Miss Write's Advice: dealing with rejection

Miss Write Illustration by One Fine Day Cartoons.
Category: Writing

Our resident Agony Aunt returns with advice on how to deal with rejection. Don't suffer in silence, please get in touch with Miss Write with your writing questions.  

The Question

I’ve just received another rejection for a short story I submitted. I’m trying to stay positive and keep going, but it’s getting difficult. Do you have any tips for dealing with rejection? Sarah

The Answer

I feel sorry for writers. No, I really do. Not only do you spend an inordinate amount of time alone, you then send the piece you’ve worked so hard on out into the world and sit back (alone, again) to wait for a response. Sometimes, it can feel like rejection letters are in danger of blocking your way out of the front door.

It’s tough, but rejection doesn’t mean that you’ll never see your work published. Plenty of established authors collected a healthy pile of rejection letters before they found success.

Here are my top tips for dealing with rejection in a calm, mature manner:

1.    Give in to your feelings (for a minute)

Give into those sinking, devastated, angry feelings. Let it all out. After ten minutes of shoving pizza into your mouth, crying or ranting about how unfair the world is, stop, take a deep breath and refocus. Ignoring your feelings won’t help but dwelling on them won’t do you any good either. Instead, allow yourself a small pocket of time to give in to what you’re feeling. Then brush the crumbs off your jumper, get back to your work and maybe eat some salad.

2.    Don’t take rejection personally

Committing to a goal and proactively putting pen to paper makes you a writer.

Rejection of your writing isn’t personal. It’s not very easy to believe this, I know, but your work is one piece in a very large pile and publishers, journals and competitions get flooded with submissions. Just because your piece wasn’t right for this opportunity, that doesn’t mean that it should never see the light of day. So many people talk about writing without actually doing anything. Committing to a goal and proactively putting pen to paper makes you a writer. Keep that goal in mind and don’t see rejection as a comment on all of your abilities as a whole.

3.    Be honest with yourself

Is your manuscript in the best possible shape? Did that story really fit in with the publication you sent it to? By sending your work out everywhere, you’re not actually giving it the best chance of success. Instead, do your research and make sure you’re sending it to the right people and places. This little bit of extra time and effort will save you a lot of future heartache.

4.    Take feedback on board

Receiving some feedback on your work is a positive sign. Most publishers or publications are far too busy to respond in any detail, so take on board what they’ve said and use it to edit your work accordingly. Don’t, however, push your luck and ask for more detailed feedback or send them more work unless it’s requested. 

5.   Don't get a reputation for handling rejection badly

In an age where we can share a piece of our mind in just 140 characters and the click of a mouse, it's tempting to log on and let your disappointment be known to everyone. Social media is a wonderful tool, but it isn't a platform for you to rant and rave about how foolish an agent, magazine or publisher is for not immediately recognising your genius. Nobody likes that person. Shockingly, harassing someone won't make them like you or your work more and it is likely to ruin your future chances of being published. The writing world is a relatively close-knit community and it will only take a few wrong moves for you to get a reputation as an...unpleasant person. Be polite, gracious and thankful and you can’t go wrong.

6.    Talk to your fellow writers

You've probably already got a number of friends who write and all of you will be facing the same hurdles at some point. Gain support and encouragement from each other and avoid the temptation to stay at home and cry over a misplaced comma. Head out into the world and talk through your rejection or frustrations. By reaching out to fellow writers, you'll learn more about their experiences and you'll realise that you're not alone. 

7.    Reconnect with your work

If the idea of returning to a story or manuscript that's been rejected makes you want to vomit, take a step back and ask yourself why you started writing that piece in the first place. What was your inspiration? If it's something tangible, you could try revisiting that source material to see if it helps. How did it feel to write that piece? What did other people like about it? By reconnecting with your inspirations and intentions, you'll not only feel much more positive about moving ahead, but you're bound to discover a new direction to take your writing in, such as fixing a plothole or rewriting your narrative from a different perspective. 

8.    Get back on the horse

If you want to be published, you’ll need to build a thick skin, and part of that process is pushing ahead after a rejection.

You don’t actually have to climb onto a horse, unless that helps your writing process somehow. Don’t use rejection as an excuse to never write again. If you want to be published, you’ll need to build a thick skin, and part of that process is pushing ahead after a rejection. Always have your next deadline planned ahead, whether that's a submission deadline or a personal goal for finishing a piece.  Don’t give in to the temptation to wallow.

9.    Don’t forget to take a break

This may seem a bit contradictory, but it’s okay to take a break sometimes. Try working on something new or step away from writing altogether, but make sure you specify when this break will end. Take some time to look after yourself and you’ll feel much better for it. 

10. These things take time (sorry)

Finally, remember that these things take time. It's very easy to get swept up in the excitement of a first draft or feel desperate to send your work out immediately, but rushing towards publication might not be the best move. Go back to your work and take your time, moving through the editing process at a steady rate. It is far better to make slow, steady progress and be able to recognise your improvement and development as a writer. It can take years for your 'voice' to develop, and often this is achieved without you fully realising it. The key is to keep working towards a goal and accepting that you're unlikely to make a glamorous living from this ol' writing business. Be patient and optimistic that the hard work will pay off in the end (but feel free to stockpile the champagne in the meantime. You've got to be prepared, after all).

Have you got a question for Miss Write? Add it as a comment at the bottom of this blog or ask away on our Facebook page or @ScottishBkTrust on Twitter, using the hashtag #askmisswrite.

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Miss Write

Miss Write is Scottish Book Trust's resident writing Agony Aunt. When she's not busy drinking tea, making to-do lists or alphabetising her book collection, she likes to get some writing done.