Writers: How Do You Handle Rejection?

I opened my e-mail the other morning to find a rejection letter for a novel I’m shopping around to agents. The agency note was polite, but it still felt like a punch in the gut.

I know rejection is a hazard writers have to face, and this wasn’t my first (it’s 15th or 16th for this particular novel). But knowing something intellectually isn’t the same as experiencing it emotionally. I sat at my kitchen table in the quiet of the early morning, the rest of the family still asleep, and wondered if I was wasting my time.

I think I’m a good writer. I think I wrote a gripping novel that will snatch up readers and take them out of their own lives for a time. But every rejection forces me to consider otherwise. I have to contend with the possibility that I suck, and the novel I’ve poured hundreds and hundreds of hours into is a failure.

I know I’m not alone in having these feelings. So how do you cope with rejection and get back to work? A drink? A brisk walk around the block? Some quality time with boxing gloves and a heavy bag? Weeping in a corner?

I think my own coping mechanism is two-fold. First is habit; I’ve been writing for years and years at the same time every day. It’s just what I do now, as ingrained as flipping on a light switch in a dark room. Habit means I don’t ask myself “Do I want to write today?” That’s valuable, because that question would inevitably lead to others, such as “Is this worth it?” and “Do you understand how high the odds are against success?”

Second is a stupid, persistent hope. I want this so badly. I want it so much that I’m willing to carry on despite clear signals that say I shouldn’t. That’s the stupid part. The persistent part is that my hope reconstitutes itself even after the hard blow of a rejection letter. I’m not sure how, and I don’t think it bears close inspection. But I’m glad it’s there.

What’s your coping mechanism?

4 thoughts on “Writers: How Do You Handle Rejection?

  1. What are the clear signs that say you shouldn’t? Rejection letters? Suck it up! 😛

    There are agents and publishers kicking themselves because they rejected jk Rowling. Twelve of them. A good writer friend of mine had his novel shopped around for over a year without a bite. When it finally sold, it ended up in oprahs book club.

    I think rejection is where we weed out, not the bad writers from the good, but the persistent motherfuckers from the quitters. Some people write because it’s ‘on their bucket list.’ Some people write for fame and glory, but the ones who write because they don’t know how NOT to? They’re the ones we need in this world.

    Many in the industry admit a lot of shite writers and books make it to publication not because they were good, but simply because they kept slugging at the pursuit. Be one of those, but be packing the illusive trait of actually being a good writer. You’ll get it done. 🙂

  2. Most everything I’ve achieved is from persistence. Occasionally, sweet luck turns persistence into something bigger, but only when persistence made ‘luck’ possible.

    • It’s an excellent point, Greg. It kind of reminds of a quote I saw from Pablo Picasso: “Inspiration exists, but it has to find us working.” In other words, do the work and keep at it. Thanks!

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