Rejection Hurts. So How Do Writers and Other Creatives Deal With It In A Healthy Way?
Rejection hurts. If you get enough of it, it can eat away at your self-esteem, your confidence, even your sense of place in the world. Most of us try to avoid or minimize the rejection we receive—which, according to author and hypnotherapist Marisa Peer in her Ted Talk (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zeDt9dgFXFk), may be a primal instinctive need because when humans lived in tribes they couldn’t survive unless they were connected to each other. We still need people, and we still dread rejection. But dealing with rejection is part of the life of a writer.
I think rejection hurts even more when it’s about something we put our heart and soul into—it can feel like rejection of our deepest self. And many of us writers and creatives already carry emotional wounds that drive us to write—childhood bullying, abuse, neglect, or just being seen as different or other because of the way we see the world—all forms of rejection. So the added layer of publishing rejection can add to or trigger our existing wounds.
Yet we keep subjecting ourselves to potential rejection, over and over again—from editors, agents, and even negative reviews—that can feel like an attack on our soul. So why do we do it? Because we have the need to share our stories with others, to have a voice and be heard, and when we finally get that, it can outweigh all the publishing-industry rejection we’ve received. But getting there can be rough. It’s so important to hold on to hope, and to not give up on your publishing journey.
It took me more than ten years and hundreds of rejections to get SCARS published. I had done my research and knew that it could take a while, so I was mentally prepared for some rejection. The rejections hurt, but I knew I needed to let myself take a day or two to deal with how I felt, and then get my manuscript back out there, as well as listen to any feedback editors gave me and weigh whether I should use their suggestions; keep getting feedback from other writers; and revise my work. But as the years went on and I received more and more rejections, they started to wear on my self-esteem and my soul. I felt hopelessness and despair, and wanted to give up. I’m glad that I didn’t. Evelyn Fazio, my editor for SCARS and HUNTED, plucked SCARS out of the slush pile, and I’ll forever be grateful to her for that. Around the same time that I got the contract for SCARS, I also got a contract for my hi-lo YA novel The LAST DRAGON from Paul Kropp at HIP Books. It was validating—after ten years of rejections, I had finally broken through.
Getting those book contracts brought me such happiness. But receiving letters from readers telling me that I’d helped them to stop cutting; to talk to someone for the first time about their self-harm, abuse, or being queer; or even to keep from killing themselves brought me even more joy (and continues to). I would never have had that experience, never been able to help people on such a large scale, if I’d given up at my first fifty rejections, or even the first hundred.
I thought that once I got published I wouldn’t receive any more rejections (cue hysterical laughter), but that just isn’t true. I know enough now not to give up, even when I feel like I want to. But sometimes it’s still hard.
So how do we as writers deal with rejection in a healthy way? Here’s what’s helped me:
- Don’t give up. If this is your dream, if you NEED to write and get published, keep submitting your work. You can’t get published if you don’t send it out.
- Get feedback on your manuscript, weigh what works for you and what doesn’t, and then revise. If you’ve received a lot of rejections, it’s important to get feedback from other writers you trust. Sometimes your manuscript or your query isn’t quite ready to send out; it may need more editing. But once you’ve received feedback and polished your manuscript, if you really believe in your piece, then send it out again and keep sending it out.
- Remember that every rejection is subjective—it’s an opinion based on that editor’s or agent’s personal experiences, taste, and what they think will sell. A rejection may not have anything to do with how good your writing is. In other words, just because you get a rejection it doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with your writing. It just may not be the right fit for that editor, publisher, or agent.
- Remember that you only need one yes. All the rejections you’ve received up until now won’t mean anything once you get that acceptance letter or phone call.
- If you’re receiving personalized rejections where the editor or agent comments about what they liked in the story and what didn’t work for them, then you’re close/r to getting an acceptance. Editors and agents are inundated with submissions, and for them to take the time to comment personally on your manuscript and mention what they liked means it stood out from the thousands of others. Keep submitting your work.
- Keep hold of WHY you write, what drives you to write, and what gives you joy from writing. Remind yourself of those reasons; they’re important.
- Commiserate with other writers. Talk about rejection. It helps to know that we’re not alone, that other writers are going through or have gone through the same thing.
- Read stories about famous authors or some of your favourite authors who received rejections. It can help to see that they, too, received rejections, which in hindsight may seem laughable. For instance, CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL was rejected one hundred and forty-four times before it was published; ZEN AND THE ART OF MOTORCYCLE MAINTENANCE by Robert M. Pirsig was rejected one hundred and twenty-one times before it was published; THE HELP by Kathryn Stockett was rejected sixty times by agents before it was accepted; and one of my favourite books A WRINKLE IN TIME by Madeline L’Engle was rejected twenty-six times before it was published. Even HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE by J. K. Rowling was rejected twelve times before it was published! These are all highly successful books that multiple editors rejected based on their own opinions, taste, and experience. You can read more examples here: (https://lithub.com/the-most-rejected-books-of-all-time/)
- Recharge your creative and emotional batteries. If rejection is wearing at you or interfering with your writing or your submission process, do things that help you remember why you love writing. Re-read one (or many) of your favourite books; this can help you fall in love with writing again and feed your creative well. Or you may need to do something separate from writing and reading, something that makes you feel happy and alive. Do something fun. Connect with people you love. And then come back, refreshed, to your work.
- Hang on to the positives you’ve received about your writing. If you’re not yet published, think about feedback you’ve received in a writing critique group or from a fellow writer. If you’re published, you can also re-read a favourite reader letter or review. We all need encouragement, especially in the face of rejection, and positive feedback can bolster us to keep moving forward.
- And, of course, always work on improving your craft. That will help your work stand out from others. Read as much as you can—both fiction in your genre and outside of it, and also writing technique books. Some of my favorite writing technique books include: THE ANATOMY OF STORY by John Truby (I use it to help plan every book I write); the entire A BUSY WRITER’S GUIDE series by Marcy Kennedy; WIRED FOR STORY by Lisa Cron; THE EMOTION THESAURUS series by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi; and many more.
Following your passion can bring you fulfillment and a sense of rightness in doing what you were meant to do. I feel so much happier and stronger since I got published. I’m glad I didn’t give up, and I hope you don’t, either. Keep moving towards your dream.
CHERYL RAINFIELDis the author of the award-winning SCARS, a novel about a queer teen sexual abuse survivor who uses self-harm to cope; the award-winning HUNTED, a novel about a teen telepath in a world where any paranormal power is illegal; award-winning STAINED, about a teen who is abducted and must rescue herself; as well as two hi-lo YA novels THE LAST DRAGON and WALKING BOTH SIDES, and PARALLEL VISIONS. Cheryl Rainfield is a lesbian feminist, incest and ritual abuse survivor, and an avid reader and writer. She lives in Toronto with her little dog Petal.
Cheryl Rainfield has been said to write with “great empathy and compassion” (VOYA) and to write stories that “can, perhaps, save a life.” (CM Magazine) SLJ said of her work: “[readers] will be on the edge of their seats.”
You can find Cheryl on her websiteCherylRainfield.com
or her blog http://www.CherylRainfield.com/blog,