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This Writing Life: The Seven Stages of Rejection

3 June, 2011

This week, one of my short stories was rejected. Now, that’s not a particularly uncommon occurrence for any writer who’s submitting regularly, and I’m not too bothered about it. Amusingly though, I realised that my reaction to rejection tends to take a well-worn path every time it happens, something like the five stages of grief. It always starts off with:

Blankness.  Rejections usually come as emails, these days. As soon as I see an email rejection in my inbox, I know what it is. I always open it immediately, and then I sit there. And sit there. And stare. For some reason, I skim through the whole email once or twice, but be it form rejection or suggestions for improvement, I can’t take it in. This is what I call ‘blankness’. Sometimes I even close the email entirely, knowing I’ve had a story rejected but being unable to really focus on the fact. It’s probably a coping mechanism, because the next stage is:

The Sting.  I call it that because it hurts. Once the blankess has faded and I’m able to focus on the rejection letter, I reach the point at which it really sinks in. Rejection or grief of any kind is painful, and although it’s fairly muted when a story is rejected, it still does hurt. At this point, I can’t really do anything but try to put the story entirely out of mind and work on something else. Otherwise, I end up trapped in the next stage:

Melancholy.  After a rejection, it’s easy to wallow. In fact, it’s easy to wallow after any professional set-back. This is a dangerous trap to fall into, but it’s usually one that I experience for at least a couple of days after a rejection. It’s the point where I tell myself that the story was utterly crap, and why did I bother sending it out at all? Sometimes, but not always, the melancholy stage is accompanied by:

Anger.  Now, I’m not generally an angry person, and I’m not one of those writers who gets angry with editors for rejecting their work. Instead, if I do feel anger, it’s at myself, for sending out a story before it was ready and blowing my chances (with that particular market for that particular story, anyway). It doesn’t take me long to remember that I thought the story was good, though, and that I frequently don’t see the flaws until I’ve had at least one rejection. Which brings us to:

Acceptance.  This is the point where my rational brain kicks back in. I take a better look at the rejection letter, and at the story. I can see the flaws and why it was rejected, but I can also accept that either they’re fixable or they’re subjective. Now, I have three choices with the story. I can send it out again, I can put it aside entirely, or I can move on to the next two stages:

Working Brain.  This is the stage I usually come to after acceptance (it’s rare that I’ll send a story straight back out again). Yes, the story is flawed, but now I start to muse on how to make it better. This stage can last anything from a few hours to, quite literally, months, and is why I have so many stories that have only been submitted once or twice. I need the time to think about them and work out how to fix them. And when I have, we get to:

The Fire.  Getting to this stage can take months, like I said, but it’s a fantastic feeling when I do get there. Finally, I see how to fix the story and I get as excited to do so as I was to first write it. In this rush of fire, I revise the story, fix all the problems that were pointed out in the rejection letter (if any were) and get ready to submit it again. And, potentially, to go through the whole cycle all over again…

So, there you have my means of working through rejection. It’s a slow process, but it’s also a thorough one and eventually it leads to a better story, one that can be submitted again, hopefully until it sells. Have any of my readers experienced rejection when it comes to writing? Do you find you deal with it in a similar way? Let me know!

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