Every writer will be rejected from publication, and unfortunately the majority of this rejection comes in the formative years of our writing. The reality is that we’re just starting out, just gaining enough confidence to hit the ‘send’ button on our submission, and we get rejected. We get rejected over and over and over.
There are two ways to handle rejection. The first is to retreat and vow never to submit anything again, because we’re just not ready for publication, or we’re just not good enough. The second (and better) way, is to take your rejection and turn it into writing ammunition.
What to do when you get rejected
Every writer who ever wrote anything in the history of forever has been rejected. In fact, I’ve been rejected twice this past week! Whether it’s for a poem, a short story, or a full-length novel, writers are getting rejected all the time.
What always gives me hope and stops me from getting down in the dumps about it is something that a university lecturer once said in class:
When I was your age my walls were plastered with rejection slips!
It helps to know that you’re not alone in reading ‘Unfortunately...’ in an email from a journal or competition and being utterly gutted. There are lots of other writers who get that same email.
It may be a bold statement, but rejection is part of what makes you a writer. Writers (and creatives in general) are the few people in the world whose nature it is to put their whole heart into something, get knocked back, then do it all over again without question.
Rejection does not make you a bad writer, it makes you an artist. Your love for writing must always outweigh the disappointment of rejection. When you can read the world ‘unfortunately’ and want to better yourself rather than throw in the towel then you’re in the right frame of mind to use rejection to your advantage.
Why rejection can be a good thing
There are a lot of life lessons in being rejected. Even if you receive the most basic email with a flat out ‘No thanks’, you can still claim it as a character building experience. All writers must realise that their writing will never be wholeheartedly embraced by everyone out there; there will be those who like it, and those who don’t, and that’s the nature of story-telling.
Rejection helps you to detach yourself from your writing, to not consider your story or poem as a part of yourself that critics are personally attacking. All writing is an intimate experience, and though we express ourselves and work very hard, we must be able to step back from our writing and see it not as a part of the author, but as a piece of writing that can be altered and edited.
Detachment doesn’t mean you let go of your connection to your writing, it means being able to see it in such as way as to be able to edit and re-write it without feeling like you’re betraying yourself as an artist. Editing is part of writing, and if someone rejects your work and gives you valuable feedback, it’s your duty as a writer to take that fresh perspective and make your story as good as it can be.
Rejection is a great way to get constructive criticism, and though not all journals will offer this kind of help to every submission, when it’s readily available you should use it. Feedback is vital to creating a beautiful piece of work, and without being able to face criticism and use it to better your writing, your chances of making it big in the industry are limited.
How to use criticism
Take a minute or two to feel bad for yourself, just have a small moment to embrace the rejection before you switch gears. As writers it’s natural to feel things with overwhelming intensity; do not let yourself get bogged down by rejection-depression.
Read through your feedback and read through your submission again, pinpointing areas where your critics have made suggestions and where you might be able to improve. Some criticism may seem contradictory to the direction you want your piece to go in, and that’s fine. We have drafts for a reason!
Re-write your piece using all the feedback given to you, even the stuff you don’t agree with. You may find that once it’s written the story or poem really does work better, and if you still don’t like it you can always amend it.
The important thing is to try new things, to take feedback on board, and just give it a go. Writing is made to be manipulated, so there’s no harm in re-writing your work over and over again until you get it just right.
Give your work to someone who has never read it before and see what they think. If you can’t find any willing readers, leave your work for a month or two and come back to it with fresh eyes. Your words aren’t going anywhere, and time can be your best friend when it comes to drafts.
Don’t let a rejection stop you from submitting your writing to new places. Use your determination to be published and your past rejections to fuel your writing journey, and keep sending your work to as many journals, magazines, and competitions as you can.