Flotsam and Jetsam

Handling Rejections (With a Touch of Dignity)

Rejections often feel like the end of the road, but they're really possibilities
Photo by Anete Lusin from Pexels

The one word that probably stuck with you out of childhood was “No.” Mostly because it’s what we tend to hear the most. It’s how kids learn. No, we can’t eat candy for dinner. No, we can’t stay up until all hours of the night. And, no, we can’t paint on the walls. (Ironic how all of those rules change once we become adults, isn’t it?) “No” provokes an immediate gut reaction when we hear it. A “do not pass” moment that leaves us wondering what we CAN do. And, usually, provokes a sense of frustration and depression. Especially when it’s attached to a piece of writing work we’re particularly proud of. Those rejections can both galvanize us and get us down. And when they come flooding in, it’s hard to know how to respond to them. (Outside of our fallback childish temper tantrum)

Types of Rejections

No one likes rejection. We’re simply not hard-wired to thrive on hearing, “No.” It IS a sucker punch to the body, and your brain responds appropriately. Never mind that all you did was open an email reply. You start reeling back from a K-O. And it doesn’t matter which of the various types of rejections you happen to read:

  • The form letter: Everyone knows this one. It’s bland, impersonal, and makes you wonder if the editor even read your piece.
  • The personalized letter: The editor not only puts your name on it (bonus points if they spell it right), but they added a note. Maybe it’s a compliment or a critique; at least they took the time to notice you.
  • The praised letter: The editor still turned you down, but they did so with words of regret and high praise for your work. They want to see more from you – and they AREN’T just adding that to be nice!

Obviously, you strive to get that final category (it reads so much better than a stack of form letters), but the publishing world doesn’t work that way. And after you come down from your high of delight that someone spoke kindly of you, you realize you still didn’t place your writing. So you have to face the reality that you were, ultimately, rejected.

And that means your brain winces a bit.

Rereading the words won’t change things. It all comes down to what you do next. (Besides getting off your backside and submitting it to the next editor on your list)

The Counting Game

Every writer, in the history of the world, received a pile of rejections. There are no exceptions. (For crying out loud, some idiot turned down Mark Twain!) Hearing that never seems to make you feel any better when you look at your personal stack, though. It SHOULD, because it means you’re in good company, but it doesn’t convince your brain to stop reacting as if you just took a right hook to the face.

Unless you start to approach things differently.

In other words, train your brain to react to a form letter as something other than, “No.” Which is easier than it sounds.

Rachel León of Pub Cheerleaders taught me this trick, and it’s proved invaluable in a fight against the rejection doldrums: Set a goal for yourself of the number of rejections you want to receive. You can make it for the month, but the year is probably best given varied response times. Write it down on a Post-It or whiteboard; somewhere you can see it at all times. Then choose a reward for yourself when you achieve that number (Rachel’s preferred goal is a cake)

And then start submitting.

We LIKE rewards. It’s why teachers handed out stickers when we were in class. Aspiring toward something motivates us and puts our brains into aspiration mode. It also transforms the rejection letter into a point on the scoreboard instead of a punch.

You see it, read it, and then mark your tally. Move on.

It has less time to linger in your thoughts and drag you down.

I’ll Show You Mine If You Show Me Yours

If rewards aren’t your thing (I question your dislike of cake), there are other motivators out there. I know people that aim to wallpaper their walls with rejections. It becomes a game of compulsion, the need to complete the room. That competitive streak has the same effect on the brain. (Provided you don’t get caught up wandering around, reading everything)

Or you can print them and bundle them into stacks of ten that you then get to transform into “kindling” for the fire.

Or shred into fodder for your bird’s cage.

All you need is a tangible, realistic goal of completion. And then you need to talk about it, share it with your writing circle. Let them know how you’re coming along. BRAG! And when you meet that goal, display a proud picture of you chowing down on that cake.

This is why I list my submission numbers every year. It keeps me accountable for what I’ve done – and what I haven’t. More importantly, it shifts me away from dissolving into a puddle of despair every time I get one of those emailed replies that says, “I’m sorry but…” in the text.

Because rejections ARE badges of honor. They’re proof that you put your work out there for the critical eye of the world to see. And it’s a lot more than some people ever dare.

So find a way to log them that works for you. And start being proud of whatever number you have.

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