I saw the name in my email inbox and immediately my heart sank. I wanted to read it, but I didn’t want to. I wanted to avoid it, but I couldn’t. There was great potential there for happiness, and an even higher probability for disappointment.
It was an email from an acquisitions editor I had been speaking with regarding her publishing house printing a book about our trip. I had been waiting for a few weeks. I knew this was the yes or the no. With great trepidation I opened the email.
It was a “no.” It was a wonderful, kind, encouraging “no” from one of the most successful, respected editors in the industry. But it was a “no” nonetheless.
* * * * *
I’ve started recognizing the pattern that I go through in dealing with rejection. Even really wonderful rejections (for more on wonderful rejections, check out my E-book Building a Life Out of Words, in which published author Stacy Barton talks about the importance of wonderful rejections).
But I’m sort of early in the rejection-receiving phase of life. I don’t deal with them as well as she does. Here are the stages I go through:
Stage One: I Am a Terrible Writer
This stage is characterized by a clamor of internal voices disparaging my writing, my choice to write, my previous writing, and any future writing I might ever do. Depending on my mood, the availability of my wife to talk me down from the ledge, and the accessibility of ice cream, this stage can last from a few minutes to a few days.
Stage Two: The Other Person Has No Idea What They’re Doing and Have Obviously No Business in the Publishing World
This one feels good for a few minutes because it is self-righteous and self-justifying. Me against the big bad world. But it’s never been true in any of the rejections I’ve received, and it’s NEVER a good place from which to write reply emails.
Stage Three: Life Sucks
Depending on my then-current level of self-pity, this one can hang around for a few hours. Until I think of my many close friends who are terminally ill or battling cancer or have experienced terrible abuses in their lives. Then I remember that I have lots to be thankful for. Gratefulness is a cure for many ills, rejection included.
Stage Four: Enlightenment
At some point I realize that no instance of rejection, especially from someone taking a quick look at my writing or considering a project proposal, is meant to be a sweeping indictment of me or my writing ability. Almost every writing rejection you or I will ever encounter is a very isolated assessment of one thing made up of an endless number of factors, all converging in an instant where someone must say “yes” or “no.” It is the judgment of an instant, upon which so many variables are weighing.
I’ve started to realize that I have (incorrectly) given the same weight to rejection as I have to acceptance, even though their value is not inversely proportional. Confused yet? Me, too.
Stage Five: Work Harder
Finally I arrive at the final stage of rejection, and there is only one thing to do. Work harder. Write more. Analyze more closely what I am doing. And, ironically, open myself up to the possibility of even more rejection.
How about you? How do you deal with rejection? Which phase do you occasionally get stuck in?
12 Replies to “The Five Stages of Dealing With Rejection”
These stages can apply to any type of rejection, from writing to job hunting to dating and beyond. Come to think of it, any type of bad news can get anyone stuck in Stage 3, where I find myself way too much.
I think you may have jumped into my head!
However, today, right this minute, at 9:03 am, I am hanging out in Step 5. It’s a good place to be.
Oh, how I’ve been through these stages. My number five is usually accompanied with an “Oh ya? Well I’ll show you then” which helps fuel the work harder thing.
But the next time you’re at stage one, let me know. I’m going to send the voice in my head to beat up the voice in your head.
Step 2.5 What the hell is “writing” anyway?
This stage entails an entire questioning of the writing process and what the hell writing is, what is it good for, who decides what’s good about it, and why do I do it? What the hell is it????
SHAWN – I AM NOT A WRITER. I ALWAYS WANTED TO BE ONE, BUT CIRCUMSTANCES MADE IT NECESSARY FOR ME GO ANOTHER WAY. ALTHOUGH I AM NOT A WRITER, I HAVE BEEN AN AVID READER ALL MY LIFE (74 – IN OCT). I THINK THAT MIGHT GIVE ME A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE THAT MIGHT HELP START USING RIGHT FROM STEP 1. THROUGH STEP 5. I FIND YOUR WRITING TO BE UTTERLY INTERESTING, FROM ME WHO HAS SPENT MANY THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS FOR THE OPPORTUNITY TO READ. OTHER PEOPLES WORDS. USE THE LIBRARY. TOO SO, I THINK I SHOULD BE QUALYFIED TO RATE YOUR WRITING. I AM MOSTLY A STORY READER, AND YOUR TRIP SHOULD BE MATERIAL. I CHECK MY EMAIL EVERY DAY LOOKINF FOR THE ONE FROM YOU. AS JEFF HAS POINTED OUT, WE ALL EXPERIENCE REJECTION MANY TIMES IN OUR LIVES, BUT WE PICK OURSELVES UP AND GO ON. IT HELPS TO HAVE A LOVED ONE TO TALK YOU THROUGH IT AND WHO HAS THE ICE CREAM SCOOP HANDY.
Can I stay in stage 2 on your behalf? Maybe that wasn’t the right publisher but a book about your trip should definitely happen. Thus sayeth me.
I don’t want to come off wrong here, so I’ll just try to make it clear that this has been my experience: I have found that rejection gets easier to take with time. I learned to handle it differently, I began to understand how editors work, and even grew in confidence despite being rejected times that are beyond number because I began to believe in my writing more and more. I don’t know if that is true for everyone. At a certain point, I realized that rejection is a bad day for a profession that I love, but I’ll take a bad day doing what I love. I think I’m at a place now where a rejection e-mail is a downer, but it’s something that I can bounce back from much quicker than when I first started. And heck, even Fred Beuchner’s latest book, The Yellow Leaves, was REJECTED by his long time publisher. “It wasn’t a good fit for them,” he said at a book event I attended. That made me feel a lot better!
That doesn’t help the bank account, but that’s what business copywriting is for!
Sitting here, having sent off several query letters, I’m think a clear (but kind) “no” would be better than the “we are super busy and if you don’t hear from us in 30 or 60 or whatever days, assume it’s a no. And thank you very much” — would be better than being left hanging. But in all truth, it probably has more to do with my lack of patience :) … is someone is going to reject a piece of writing or an idea for one, that’s OK, just tell me! That being said, I am sorry that your idea was rejected. Will trust with you and others that something else will come along.
It is difficult to get beyond rejection — at any level. Personal. Professional. Emotional. Your steps are perfect, as I have experienced all of them. Howeve,r, I haven’t always ended at “Work Hard”. Great post.
Ever consider a Kickstarter campaign?
Funny you would mention that. Just yesterday I brought the idea up with Maile.
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