Rejection Reaction:What's Your Style?

If you've chosen the writing life, rejection of some form or another is, unfortunately, part of the package. Not every idea will be the right one, submitted in the right time to the right person. Some of your submissions, you'll realize later, were really stinkers; some of them were simply seeds that fell on fallow soil, with not a thing you could've done about it.

But striking out is all part of the game, as unavoidable as death, taxes, and the occasional reviewer who seemingly hates you down to your mitochondrial DNA. How you react to rejection, in my opinion, is one of the handful of factors that determines whether or not you have what it takes to keep your writer's spirit intact and keep producing.

Possible reactions to rejection:

1. Whining, self-pity, and self loathing: A little of this is allowed. So call a writing buddy and weep at the unfairness of it all if you must, but allow it to take root and you'll lose days, weeks, months--possibly a lifetime--to depression. Your dream can and will die if you give in to this. Or you'll feel so hurt, you will never again be able to risk so much pain by actually submitting. I've seen plenty of good writers, sensitive spirits all, give up because they couldn't take the heat.

2. Anger and/or self-delusion: Telling yourself that only the connected, "beautiful" people make it, that the editors and agents are all morons, and that New York's only looking for soulless drivel can make you bitter, cynical, and unwilling to accept responsibility to adapt and change as you must to be successful. These writers often repeat the same mistake over and over, only to blame the rest of the world for refusing to evolve in their direction. They also aren't especially pleasant to be around.

3. Over-correction: Some writers over-analyze every rejection and earnestly attempt to do everything they can to "fix" their manuscript in accordance to the "holy edict" of those in the know. The trouble is, if you send out the same submission to ten agents, editors, or even critique partners, unless the stars align and you end up involved in a giant bidding war, you will very likely get ten different, completely conflicting comments on the trouble with it. If you're wishy-washy and always bowing to everyone else's tastes and opinions (rather than either a major consensus or those that resonate with your vision) you will never evolve the authoritative faith in yourself, your own expertise as a reader/writer, and your work that it takes to serve as your internal guide.

4. Dogged Determination: This is the writer who digs in her heels and snarls, "I'll effing show them!" (your saltiness quotient may vary.) This author tries to figure out what's gone wrong or improve her craft in some way, alters her course either slightly or radically, and then as quickly as possible fires another salvo into the submission wars. This is the writer who's too mule-headed to succumb to self-doubt and too stubborn to give anyone else the satisfaction.

This is also very often the author who has what it takes to make it for the long haul.

If I'm being honest with myself (and nothing else pays), I'd say I've faced rejection with all four of these possible reactions. I've at time felt hurt, depressed, angry, and horribly uncertain of my skills. But I've never for a moment felt uncertain of my need to write or my own vision, and I can't remember ever sending out one submission without immediately moving onto a new project. Having some hot-'n-heavy new affair (writing-wise, anyway) going by the time any possible rejections come my way on the preceding project inoculates me so that my tours through reactions 1, 2, and 3 can be brief as possible (or entirely absent, if I'm lucky) and makes reaction #4 my default setting.

So what's your default reaction to rejection? How do you pick yourself up and keep on moving forward?


William Simon said…
I go to the bookstore and over-indulge. Not to mention causing severe damage in the DVD aisle of Best Buy. A day or so of self-indulgence, then back to the keys. More or less. Sometimes more, sometimes less. But a day of indulging the Inner Moppet always helps..:)
That sounds healthy to me! At least your drug of choice isn't an actual drug. :)
Suzan Harden said…
Um, to be honest, mine's more like psychopathic option #5--Those #*&#ers DO NOT recognize my genius.

Oh, and the DELETE key helps.
I know you REALLY change the culprits into undead in your next story, Suzan!
Mostly 1 and 3 for me, I think. But some of 4, which is good. I'm trying to cultivate more of that. I don't always think the sensitivity is a bad thing, IF you don't allow it to destroy you. If you allow it to help you be open to the criticism of others (without giving in), it can really help transform your way of thinking about your own work, which sometimes is actually needed.

The irony is that the longer and more I've written, the less confident I've become in some ways, which may be good, because in the beginning, when I was very young, I thought every word was gold. I still obsessively worked on my stuff even back then, but rejection tended to bounce off me more, because I hadn't read enough other stuff to see that the editors (mostly of small literary magazines) were actually right.

It's also tough teaching creative writing, because that turns you on to so many potential problems with a work. It's hard now for me to read anything (even published work) without wanting to dialogue with the writer. But there's always another choice we could make, and no work is ever "perfect."
Oh lord, this is the question, isn't it! I knew from the beginning that rejection was part of the trade, but when the rejections started coming en masse with the first novel I queried, that's when I felt the punch in the gut! I'd say I'm mostly dogged determination, but occasionally along the way I re-termed it Delusional Determination :) Then I queried my third novel last summer, was offered representation, and just this week the novel is going out on submission to editors! I think we all need a little bit of ego (after all, who can manage to keep going if they don't in some part of themselves genuinely BELIEVE they can make it!) coupled with the requisite doses of humble pie each rejection letter brings!
Colleen said…
Delusional Determination. I LOVE that, Heather. Except that I hope in your case, it doesn't turn out to be very delusional after all. Sounds as if you're on the right track. Best of luck with the editorial submissions and congrats on the new agent.

It's tough, isn't it? Because critiquing/analysis and creation require the use of two different sets of muscles. Though I always thought I'd like teaching creative writing, I've been afraid it would be too tough for me to balance that with my own writing, so my hat's off to you for managing both.

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