Not long ago, I received a group text from my writing pal Sarah Wells: “Rejection toast tonight, gals!”
What’s a rejection toast, you ask?
When one of the four of us—me, Sarah, Ginny, or Valerie—receives a rejection for our writing, we schedule a group phone call to raise a glass and brainstorm possible venues to resubmit the piece that was, for lack of a better word, rejected.
Why a rejection toast?
For starters, rejection hurts. That is not your imagination. A rejection slip can rattle us to our core, triggering self-doubt and fear that can send our inner critic on a bender and derail our writing for days or more.
According to psychologist Guy Winch, author of Emotional First Aid: Practical Strategies for Treating Failure, Rejection, Guilt, and Other Everyday Psychological Injuries, rejection hurts more than other negative emotions. In an excerpt from his book reprinted at Salon.com, he writes, “Rejections elicit emotional pain so sharp it affects our thinking, floods us with anger, erodes our confidence and self-esteem, and destabilizes our fundamental feeling of belonging.” Wowzo. Pour me another.
But the pain of rejection does not stop there. Winch explains that our reaction to rejection is not limited to emotional pain. Rejection also registers in our brain as physical pain, a protective mechanism that rang the alarm bells for our pre-civilized ancestors when they faced rejection from their tribe. Think about it. Rejection from one’s tribe meant disconnection, isolation, starvation. Rejection equaled death.
So when we receive a rejection we experience emotional pain and physical pain. Add to that the whiff of unhealed rejections suffered in your past, and you begin to see the landmine of pain rejection can uncork.
For those of us who write memoir, rejection can be even more complicated.
Writing literary memoir demands that we make ourselves vulnerable. Our memoir stories reveal our deepest emotional truths in our authentic voice. Because voice is who we are on the page, a rejection of our writing can feel like a rejection of our Self. There we go, spinning from our tribe, rejection note in hand.
And yet rejection is an integral part of the writing process that affects emerging as well as established writers. As such, handling it becomes part of our job as writers. The more eloquently we handle rejection, the less it disrupts our writing progress and productivity.
Here are five strategies to help you build an elegant rejection muscle.
1. Don’t pretend it doesn’t hurt. Rejection is, after all, a wound. Unacknowledged—i.e., untreated—it can continue to fuel doubt about your writing. Treat rejection the way you would treat a wound. Give yourself time to heal from it.
2. Do not write in isolation. Create or join a writing group or tribe whose members keep track of each other’s successes and challenges and, yes, rejections. Your writing tribe can pull you closer to its center while you heal from the hurt of rejection. Experiencing other’s rejections will also remind you that rejection is a simply part of a writer’s life.
3. Resubmit. Taking positive action puts you back in the game. This takes you out of “victim” mode and puts you back into writer mode. Resubmitting also sends a message to the universe and to your subconscious mind that you value your work and find it worthy of resubmitting.
4. Do not take rejection personally. As Brevity Magazine’s managing editor Sarah Einstein reminds us in her blog article “The Form Rejection Letter Decoder Thingy,” rejection is more likely about what a magazine needs for a particular issue than it is about your writing. While you’re at it, read her blog and download her “decoder thingy”—a paper fortune teller, aka, cootie catcher. Print it out and play with it. Keep it on your desk within reach for when rejection strikes.
5. Rejection toast! Create a rejection ritual that reconnects you with your writing tribe and reminds you that you are part of a supportive community that cherishes you and believes in your writing. It can be as simple as a group phone call or as decadent as meeting for sushi. The important thing is that it moves you out of isolation. Determine your rejection ritual in advance so that when rejection comes you just sound the alarm and your tribe comes running. Hear! Hear!
Sarah and I were the only two available to meet for her rejection toast that evening. I sipped a glass of red wine while she talked about her writing and picked up her children’s toys. Then I updated her on my writing. Somewhere in there we were interrupted by one of her children and then by one of my dogs. But we kept bringing it back to the writing. In the end, she was leaning toward revising and then resubmitting. Neither of us knew that while we spoke a rejection was making its way to my inbox, where I discovered it the next morning. Sure, it stung. But then I fired off a group text: “Okay, girlz. Time for another rejection toast!”
Hear! Hear! came their texts of support. Hear! Hear!
How do you handle rejection? Let us know in the comments below so that together we can strengthen our rejection muscle.
To your inevitable acceptances,
What an excellent piece. Thank you! The fact that rejection registers as both a physical pain as well as a psychological pain is a point I had not heard before, but it resonates perfectly. Apt advice to establish a group of mutual mentors/supporters. There are a number of writers’ groups in Manchester, UK. I’m thankful that Britain prides itself on its literary tradition – though I suspect the numbers for publishing of women’s work here would be as dismal as in the US. Great blog, Marilyn!