I open the email from the publication I submitted to three months ago. “Thank you for submitting.” I scan the body of the message for the ending lines: “We gave your work careful consideration, and while it did not make our longlist, we hope you find a better fit for it elsewhere.” Right. Another rejection letter.
Reading rejection letters, really good published writing, and—even worse—really bad published writing can be infinitely frustrating. Trust me when I say we’ve all been there, more often than not. It’s hard to maintain morale and see the light at the end of the tunnel when you’re surrounded by blinking signs that say you suck. But this is the life we commit to as writers and creatives: the extreme highs and lows of praise and criticism.
It is so easy to drift into the abyss of self-loathing—a favorite writerly past-time. Resist this urge. Please believe me when I say that no one is born with the inherent ability to write a perfect piece (more on this topic later). We are all so worried about showing our vulnerabilities that we don’t see the dirty work that goes on behind the scenes: the reading, the studying, the drafts we go through and toss to extract one good line from, the editing, the editing again, the crying over how we just want this project to be done and over with. It’s all part of the process.
Cranking out award-winning work is grueling (and luck of the draw), but we do it because we love it. When your brain tells you that you’re not a real writer, that you never will be, remember that it’s not true. Producing something great takes trial and error, failure, frustration, work we do when we are exhausted, reading, practicing, learning. And if you are at any point in this process, you are a real writer.
First off, if you haven't already, go read my post on how to get rid of imposter syndrome. In my experience, when you're dealing with rejection, it helps to take a moment to reframe your thinking. If you’re having a particularly rough day, step away from writing. Your negative ideas about yourself will seep into your writing, and everything you’ve written will appear to you as a heaping pile of burning garbage. Do something for yourself. Then come back to it with a fresh, more optimistic mind. The work doesn’t feel like work when you’re looking forward to it.
What else can you do? Be aware of when you are comparing yourself to others. When you read something bad, just put it down (and maybe make a mental note not to submit to that publisher/publication). When you read something good, instead of comparing your writing to theirs and getting down on yourself, analyze what it is you like about the writing. What can you learn from it? What steps can you take to learn more in those areas? Read more of the writing you love, and those elements will start to become instinctual in your own work. Reading, in my opinion, is over 60% of what is necessary to become a great writer.
Lastly, talk to other writers. Real, honest writers. Share your failures—they’re universal! Celebrate your accomplishments because the rejections will usually outnumber them. Share your writing and be open to criticism. Learn from the good, and leave the bad. You are a real writer. It’s time you start treating yourself like one!