By Dora Mitchell
Rejection hurts. As writers, we sign ourselves up for more than our fair share of it. But you’re in luck! Today I’m going to give you my foolproof secret method for handling rejection. It’s basically just like those Writer’s Digest courses you always wish you could afford to take, only this is free!
Step 1: Receive perfectly polite and inoffensive rejection letter
Step 2: Rend garments; howl anguish unto the indifferent sky
Step 3: Retreat into woods, live as hermit
…Hey, what’d you expect? It’s free! There’s a reason Writer’s Digest courses are expensive.
Okay, I confess. I don’t have a miracle cure for handling rejection. But I do have a simple strategy that can help when the self-doubt and worry really gets to you. And yes, participating in NaNoWriMo will help too; we’ll get to that later.
We’re all familiar with that nasty inner voice that tells us we suck and criticizes every word we write. When you’re dealing with rejections, that voice gets a lot of fresh ammunition to use against you. The most insidious thing about this voice is that it’s usually not very loud. It’s a whisper in the back of your mind that you can mostly ignore, at least consciously. But it’s persistent. And because it’s quiet and persistent, it can become white noise, wearing away at you when you’re not aware of it.
So here’s what I suggest: Instead of letting the voice whisper subconsciously, sit down and focus on it. Really hear it, loud and clear. Do this by imagining the worst case scenario you can. (This can be helpful for all kinds of problems, not just writing-related worries, by the way.) What is the fear that rejection stirs up? Why does a simple “no thanks, not for me” feel like it means so much more than that?
In the back of our minds, where all our dumbest ideas lurk, we dream up all kinds of nightmare possibilities. Getting turned down by every agent there is; getting blacklisted by the whole book industry for wasting everyone’s time; realizing that our writing itself is hopelessly bad… Underlying them all is one core fear that rejection feeds: Eventually we’ll have no option left but to quit.
How does it help to envision such miserable scenarios? Because that’s when you realize they’re ridiculous.
Here’s the secret. The real worst case scenario of everyday problems—even the most depressing of rejection letters—is never that bad. (Pro tip: don’t use this strategy with non-everyday-type problems, like “trapped in serial killer’s lair,” or “walking tight-rope over Grand Canyon,” etc., where the worst case scenario includes gruesome death.)
Even if you get rejected a hundred times, a thousand times, no one can make you quit. And as long as you keep writing, your work will improve. Once you get the irrational fears out of the way, you can see the real worst case scenario. In this case, it’s simply that this particular story isn’t ready yet. That’s all.
Now, I know that’s still not the greatest possibility to consider. Right now you’re probably saying, but I love this story and giving up on it hurts and that’s a horrible worst case scenario, you idiot!
Okay, first off, rude. They don’t put up with outbursts like that in Writer’s Digest courses, you know.
Secondly, stick with me here—this is where NaNoWriMo comes to the rescue.
If you’re used to taking a year or six to finish a first draft, then sure, shelving a story to start a new one is daunting. But your outlook will be much different after you learn you can churn out a first draft, or a good chunk of one, in a single month.
On top of that, NaNo is the ultimate way to practice quieting that nasty inner voice. You simply don’t have time for it if you want to hit your word count goals. And now you have one more strategy for gaining control over that voice: Listen to it. Give it free reign…but only long enough to hear how irrational it really is. Then forget rejection, forget fear, and get right back to work.
Dora M. Mitchell is a writer and illustrator who lives in a creaky old house that she alternately hopes and fears is haunted. Warped at an early age by the works of John Bellairs and Edward Gorey, her fevered imagination has never quite recovered.
Her hobbies include reading, hiking, convincing her husband to watch scary movies with her, and lying awake at night wishing she hadn’t watched any scary movies ever. She writes and illustrates picture books, middle grade, and graphic novels, and she does it all with a dog on her lap, a cat on her feet, and two house-rabbits supervising from under a nearby chair. doramitchell.com | @inky_beast