In the last episode, I urged you to send out your work even though it means you’re risking rejection—because to get a yes, you must risk a no.
I even offered a case for embracing rejection as your goal, especially in the realm of literary journals, because by setting a rejection goal, you’re increasing your odds of an acceptance.
A Plan to Process Rejection
But you might need a plan for how to process those rejections.
You can laugh it off as part of your master goal, but it’ll still sting. And it hits hardest when your writing expresses deep struggles or raw pain. Writing like that requires great emotional risk, so to be brave enough to send it off should be applauded. To risk all of that and hear “No, we don’t want this” can leave a writer shaken, even shaky.
We are not impervious to the pain of a rejection, nor should we be. We will open that email and feel the wave of nausea. As Isaac Asimov said, “Rejections slips…are lacerations to the soul.”
You have every reason to react in whatever honest, human way you need to. My hope is you’ll find a way to feel without ending up paralyzed—you’ll figure out how to bounce back after an editor turns you down. To carry on and continue the work of a writer, you will at some point need to step back into some kind of system or plan to move forward again.
You Need a Rejection Ritual
I recommend a Rejection Ritual to process the emotions.
Some writers have found that their response to rejection loosely parallels the stages of grief. This may be a bit over-the-top, but no doubt you’ll struggle. You may even grieve. Don’t be surprised at how hard it hits.
You may feel sick to your stomach. You might cry. You may need to throw a tantrum or stare into space.
Just don’t get stuck there.
Design a ritual that makes sense to you, that recognizes the disappointment and pain while encouraging closure. When you complete the ritual, I hope it leads you back to a creative, productive place. Yours can be a five-minute ritual or an all-day ritual. Make sure it’s relatively healthy and relatively brief; I don’t recommend going out and getting stoned, for example, nor do I advise dragging it out beyond a full work day.
11 Simple Rejection Rituals
Consider if one of these simple rejection rituals could fit your personality.
- Get yourself a nice treat for every rejection.
- Kim Liao says she saved all her rejection slips in a box and propped a handwritten note from an editor on her window frame as “a talisman of encouragement.”
- Write an angry poem to work through your feelings. It doesn’t have to be about writing rejection—it could be about other types of rejection. It can even be metaphorical. If you’re feeling more depressed than angry, make it a sad poem. The goal is to get your feelings out.
- Write an angry poem in someone else’s voice. Choose the voice of an adolescent or young child overreacting to a rejection to tap into thoughts and images you might not find on your own.
- Print out the rejection emails and impale them onto a spike. Or burn them in a metal bucket in the back yard.
- Take out your frustration on an inanimate object. Do something safe but a little violent, like hammering a nail into a board for every rejection—that allows you to pound something in frustration without hurting anyone, including yourself.
- You could hammer those nails and add something beautiful. You could tie or weave ribbons around the nails to remind you that acceptances happen in the midst of rejections.
- A client went to a craft store and bought a round fish bowl and plastic beads that look like pearls and diamonds. She drops into the bowl a shimmering bead for each rejection so she can see something beautiful is growing throughout the process.
- Carolyn See recommends writing a handwritten thank you note to the editor immediately after receiving a rejection.
- Tell yourself: “This rejection simply means one editor at one publication doesn’t want this one piece on this one day.” Repeat this many times if you feel tempted to draw irrational conclusions about your writing ability or self-worth. One editor at one publication doesn’t want this one piece on this one day.
- Your ritual might be as simple as making a cup of tea and writing an entry in a gratitude journal. After that, you can open up Word or Google Docs, or Scrivener, and get right back to work.
After the Ritual, Get Back to Work
Stephen King was a determined and prolific writer from very young. He wrote and sent out stories to all kinds of magazines. Because he sent out so many, he received a lot of rejections. An oft-quoted excerpt from his book On Writing says: “By the time I was fourteen…the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and went on writing” (29).
After the ritual—after impaling the rejection slips—King went on writing.
And that’s how to bounce back after an editor turns you down. After the ritual is complete, you go on writing.
Research the next literary journal you could send your poem to. Tweak the essay and craft a new cover letter. Write a completely new poem that can enter the cycle.
Trust that something beautiful is happening in you through all of this—as a writer and as a person.
* * *
Do you have a rejection ritual? Drop a note in the comments. I’d love to hear how you process rejections.
To listen to the full episode, click on the podcast player above or use subscription options below.
- Episode 99: Submission: To Get a Yes, You Risk a No
- Rejection Is Part of the Process, So Deal With It (Nicole Rollender)
- 12 Famous Writers on Literary Rejection (Asimov and Plath quotes found in this Aerogramme article)
- What’s Your Rejection Ritual? (SheWrites article with Carolyn See’s handwritten thank-you idea)
- Why You Should Aim for 100 Rejections a Year (Kim Liao via LitHub)
- Citation: King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. New York: Pocket a div. of Simon & Schuster, 2000. Print.
* * *
You can subscribe with iTunes, where I’d love to have you subscribe, rate, and leave a review.
The podcast is also available Stitcher, and you should be able to search for and find “Ann Kroeker, Writing Coach” in any podcast player.