, but I’m glad they took the time out of their busy schedules to teach me new things and help me hone my craft.
The tough ones are editors who don’t reply at ALL. In these cases, I am left to dissect work and guess what they disliked about it.
After a major rejection (especially for authors trying to get their manuscripts published), one of the best gifts you can give yourself is time. Whether it’s a week, a month, or a year, use this time to improve. Attend writing workshops, get beta readers, join a critique circle, hire a professional editor, etc. Do what works for you.
Personally, I like to read a lot of work by writers I admire. I also have a good friend, who does a bit of editing and critiquing whenever I need it.
I’m not sure.
But I do know that part of becoming a good writer involves the ability to gracefully accept criticism — even the ones we don’t agree with. The moment we are still able to put pen to paper despite multiple rejections is already a prize in itself.
Maybe the real triumph of every writer is not winning competitions or publishing manuscripts. Perhaps our true victory comes from stringing words together in the face of our inner monsters.
I never met my instructor again. In fact, I forgot his name over time. But I never forgot the look on his face, nor that feeling of confusion when he said I shouldn’t be a writer.
It doesn’t hurt anymore, and I can honestly laugh at the memory. Not for revenge’s sake: it’s because deep inside, I know I wouldn’t be where I am now had he not said those words.
If you’re still out there and you remember me – thank you.
Cris Antonio is a senior copywriter and the Chief Editor of Scoopfed.com. She’s currently focused on writing articles to help millennials find better career opportunities as they strive to make a difference. Aside from writing, Cris also enjoys painting, collecting toys, and reading German novels. Feel free to follow her adventures on Twitter @CrisWrites