How I Learned To Embrace Rejections

How I Learned To Embrace Rejections


In this post, our guest blogger tells us how he learned to embrace rejections.

Just as I sat down to write this, I received a rejection from a prestigious prize. Before I’d finished this paragraph, another rejection from the same contest popped up.

By my reckoning that makes six rejections for the week. And it’s only Tuesday. Now I’m not one to brag, but you’ll struggle to find a UK or US litmag that hasn’t rejected me. I’d say I average about one a day – every day of the year.

Rejections sting, of course they do. We all want to be published, we all want the validation of acceptance and positive feedback. We all want to think our work wows and that we are good enough.

But to be a writer is to learn to accept rejections as a perennial occurrence. To learn – if not to love them – then at least to ignore, and perhaps even embrace rejections.

How I Learned To Embrace Rejections

Here’s how I’ve learnt to deal with rejections.

If you are serious about writing, a big part of your job is putting stuff out there and hoping for a bite. Often you won’t get that bite, which of course makes it all the more wonderful when you do.

But this is the reality for many people in many fields. The salesperson loses many deals before on the way to hitting their target. The fisher casts many a line that yields nothing. The teachers’ efforts fall on many a deaf ear.

The Writing Life

Trying, failing, and trying again isn’t a unique agony of the writer. For most of us, in fact, it’s just working life.

Writing is work. And part of that work is putting yourself out there. The more you send work to editors and publications, the more you enter contests and pitch ideas, the more you will be rejected.

Then again, if you don’t put yourself out there, you’ll never get anywhere – so no chance of publication, rave reviews, kudos and all the good stuff.

I’d argue that the more you get rejections, the more successful you are. True, if you submit your work a lot, you will get rejected a lot – but you will also be increasing your chances of an acceptance.

So you can learn to see every rejection as just another stepping stone on the way to your next success.

The Word Itself

The word ‘rejection’ doesn’t help much either. Nor perhaps does ‘acceptance’. It’s hard at first not to see rejection of your work as rejection of you. If your words aren’t accepted then perhaps you aren’t acceptable either.

Of course, a rejection will always sting. But after the 1000th, your skin gets to be much thicker, and the disappointment is much easier to brush off or move past.

Understanding that you are not your work helps too. In my 25-year career as a journalist, copywriter and content creator – working sometimes for tyrannical editors and unreasonable clients – I learned not to take feedback to heart. I didn’t always agree with the comments, but I kept my own counsel. You have to choose which battles to fight.

Reasons For Rejections

There are many reasons why your work doesn’t get accepted.

  1. Perhaps it’s too similar to other things the editors are running.
  2. Perhaps they just don’t have the space for all the good stuff.
  3. Perhaps – whisper it – you’re not as familiar with the taste and style of the publication as you ought to be.
  4. Another reason, of course, is that the work isn’t good enough.

Of course, judgements are subjective and partly irrational, but if you have submitted a story to 40 venues and got nowhere, it’s probably high time (and then some) to shelve it. You don’t have to reject it yourself – just put it aside for a while and work on something else. Eventually you may be inspired to return to it and rework it. Understanding the difference between work that isn’t a good fit and work that isn’t good enough is the lifetime job of a serious writer.

Rejections are also a courtesy. Writers often complain about work that has been stuck in submission queues for months, sometimes years. And in my experience many publishers and agents don’t trouble to reply at all. Personally, if you’re not going to take my work, I’d rather know asap so I can think about what else to do with it.

Different Rejections

Nor are all rejections the same. A bespoke rejection that offers some encouragement or positive feedback, especially from a prestigious title that you’ve always dreamed of appearing in, can be a real boost. But don’t do what I do and immediately fire off something else to them.

Take a while to think about why they liked what you did, and what else you have to offer in similar vein. You could also ask if they’d be prepared to look at a new version – again, not something to be rushed.

I think it’d be hard for any writer to say that they have learned to actually love rejections. But you can learn to embrace rejections as a sign that you’re doing the work of a writer – the work you always wanted to be doing – and you’re on your way.

Some writers aim for 100 rejections a year, as there’s bound to be a few acceptances in among all those submissions too. I know of one writer who adds a pretty bead for each rejection to a necklace they’re going to wear when their book is published. Or you could put a coin in a jar for each rejection and save up for something nice – a book or a bottle of wine perhaps.

‘Rejections are fuel,’ as the writer Jason Jackson says. Or, as Sylvia Plath put it: ‘I love my rejection slips. They show I try.’

Suggested reading: 50 Iconic Writers Who Were Repeatedly Rejected  

The Last Word

I hope this post helps you to learn how to embrace rejections.

TIP: If you want help writing a book, buy The Novel Writing Exercises Workbook.

Dan Brotzel by Dan Brotzel. Dan is the author of Hotel du Jack, a collection of short stories, co-author of Kitten on a Fatberg, a comic novel-in-emails about an eccentric writers’ group, Work in Progress (Unbound), and The Wolf in the Woods.

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This article has 2 comments

  1. Cathy Cade

    One of our writing group has sent out three-figures-worth of submissions during lockdown. He would regale us each meeting with the number he had sent out that month, the number of rejections he had received and the vast number of ‘no replies’.
    But over the past couple of months he has received something like eleven acceptances from anthologies and magazines.
    It hasn’t quite galvanised me into action yet, but I’m getting there. I REALLY MUST get my act together and send out more stories. Sometimes it feels like a lottery and I don’t win lotteries. But as a certain UK lottery says, you’ve got to be in it to win it.

  2. Jaya Avendel

    Rejections and negative feedback were hard for me to handle when I started submitting my poems and short stories to journals and magazines. Something about the informal form letter or sometimes harsh feedback hurt a little.

    Now I use rejections as a indication of where I can grow and improve. My biggest joys are moments when I have overcome a rejection and had an acceptance from the same magazine that previously rejected me! 🙂

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