Dealing with Writing Rejection Without Rejecting Yourself

By Rachelle Ramirez

As a human, I’ve made my peace with death and taxes. But as a writer, I sometimes struggle against something just as inevitable: Rejection.

I suspect you fear it, too.

Rejection is unavoidable for writers. Trying to hide from it is like looking for love and leaving no space for missed connections. It’s like not wanting to age. The only real alternative to aging is death. The  alternative to facing rejection is not writing.

If you want to claim the mantle of writer, you will be rejected. Your challenge is figuring out how to roll with it and not get dizzy; how to maintain some sense of equilibrium in the chaos of the writer's life you signed onto, so you can get your work done.

Rejection will come in many forms: amateur critique partners, prospective agents, publishing house editors, readers, contest judges, maybe even your kids. (My teens think my work sucks.)

The rejection that comes from the outside often has little to do with you and your work. It has to do with the needs and subjective preferences of others. Maybe your genre just isn’t your critique partners cup of tea. Maybe that agent you pitched just signed another book too similar to yours and she can’t sell them both at the same time. This is good news because it means that rejection need not devastate you. If you don’t internalize rejection, it can’t derail you. You have more control than you think.

Here’s how you deal with writing rejection without rejecting yourself.

Acknowledge your lack of control

Outside of presenting your best work, you don't have control over whether others approve of it or not, whether they reject your work or not. Even if you have the discipline to revise the hell out of a manuscript until it sparkles, that’s no guarantee it won’t be rejected. Stop telling yourself you can control everyone’s opinion with your perfectionism.  

Stop blaming yourself

The problem with how most people view rejection is that they blame themselves and their self-esteem suffers. The solution to dealing with rejection is to mine rejection for any useful information and to ignore the rest, only keeping what helps you progress as a writer.

Tell yourself a new story about rejection

Don't let the rejection of your work by others reflect upon yourself as a writer. Other people's opinions are just that, opinions. And for the most part, other people's opinions of your work are none of your business. Rejection means you’re in the game. It’s actually a good thing.

Sure, there is a need for an analysis of your work. But there's a difference between applicable constructive criticism of your work and rejection of yourself. You must judge your work to edit it, to know when it is ready to publish, and when it isn't. The key here is constructive. You have to take a few steps back and deconstruct your work for its merits and challenges. And you must stay a few steps away to reconstruct it with a sense of purpose and clarity, to craft it for your target audience. That's what professional writers do.

You can control how you experience rejection.

Don't judge your first draft as you are writing it. The critic has no business pissing on the first draft. That draft is not going to match your expectations of a completed manuscript. It's not going to meet the standards of your critique group, and it's sure not going to be good enough for an agent. So cut the critic and allow for creativity. Get the heart and soul on the page, and let the critic look at it later. Otherwise, guess what will happen? You'll turn yourself into your punching bag, you'll take it out on the muse with a stick, or you'll quit writing. 

When you allow the critic into the first draft, you're setting yourself up for self-sabotage and self-rejection. And that is way worse for a writer than the rejection of others.

It can derail you before you even start to write. 

You'll tell yourself you have a dumb-ass idea, that all your ideas are boring, and that you are stupid. And then you won't sit down to write at all. You'll procrastinate writing and become an anxious mess. You'll tell yourself lies like, "I should be writing, but I can't."

If you give into self-rejection, you inevitably sabotage your book sales by using limp or negative language when you talk about your book, not crafting a sales and marketing pitch, and failing to do your work justice. Your lack of confidence gets the best of you, and you say things like, "I hope it sells, but maybe it's not a good book." You might say, "It's an okay book, but you're not the target audience. It's a niche book." But I have to ask you:

You must finish the story to log success

To keep your story and characters out of purgatory, you must finish the story and find its readers. If you don't finish a story because you're too critical of it, you think you're avoiding rejection. You say it's not ready yet for the one-hundredth time. But what you're really doing is manifesting that self-rejection again. Even if you put a story down and promise yourself you'll come back to it, that another story has become more important for now, you're self-sabotaging. (This is the hardest advice for me to apply to my work.) It may feel like progress instead of avoidance to go and tackle a piece of a different story, but it's just shuffling fear around. You can't just stay busy writing and become an author. You must finish the story.

Let's put all this together

Others are going to reject your work but you don’t have to turn it into rejecting yourself. Be aware of your self-sabotage. Unlike death and taxes, rejection by others is something you can ignore. But the self-rejection is something you must acknowledge to conquer. Permit yourself to care less about what others think. Don't allow the voices of rejection to steer you away from your writing goals. Trust the vision you have for your work enough to follow the story through to completion, kick fear to the curb, and get it done.

Rachelle Ramirez