Dealing with rejection is something that every writer has to go through at some point in their lives. Even if publishing is never an end goal and the only reason you write is to entertain yourself, eventually someone is going to reject your writing because they think it is terrible, even if it is prize material.
For those of us who are looking for publication, in any format, rejection is something we know is coming; however, knowing something is coming does not actually make it easier to deal with it when it arrives.
In an article for Psychology Today, Dr. Fredric Neuman writes that we deal with rejection all the time. “Rejection is so common, we do not usually stop to consider it as such,” but when it comes to submitting artistic work for consideration, rejection is something that even the most confident person feels like a blow to the belly.
Unfortunately, studies have concluded that rejection is part of our evolutionary past.
A Brief History
Dr. Guy Winch explains that in “our hunter gatherer past, being ostracized from our tribes was akin to a death sentence, as we were unlikely to survive for long alone. Evolutionary psychologists assume the brain developed an early warning system to alert us when we were at risk for ostracism. Because it was so important to get our attention—those who experienced rejection as more painful (i.e., because rejection mimicked physical pain in their brain) gained an evolutionary advantage—they were more likely to correct their behavior and consequently, more likely to remain in the tribe.”
Rejection, then, was part of the process that ensured that we stuck with the majority. There is strength and safety in the majority, and if you went against the majority, you lost that protection. Back in the day with saber-tooth tigers and no medevacs, it was essential for survival to be part of the larger group.
Of course now, that is not so much the case but like other evolutionary habits that we have been unable to shred (for example, gaining eight pounds from a piece of cake just in case we enter a famine in the next foreseeable future), we hold onto this one as well.
Winch says that there is no way for us to get away from the feeling of rejection as it is hardwired into our brains.
Well, that is just no fun.
Back to being a writer. I have dealt with rejection throughout my fifteen years of writing. From the poem that was not good enough to be in my high school literary magazine to my inability to find an agent for my novel, rejection has come in waves of negativity.
Unfortunately, I am one of those terribly sensitive people who feels rejection as a personal slap across the face. Every time I get the “we’re sorry, we’re just not interested” e-mail in my inbox I spend way too much time wondering what is wrong with my writing, inevitably leading to wonder about what is wrong with me.
I know that is silly. Neuman says that rejection is not about you: “keep in mind that a rejection is not necessarily–probably not even usually–a reflection on who you are, what you have written, or the way you present yourself.”
Well, that is all well in good, but sometimes knowing that intellectually is not enough to help the feelings of worthlessness.
What do then?
- Have a lot of projects, or at least have a lot of submissions out for review. This is another Nueman idea. “Have a lot of irons in the fire.” Having submissions out there keeps the feeling of optimism and hope going, however small.
- I personally dislike this one a great deal, but there is some merit in taking rejection as an opportunity to re-look at your piece of writing. Absolutely nothing might be wrong with the piece, but after sending it out and getting rejections back, taking a new look at it with different eyes sometimes brings to light things you would like to fix.
- This goes hand-in-hand with number two: be gentle with yourself. If you allow yourself to make mistakes, to get things wrong, and are okay with redoing things, the emotions you feel when someone rejects your writing will not seem quite so harsh. Dr. Alice Boyes talks about this in her article on avoiding personal rejection.
- The final piece of advice I have is from my husband who is in sales. He deals with rejections on a daily basis, and not just one or two but in the tens and twenties. On a regular basis he tells me that it is all a numbers game… an adage I am sure more than one of you have heard before. I recall this thought whiles reading through a Writer’s Digest blog: don’t expect an agent to say yes until you have sent out at least 100 queries. “It is a numbers game,” my husband repeatedly reminds me. I hate this, but he is right. At some point someone will be in the right frame of mind, the right time in their life, and what you have written will be exactly right for them.
As a last piece of hoorah! remember these examples:
- Louis L’Amour was rejected 200 times.
- Chicken Soup for the Soul series was rejected 140 times.
- Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was rejected 121 times.
- The Help was rejected 60 times.
- A Wrinkle in Time was rejected 26 times.
- Dune was rejected 23 times.
With that in mind, keep on keeping on, marching forward.