by Trevor Newton
Like a lot of writers coming up during the Internet age, I’ve had quite a bit of writing advice bestowed upon me. One of the most common topics for such advice is how to deal with rejections. After all, it’s a huge part of writing for anyone willing to submit. We all go through it at some point or another. I’ve never specifically searched for advice on dealing with rejection, but I always seem to stumble on it—sometimes from reading a memoir, blog post, or article from someone I follow, or a video essay online. Some of the advice is useful, such as, “Just keep writing!” or “You’re not alone. We’ve all been there!”
But this style of simple, persevering advice has fallen by the wayside in favor of romanticization. Rather than insist on trudging through the rejections for the light at the end of the tunnel, people relay such naive advice as, “Rejections are a writer’s badges of honor!” or, for the fantasy writers out there, “A writer’s armor is hammered out not in steel, but rejection letters!”
Calling this advice isn’t even true—it’s not advice. It’s just a jumble of weightless words with zero meaning.
I’ve even seen people suggesting new writers should set a rejection goal for themselves. They typically follow this piece of bogus advice with something along the lines of, “Be proud of yourself—many writers never get this far!”
Really? Why don’t you tell a literary agent (or any publisher who accepts unsolicited submissions) that many writers never get that far. And let me know when you get out of the hospital because they’re probably going to beat you over the head with a thick stack of manuscripts for spewing such unfounded nonsense.
Plenty of people get as far as the submission process, and they’ve all dealt with rejection. And you know what? Rejections suck. If you believe otherwise, you’ve been brainwashed. Woah, hey, don’t get mad at me. I didn’t brainwash you. And don’t worry, you can break free of these chains if you’re willing to admit they exist. We’ve all been brainwashed at some point. If you live in the United States, for example, chances are you were told (while in grade school) that Christopher Columbus was a pretty swell dude.
(Spoiler: He was not a swell dude.)
This type of sugarcoating negative outcomes can be equated with suppressing emotions. Ask any psychologist from around the globe if suppressing emotions is a good idea, and prepare to get an earful.
(Another spoiler: It’s not a good idea.)
The suppression of natural emotions and the desperation to constantly turn negatives into positives is a slippery slope, and believe me, it’s not worth it. It’s a road easily passed on your journey through life. Rejections will sting, and that’s okay. In the long run, you’ll be a stronger, braver writer for having received them. Simply put: If you’re brave enough to send out your work, you’re brave enough to deal with the inevitable rejections without any fluffy non-advice.
Part of critical thinking is knowing when to take things at face value. With the Christopher Columbus example, we know, as adults, that’s not something we should’ve taken as such. Why? Because there’s a plethora of conflicting information out there that says otherwise. With rejection letters, most of which are boilerplate, there is little to no information to be extracted. They’re vague. Therefore, they don’t inform you if your manuscript was good or bad, a misunderstood masterpiece, or the worst drivel ever written. The variables are endless.
So, what do you do when rejections come in? Let them in, let them sting, and let them go.
If you are lucky enough to receive a custom rejection for your piece, this is absolutely something you should be proud of, because it means your work stuck in the editor’s or literary agent’s mind so profoundly that they took the time to address you personally—something they don’t have time to do often. It’s not a “badge of honor,” but it is a step in the right direction. So, keep at it, writers, and ignore the ooey-gooey, disingenuous advice. You’ll be glad you did.
Trevor Newton is a part-time farmhand living in a rural area outside of Raleigh, North Carolina. When he's not working, writing or reading, he can probably be found rummaging through stacks of old paperbacks at a thrift store, or supporting his local used bookstores. He enjoys pulp fiction, insightful non-fiction, film, and breathing new life into vintage electronics. He currently has nine published short stories across an array of indie publishers.