One of the surest things about writing, or indeed any kind of creative pursuit, is the experience of rejection. Offering work up for any kind of scrutiny, be it through books, competition entries, submissions to agents or publishers – all of it entails the risk of someone saying ‘no’. Rejection isn’t as clear-cut as the word ‘no’ though, and can arrive in different forms – a mediocre book review, lacklustre sales, a less-than-fizzy book launch. All of these things (and more besides) can feel like rejection to the sensitive writer (and if there is another kind, I’m yet to meet them). At different points, I have experienced all of these examples, and felt the resulting desire to huddle under the duvet and never write another word. I do though, not necessarily because I want to, but because to be my full self, I have to. Still, I do sometimes wonder if it’s all worth it when my whole day can be ruined reading someone’s three-star review of my much-laboured-over book. The self-indulgence of the whole business isn’t lost on me (a three-star review: hardly the end of the world, now, is it? You might not have thought so if you’d seen me moping around that day. And doesn’t everyone end up in tears when their second book launch doesn’t go quite as well as the first one? I’m sure I’m not alone in these experiences-writers-would-rather-not-reveal). Like many authors, though, I roll out the highlights reel, the successes and marketing, without acknowledging the painful moments that make up the tapestry of putting words into the world. When I try to unpick the emotions behind this, shame features, the sense that (particularly in the case of publicly-aired reviews), I’ve been found out, exposed as talentless or average, a ‘haha’ moment for anyone who doesn’t wish the best for me in this world. I’m not sure I actually know many people who wish me poor fortune, but in moments like those, such people are everywhere. Suffice to say I have since stopped reading reviews, preferring to retain some sort of emotional balance in my life. That change alone can’t alter the other rejections, though, the disappointment of submitting the kind of work that felt like your best to silence, a knock-back from a potential stockist, finding out the (not-hoped-for) outcome of a (hoped-for) opportunity on social media. In recent weeks, as you can possibly tell, I’ve had a few rejections, which cumulatively, make you feel a bit ‘what’s the point of all this?’ But after the initial disappointment and the doldrums we writers pick ourselves up and keep going, because in some internal way, we either want to or we have to. So what are the things that give us some protective armoury against rejections? Having recently emerged from under my duvet, here are a few I can suggest:
REMEMBER, IT’S NOT PERSONAL
Easy to say when your writing feels like an extension of yourself – therefore rendering any perceived rejection as an assault on your very soul – but rejection isn’t personal. Reading and writing are subjective, and tastes differ – though I might not air my views publicly, being largely of the ‘if you haven’t got anything nice to say don’t say anything’ mindset, there have been plenty of times I haven’t enjoyed a book adored by someone else. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t good or well written, it just means that it wasn’t the book for me in that particular moment. Peeling our writing a little away from ourselves (again, sometimes easier said than done) can also be helpful in terms of coping when disappointments roll in. I recall hearing author Elizabeth Gilbert’s take on authors calling their books ‘babies,’ her gentle reminder that if our books are our babies, we have to babysit them. As a mother of (human) babes myself, I know all too well the refracted pain of parenthood, the hurt when your child feels left out, on the outside, rejected in some way. To mitigate the effects of absorbing such hurts on behalf of my books, I avoid framing them as babies, thinking of them more as birds who fly off, having been nurtured and tended to in the best way I could manage at that point in my writing journey. It’s a small but useful shift in mindset. That pivot prevents me from rushing out to defend my ‘babies’ when they feel rejected, and instead, allows them, birdlike, to glide on their own two wings.
FOCUS ON THE GOOD
The flipside of rejection is acceptance, of course, so when disappointment comes knocking, it’s worth giving yourself credit for the things that have gone the way you wanted. Most writers I know have a larger pile of nos than yeses – appreciate those bits of happy mail for the fairy dust they are. And rather than framing things in the manner of ‘success’ and ‘failure’, why not cultivate an attitude of ‘what’s for you won’t go by you’? And yes, it’s a cliché, but the most important kind of acceptance comes from the inside. Writing has intrinsic value, regardless of whether it ever becomes public, or achieves any measure of external validation. All the same, do enjoy popping the fizz on a nice bottle (or whatever your preferred mode of celebration) if you achieve a goal that means something to you. When things don’t go your way, you could even think of that pile of rejections helping you gain your stripes as a writer – anything to take the sting out of the situation. Absorb any learning you can and imagine all the layers of resilience you’re building. Plus, you’ll have something to talk about at writing groups and dinner parties. Rejection piles do make for good stories, after all.
As much as feedback on your work is valuable, I’d personally recommend being selective about the kind of feedback you allow into your personal headspace. While pre-publication feedback is incredibly useful, there’s a limit to how beneficial critiques of your writing are post-production, and should be weighed against your own mental wellbeing (in other words, go easy on reading the reviews). Hold onto the feelings you had about your work before those feelings were overlaid with other opinions: try to focus on the internal. That doesn’t mean you can’t learn or grow as a result of constructive feedback. It just means recognising that such feedback has a time, a function and a place.
BUILD A SUPPORT NETWORK
Building a support network of fellow writers (either online or in person) can really help with managing the disappointment of rejections. Undoubtedly, your writing friends will also have experienced rejection and will be well placed to offer words of comfort and solidarity – or just to understand your need to huddle under the duvet for a while. I feel very fortunate to have a group of writing friends amassed through writing groups, writing retreats and this blog, real-life friends who advocate for me, support me and listen to my writing-centred woes, knowing that I will do exactly the same for them when they need me to.
It’s all part of the messy, frustrating, disappointing and magical experience that is writing.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a competition entry to attend to. Wish me luck!
If you enjoyed this article, you may be interested in my novels Castles of Steel and Thunder and Pieces of Sky and Stone, young adult fantasies inspired by the legends of Caithness. I am also the co-author of children’s book Finn and Friends at John O’Groats, which is available via the John O’Groats Development Trust website. You’ll find more information about where to find my writing here.
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