7 Deadly Fears of Writing Explored: Rejection

This post is part of a 7-article series on the fears of writing. You can find all other articles here:

While I was sitting at my desk thinking about what I would write on rejection, after reading Your Writing Coach by Jurgen Wolff… lo and behold, a client sent me an email and rejected my work (asked for a revision is the PC term).

I admit that I wasn’t too thrilled with the design I had sent him. It wasn’t bad…but it wasn’t good, either. It was just one of those projects where I spent a lot of time trying to outguess a client who has a tendency to be vague to begin with.

The last project I’d done for him was bang on. I thought I had the client’s tastes figured out. Alas, I didn’t. Despite the anticipation of rejection, the blow to the ego was no softer.

Instead of my usual personal tirade, I sat back, took a deep breath and kindly thanked the client.

Yes, that’s right: I thanked him for the rejection.

He’d emailed me vague criticism. “I don’t like it. Try again.” I politely requested he specify me what it was he didn’t like about the design. I told him that knowing what isn’t working for him is as much of a help as knowing what is great.

I was very proud of myself for handling the rejection with the utmost grace and dignity. I didn’t feel stressed out, upset, or angry, or hurt. I felt just fine. It was business as usual.

When the client emailed me the details of his preferences, the list didn’t seem so harsh or critical. He provided me with a long list of what he didn’t like, but that was cool. I was ready for that list and had an open mind.

Hey, I’m learning. So can you:

  1. Don’t take rejection personally. As writers and artists, our work is very personal. We draw on events and experiences from deep in our souls and bare them to the world. It’s hard not to take criticism to heart. I’m guilty of often saying, “What’s wrong with this? Can’t the client see this is beautiful?” Detach yourself and realize the criticism has nothing to do with your skills or abilities – unless you really can’t do the job at all.
  2. Rejection is like death and taxes: It’s unavoidable. Eventually, it’s going to happen to you. When I first started riding a motorcycle, my friend Pete told me there are two types of riders: those who have dropped their bikes and those who were going to drop their bikes. When you drop that proverbial bike (or fall off the horse), get your ass back up on it.
  3. …but you don’t have to get back in the saddle right away. It’s okay to wallow for a little bit if you have to or walk away from the situation to cool down. After you’ve distanced yourself from the issue, it doesn’t seem so bad when you come back for a second look. Don’t let it go for too long, though. Giving yourself time doesn’t mean avoiding dealing with a situation.
  4. Ask for clarification and specifics. Open up the lines of communication. Try to see the issues from the other person’s point of view. There are always two sides to every story. Listen calmly and try to keep your emotions out of it.
  5. Hiding your writing, art or other projects so no one will ever see your work because you fear rejection and think no one will like it is counter productive. Get your work out there, let people see it, and ask them for feedback. Without feedback, you’ll never improve.

Bo Bennet said it best.

It is not rejection itself that people fear; it is the possible consequences of rejection. Preparing to accept those consequences and viewing rejection as a learning experience that will bring you closer to success, will not only help you to conquer the fear of rejection, but help you to appreciate rejection itself.”

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  1. Thanks for this–just the boost I needed to send my book mss out again….

  2. You’re welcome, Deb. Don’t give up, keep at it!

  3. Excellent article! I just got done reading a similar book. Accepting criticism is really the fastest way to improve. It’s all personal to the writer, but the reader is never wrong. No matter what we think, if the reader doesn’t like it, we need to change it! Swallowing our pride is essential as a writer. I just submitted a new short story with my fingers crossed. If it doesn’t work out, I’m sending another one, and then another. Fear of rejection is big for me. I’m going to distance myself from this fear by putting myself out there over and over again until eventually it’s all just business as usual. That’s the way to cope.

  4. Thanks Jeff and welcome to the blog. You’ve got the right attitude – face your fear head on. I think that’s one of the reasons people like us end up doing so well. I know I over-compensate when I write. I take twice as long as James to write the same amount of words and make a conscious effort every step of the way to make it perfect. Pride is in there too for sure, no doubt about it.

    I have to disagree with you on one point, though: The reader isn’t always right. It’s when they’re not right and you know it, that it’s a jagged little pill to swallow. Do you compromise yourself and do it the way the client wants it? Or do you stick to your guns and do what you know is right?

    In the case of submitting stories or novels, it’s all about the numbers. The more you submit, the more you increase your chances of a publisher picking up your work. Eventually someone, somewhere, is going to like it.

  5. Good for you, Jeff. Send out your story to however many people it takes. And expect that it will take many queries – this has nothing to do with the worth or value of your story, this is simply the industry’s state, swamped with thousands of queries each day.

    Funny how our expectations of ourselves are our biggest obstacle to success, isn’t it?

  6. Thanks for all the support. Yeah, I guess I didn’t completely convey what I was thinking. It’s true that the reader isn’t always right. I was thinking more along the lines that if you have someone you know and trust read it. The reactions they have to what you have written should always be considered, but not taken as a a personal attack if the reactions are different from what you intended. In other words, sometimes you don’t realize what you have written since you aren’t able to be in other people’s minds to know how it comes across for them. We should learn to be open and accepting of criticisms rather than put up a wall from the fear of rejection. There’s usually some truth to what people say about our work, and not letting our personal fears interfere is a big step towards improvement.

  7. Bingo 🙂

  8. I agree with every word. And asking for specifics is a good idea. I used to save all my rejections. I have a 3-ring binder full and I show them to students when I do shool visits or workshops so they can see that all writers have to learn to accept critisism to grow into “real writers.”

  9. It’s okay to wallow for a little bit if you have to or walk away from the situation to cool down. After you’ve distanced yourself from the issue, it doesn’t seem so bad when you come back for a second look.

    But not taken as a a personal attack if the reactions are different from what you intended. In added words, sometimes you don’t apprehend what you accept accounting back you aren’t able to be in added people’s minds to perceptive how it comes beyond for them. We should learn to be open and accepting of criticisms rather than put up a wall from the fear of rejection.

  10. i hate this word “rejected” 🙁
    .-= sts´s last blog ..Bonusy bukmacherskie =-.

  11. Great post on what for some people is a soul-destroying topic.

    Ever notice how those who avoid things like rejection and embarrassment end up living small lives.

    Joe 😀


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