On Coping with Rejection

It’s a well worn phrase, isn’t it?

If you want to be a writer, then you have to learn to cope with rejection.

This is absolutely true on all levels. I’ve been writing what I would consider ‘professionally’ for 8 years, and during that time, I’ve received thousands, maybe even tens of thousands, of rejection slips.

It never gets easier. Let me tell you.

Maybe, it’s because I’m not particularly good at coping with rejection. In fact, I may be one of the least qualified people to give anyone any advice on it.

The idea is that when you receive a rejection letter you calmly remind yourself that it’s one specific piece of work that the publisher/magazine/editor/agent is rejecting and not you as a person and a human being, and certainly not everything you’ve ever written. The idea is that you then recognise the opportunity to learn from the experience, take on board any feedback if they have offered any (and if they have offered personal feedback, that is a huge achievement in itself) and remember that even the greatest writers are constantly learning and improving. Even Stephen King gets harsh reviews sometimes, and his style has certainly been on a grand evolution since the days of Misery and Carrie.

But of course, this is easier said than done.

I can’t speak for other people’s experiences – but I know for me the problem is that I write in a very personal way. Although my books contain all manner of elements which may seem far from reality, I’d say the majority of it is anchored in personal experience one way or another, and more than that, the style itself is a kind of outpouring, an imparting of spirit. There’s a little bit of me in every book I write, a personal stamp, a fragment of personality reflected, like a doppelgangered self. And so when it comes to the disappointing rebuttal, one cannot help but feel crushed and personally attacked.

It’s been like this for 8 years. Every rejection as soul-destroying as the last. Every letter – or absence of one – requiring several days to recover from.

It doesn’t help when I read so many God-awful books flaunted on the shelves of our bookstores, books clearly written to prescriptive marketing formulas and without any real literary quality or innovation to them.

Yet they sell and people adore them.

I see the work of wonderful yet unknown creators around me and just wish that they could more easily find outlet for their work.

All this aching, it’s really not a very efficient or pragmatic way to be.

But what I can say about it is that at the end of the wound-licking process comes a kind of hardening, as of folded metal settling into new razor-edged shape, a solidifying of purpose that leaves me stronger than before. I always do pick myself up in the end (trying to mitigate as much self-pity as possible) and I always come back to the keyboard more focused, more determined, more resolved to do better and be better than before. If also, at times, a little angry too.

So, I am in no position to lecture you on coping with rejection, of keeping calm and not letting it drag you down and feel like a reflection on your whole work, because really that’s always what it’s been like for me, and though it’s perhaps not as raw and extreme as it has been in the past, it’s still pretty much the same as it always was.

But what I can tell you is that, in the corniest way possible, you are not alone in this. You are not the only one who sometimes considers their place in a world so full of shouting voices. You are not the only one who has entertained dangerous and delirious thoughts about existence and whether you have anything to contribute to it.

To close, I’d ask you to remember the most important thing – even if your work only ever reaches one person, but makes a difference to them, then you have worked the magic of creation. You have done something which is important and valuable and valid. And that one person, by the way, might be you. Writing is therapy. Writing is re-framing. Writing is creation. In the beginning was the Word, we are told. Logos. And though not all people believe this literally, figuratively, at least, it gives us a clue as to the nature of our own minds.

We think – in words – and these words give birth to actions, to forms made manifest in the physical world. We have an idea and we make it real either literally or in the minds of others. We are unified by this – impelled by it – and to cease from our creative endeavours is, ultimately, to surrender to the primordial state of chaos and un-being.

In short, you must never give up, because while rejection may be hard, the alternative is much worse. The alternative is self-rejection – self-annihilation.

So, join me in the struggle, join me in sharing the burden of rejection, but most importantly, join me in the wonderful act of creation: let there be light a voice is purported to have once said.  

And there will be light.


Thanks once again for tuning in. I hope you enjoyed this piece.

As always you can follow me @josephwordsmith or via the Subscribe button of this blog

Check out my film and book reviews at Storgy and my video-game reviews and features at GameSpew.

8 thoughts on “On Coping with Rejection

  1. Even in blogging there is rejection when you try to write for bigger publications. I embrace it by simply posting rejected pieces on my own website and at the end of the article, I put who it was originally written for and that it was rejected. Ironically those pieces have done better than others on my website.

    1. Hey Alexis, thanks for commenting! Really appreciate you joining the debate. I absolutely agree. My self-published novels sell better than my pro-published ones – strange but true! What kind of things do you write about?

  2. This is exactly what I needed to hear today Joseph. If just one person is cheered by your creation then that is work well done…that’s a wonderful way of looking at things.
    Keep shining 🙂

    1. Hey Tice, so glad I could help you. Your work is fantastic, and it certainly touched me, so I can be your one person at least, although I am sure with your ability you are going to reach more people.

  3. I’m just getting over being rejected at a private face to face pitch session with a publisher (never a good thing – more painful then the online rejections I feel), so this post helped beautifully. Actually, being rejected spurned me on to write my first thriller/suspense novel, I’m going to finish it off during NaNoWriMo 🙂

    1. Hello Millie, that is great news that you have been spurred on! Regards the F2F pitch, that is an achievement in itself, and though hard, it is a good sign! You’re right that ‘in-person’ rejections – online or phone – can be really tough, but it can also be a great opportunity to tease some feedback out of them (though that’s often the furthest thing from your mind)! Good luck with NaNoWriMo! Looking forward to hearing/seeing more about your novel.

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