A friend of mine wrote to me in distress after getting a rejection from a magazine editor to whom she had submitted an article. “And he said he wanted to see it!” she groused. “Ouch. Now what do I do with it?”
How do writers handle rejections? I want to write not only about what we can do with the actual piece that was rejected but how we can cheer ourselves up.
We have to first decide why we’re writing. If we’re writing for ourselves, just for the fun of it, then we can write the article or the story, send it out, and if it gets rejected, we can remind ourselves that we were writing for the fun of it, anyway.
But if we really want it to get published somewhere, then we have to take a hard look at our work. Ask ourselves the following questions:
Did the article fit the format of the magazine or website we wrote it for? Every place has its style. A clothing designer wouldn’t try to sell a neon pink T-shirt with rhinestones and fringes to a shop that only sells minimalist black-and-white clothes. Every journal has its tone, its voice, its vibe. Some go for quirky, others for cynical, still others prefer inspirational. Did your piece match?
Re-gift the article. I confess to passing on a gift that I have received (only on very rare occasions, I promise) to someone else. So we can fix up a story and change it to meet another journal’s needs. I did this with an article that got rejected one place; I repackaged it and published it in The Huffington Post.
Check your query letter. Did what you deliver what you promised? Remember the rule: Under-promise, over-deliver.
Did you read a lot of pieces the magazine published before you wrote your piece? I mean, did you really do your homework on this? Did you make sure your style matched theirs?
Are you making excuses about your work? The old, “Yes, but…” doesn’t get you out of looking at your piece honestly. It reminds me of my neighbor who bought a table that an artist made from a trunk of a tree. It’s lovely to look at, but the table is on a slant and if you put a glass of water on it, the glass slides right off. “Yes, but…” my neighbor told me, defending her purchase. OK, it’s a lovely piece of art but it doesn’t work as a table. So, does your piece really work?
Finally, let it sit for a while until we can see our writing more clearly. We can show it to a trusted reader. We can put it away while we lick our wounds. But sooner or later, we have to decide if we’re in for writing in the long run. “I really don’t think life is about the I-could-have-beens,” Nikki Giovanni says. “Life is only about the I-tried-to-do. I don’t mind the failure but I can’t imagine that I’d forgive myself if I didn’t try.”
That’s the message we can tell ourselves. The messages we give ourselves are the most powerful voices in our head. After getting rejections, I’ve sulked for a while and told myself I’ll never pick up my fountain pen again. But then I remind myself of all the writers who’ve been rejected. Writing is like preparing for a running race. We have to clock in a hundred miles to run ten miles. Writing is a discipline. It’s practice. It’s Harrison Ford saying, “Some actors couldn’t figure out how to withstand the constant rejection. They couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
I talked with my friend about her piece. She said that after she got over her discouragement, she was going to try to send the article to somewhere else.
That’s all we can do. We are only responsible for the effort not the outcome. But we have to do our best. If we want to write, that’s what we have to do. Write and rewrite and keep going. That’s the journey.
As Richard Bach said, “A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.”
As I would say, “Put your tuchas in that chair and keep writing. No matter how many times you get rejected. Just keep writing.”