So you’ve labored over a story, be it a six hundred page novel or a six hundred word flash fiction.
Hours upon hours (upon hours) of thinking and revising and thinking and editing and more thinking have been poured into this story. It’s been critiqued and fiddled with, and you’ve gone through all the phases of loving it, hating it, not quite hating it as much, almost liking it, hating it again, actually liking it, and you’ve at last come to terms with the story.
It’s never going to be perfect, but my goodness, it almost is. And my goodness it better be almost perfect after all that. You might even say you’re happy with it.
Off it goes to The Publisher (or the agent or the magazine or the website).
After days and weeks of angsty waiting, an email pops into your inbox. From The Publisher (or agent or magazine or website).
Your heart seizes in your chest and your hands go clammy. You take a fortifying breath and open the email.
“Unfortunately, we are unable to acquire your story…”
Your little heart crunches like a tin can, and the wind whooshes out of your sails, (probably for forever, you think to yourself).
All that, and your story’s been rejected.
I’ve been there, done that, and it’s never fun. In the last year, I have submitted nine different pieces for publication, and seven of those nine have been rejected. Today we’re going to get into how it can be a little less awful; we’re going to talk about dealing with rejection in a healthy way (and yes, there is a playlist in here somewhere).
Recalibrate your view of rejection.
So often we view rejection as a bad thing, which is our natural instinct when something is painful, but rejection actually isn’t a bad thing. I promise (and I’m quite serious and quite sane).
Rejection is not failure. Rejection does not mean your story wasn’t good. Maybe it was. Maybe it wasn’t. But rejection does not mean you’re a no-good writer and you don’t know what you’re doing. Maybe you are and maybe you don’t. But not necessarily.
Just to be clear: rejection does not equal bad. Pain does not equal bad. Frustration and disappoint do not equal bad.
Rejection is actually very, very good for you (and me, especially me).
- Rejection grows you as a person and as a writer. If you’ve been around Penprints for any length of time, you know that I am a firm believer in anything compels personal growth. Suffering through rejection can help you mature far more than publication.
- Rejection thickens your skin. All art is painfully subjective, and thus there will always be differing opinions about your story. Hypersensitivity to anything resembling criticism reveals a shallowness of character. But rejection, which isn’t outright criticism but can feel like it, can deepen and grow you so that you don’t take things personally (because when people take things personally, they become angry, bitter, and they lash out).
- Rejection teaches you humility. Nothing helps you maintain a realistic view of your writing skills as much as rejection. Humility isn’t having a low view of yourself; humility is having a realistic view of yourself. It’s so easy to forget how much we all still have to learn about writing, and sometimes we start to think we deserve it. We deserve publication. We deserve to sign with an agent. We’ve worked hard. We’ve put in the hours. By this time, for sure, we deserve. Rejection is a reminder that, no, you and I won’t get just even if we might “deserve” it. No matter how fast we’re rising in the industry, we are not entitled to anything.
- Rejection means that God has a better home for your story. Now, better does not mean bigger. Better means better, be it the drawer of your desk for you to revisit and enjoy alone (an art that is quickly being lost in a world that wants everything experienced together) or the little publishing house you meet at your next writer’s conference or a really huge home ten or twenty years down the road.
Reckon on rejection.
Your stories will get rejected. That’s just the way this industry goes, the way life goes. Don’t fall into the mindset of thinking you’re the exception to the rule what, no, I’ve never done that I don’t know what you’re talking about.
Expect rejection. Anticipate it. This isn’t to psych yourself out but to set yourself up for a shorter fall if/when your stories get rejected. If you submit something with the mindset that it could get published but is more likely to be rejected, you’re just being realistic.
Return to why you write.
When the rejection is smarting, take some time to remember why you tell stories in the first place.
(Note: If your deepest motivation is publication, well, that’s not going to be much help. Publication is a great goal and dream to work toward, but it isn’t big enough. It won’t help you much in the long run; it isn’t rich enough fuel. Dream bigger, want bigger, and write bigger for bigger, better reasons, and remember those reasons.)
If your deepest motivation is to tell a good story, you can do that and still have your story rejected. But it doesn’t burn as badly because if you wrote a good story, you accomplished your goal.
If your deepest motivation is to have fun, you can do that and still have your story rejected. But it doesn’t burn as badly because if you had fun with the story, you accomplished your goal.
If your deepest motivation is to glorify God, you can do that and still have your story rejected. But it doesn’t burn as badly because if your story magnifies God in some way—be it in the excellence, themes, or characters—then you accomplished your goal.
So return to why you want to tell stories when the rejection email is sending your excitement and contentment up in flames. If you did what you set out to do, that’s enough.
So what the story isn’t published (yet!)?
- It’s okay to be disappointed and disheartened. It’s okay to cry. You need to process.
- Remember that your worth and your identity are not bound up in your writing—published or not. Your value and identity are in Jesus and Jesus alone.
- Process your disappointment, but don’t wallow in it.
- I listen to this little playlist when I submit stories and articles, and then I listen to it again after I get a rejection or acquisition notice. It’s about true wealth and worth and all that jazz.
Dealing with rejection in a healthy way begins long before you submit your story. It begins in the mindsets and habits you intentionally develop as you go along your little writer way.
That’s all I’ve got for today!
What have been some ways you’ve dealt with rejection? I’m always looking for more tips since I get rejected most of the time, haha. Are there any stories/articles you’re prepping to submit somewhere? If so, tell me about them! If not, you should definitely give it a try!