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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

Rejection Means…

So what does rejection signify to us as writers?

Logically, a rejection means nothing has changed. I’m not published in Magazine X, I send a query and get a rejection (or letter of declination as I sometimes call them) and I’m still not published in Magazine X. No change.

Logically, the only thing a rejection means is that this particular editor/agent/assistant at this particular publication/house/agency thinks that this particular piece of writing isn’t a match for her/his audience at this particular time. It doesn’t mean anything about the quality of the piece, the value of your writing as a whole or your worth as a writer.

The pub/house/agency may have just contracted with another writer to do something similar to what you’re proposing. Maybe they’re changing or canceling that department/focus and haven’t made that info public yet. Or you didn’t present enough evidence to convince them this is something their readers will want. Maybe the writing sucks.

The truth is you just can’t tell from a rejection letter, especially if it’s a form letter. The most logical response is to gather what little information you can and try again with a different editor/agent at a different publication/house/agency. Or try again with the same editor/agent with a different piece of writing.

Professional sales people don’t give up because they get rejected, and they get rejected a lot more than writers do. Pros know it takes a certain number of negative responses to earn a sale and that every “no” brings them that much closer to their goal. They know how to increase their odds by approaching qualified prospects (study the publication/house/agency to see if it’s likely they’ll be interested in this particular piece) and offering a solid value (solid research and great writing). From the professional sales perspective, a rejection means we’re that much closer to publishing again.

But that’s not how it feels. My rational brain tells me that getting a rejection is a good thing because I’m out there trying. My emotional brain tells me it hurts, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. The emotional brain detects patterns, connections and subtle differences the rational brain can’t register, so we need to attend to what it’s telling us. (Remember Lt. Commander Michael Riley and mysterious radar blip that his emotional brain just knew was dangerous…)

I’ve been pondering what my emotional brain might be telling me –  other than “run away from potential rejection” –  because running away doesn’t get me where I want to go. I realized that for my emotional brain, something has changed. Something has been lost. What I’m feeling disappointed, dejected and frustrated about is the loss of the possibility. When I write a query or proposal, I do my very best to persuade and convince the editor/agent that the writing I’m offering will be interesting, engaging, entertaining or educational for their readers. And in the process of trying to convince the editor/agent, I convince myself. I start thinking “This is a great fit. X’s readers are going to love this and I’m going to be so proud when it’s published there. This is going to be great.”

What a rejection is, to my emotional brain, is a denial that I’m going to get what I want and the end of the hope of publication. Really, it’s the death of a fantasy, which reminds me of a newsletter I wrote about the need to kill the fantasy to keep the dream alive. Damn, I hate it when something I wrote to help someone else see something obvious turns out to be a lesson for myself.

As I’ve written in this blog before and as I always tell my students, to write well, you have to be willing to write badly. On any given day, you don’t know if this will be the day the writing will be fabulous and you’ll be in the bliss of the creative flow or if today will be a day when you just shovel the dreck. Even if it’s Dreck Day, you have to show up and shovel because that’s what makes it possible to get to the good stuff the next day.

The ability to write well depends on your ability to simultaneously hold the intention of writing something worthwhile and surrender all expectations that today is the day you’ll do that.

So I guess the corollary is that if you want to publish, you have to be willing to be rejected. To publish, you have to send your stuff out into the world with the best of intentions and simultaneously surrender all expectations that this particular submission is going to be accepted.

Yes, rejection hurts and we’re designed to try to protect ourselves from pain. But rejection is not the disappointment we need to protect ourselves from. Failing to create opportunities to be published, which requires accepting the side effect of gathering rejections along the way, is the big disappointment, the true failure.

So let’s go out and get rejected! I can hardly wait!

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2 Comments on “Rejection Means…”

  1. Kate May 7, 2010 at 4:18 pm #

    Thanks, Rosanne, for another wonderful article. I love your point about holding an intention while also surrendering to any expectation.
    I love it so much that I’ve added it to my bag of quotes: “The ability to write well depends on your ability to …” It’s a beauty. Thanks so much for your great work.


    • rosannebane May 12, 2010 at 11:26 pm #

      You’re welcome Kate! I found the idea of holding an intention while surrendering expectation in Deepak Chopra’s book Seven Laws of Spiritual Success. I should have credited him in the post.


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