How to: Dealing with rejection

            When I first started training in martial arts, I had an exaggerated fear of getting hit.  When I was first learning to spar, all I could think was how much it would hurt if my opponent hit me.  Needless to say, this fear made me awkward and impeded my ability to spar.  It=s hard to protect yourself and counter-attack at the same time, although with experience you learn how.  But someone who fears the blow always stays on the defensive and tries to cover up. 

            Once you’ve been hit a few times in sparring, you learn that it isn’t really the big of a deal.  Even if it hurts, it usually doesn’t knock you to the floor, disoriented and down.  After a while, you realize there are risks to getting hit, but you don’t obsess over them or let those fears prevent you from taking action.

            So it is with writing.  The more you’re afraid of rejection, the less willing you will be to put your work out there and possibly achieve publication, success, recognition – whatever it is you hope to achieve. 

            You never really learn to welcome rejections, but you can learn to deal with them.  First, remember that a rejection isn’t personal – it’s not about you (though I know it can feel that way).  Treat rejection letters merely as the information that this particular editor isn’t interested in pursuing this particular idea at this time.  That’s it.  It’s not a comment on your abilities, skills or potential as a writer.  If the editor or agent has given a reason for rejection, such as your plot has holes or your book is too much like others like it, it’s still not personal, and it’s still not an indictment of your skills or potential as a writer.  It just means that your work struck that particular person that way.  Fortunately, plot holes and “too similar” problems are solvable, so if, on reflection, you agree that there is some weakness in your work, you can fix it.

            Second – and this is today’s point – I’ve found that I’m less bothered by rejection when I have a thorough plan for each piece I’m working on before I send it out.  For example, if I’ve written an essay, before I submit it anywhere, I figure out the likely candidates and make a list of editors to send it to.  That’s Plan A.  In some instances, where I know the editor well and know she’ll get back to me quickly, I send the submission out only to that editor and wait to hear from her before sending it on to the next person on my list, tweaking as appropriate for the various markets.  If all the places I can find turn it down, I move onto Plan B, which is either to set it aside to return to later when something has changed in my career or the marketplace to make the idea more appealing, or I’ll publish it on my blog. 

            I have this kind of plan for any project that isn’t an obvious one-off (when the editor at a magazine I write for regularly asks me for ideas, I know she’ll take some and not others; I don’t really worry about the ones she doesn’t take unless I think they’ll make great articles for someone else.)  Having the plan just makes a rejection into an action item – “The editor at Popular Magazine has turned my query down.  My plan shows that I need to tweak it in these three ways to appeal to the editor at Amazing Magazine and send it off to her.”  It just becomes a to-do item and not a source of existential despair.


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