(Image used by permission/Shutterstock)
I normally don’t take guest posts (in fact, it’s pretty rare these days, though you’ll see another one on Monday), but I really loved what my friend and editor Chad had to say in this piece. This is for all those writers out there who face rejection on an ongoing basis. (Here’s a funny/sad truth: the farther you go in the publishing journey, THE MORE rejection you will receive.) So learning to navigate rejection is crucial. It makes the difference between succeeding and failing in the writing business.
You might think editors at publishing houses never face rejection. But not long ago I pursued a book I really wanted to publish, and the author decided to sign with a different publishing house.
I hope this is of some comfort to writers who routinely face rejection from publishers. I don’t want to equate our pain with yours, but at least you have the satisfaction of knowing we get slapped around from time to time too.
Rejection is painful. It hurts so bad we’re tempted to engage in unhealthy activity—to “act out,” as the therapists say. Listen to how Anne Lamott reacted when she received bad news from her editor:
“I went to the house where I was staying with old family friends, slammed down a dozen social drinks with them, and then took a cab to meet some other friends. I had a few hundred more drinks with them, and the merest bit of cocaine–actually, I began to resemble an anteater at one point.” –Bird by Bird
It’s Lamott’s subtlety I like most.
But at some point we have to pull ourselves together. We have to square off and look at ourselves, like a mother holding the shoulders of her son after a terrible day at school. We have to remind ourselves we’re bigger than this, this does not define us, and we have what it takes to move on.
So here are some steps to try.
Feel the pain. Grieve the loss.
By now you may have seen Louis C. K.’s bit on Conan about why he hates smartphones. It’s the one where he talks about how we don’t like to feel sad or alone. We dislike it so much, in fact, that we’d rather text while driving instead of feeling the pain. The problem is texting while driving is a fast way to get yourself or someone else killed.
So stop. Just feel it. Lean into the pain and cry if that’s what your body wants to do. Just sit with it like you would your cranky Uncle Jack in the nursing home. You don’t want to be there, but you know for some cosmic reason you need to be.
I’m really bad at this. Instead of feeling it, I’m a jerk to everyone around me. I start to feel like the whole world is just a big old pack of idiots sent to annoy me. And I tell them that too. But hopefully I come to my senses eventually and realize that I’m in pain and it’s not their fault, and it’s not mine either necessarily, and it’s just hard.
I don’t know how long feeling the pain should last. It probably varies depending on the severity of it. But if you make a point of sitting with your pain, I think you’ll know when you’ve sufficiently felt it. It’s the beginning part that’s so hard.
Talk with a friend.
It’s a good idea to talk with a friend—to let someone know that you’re hurting and you think the world sucks right now. You need that friend to sit there and take it in and not be afraid to look at you. When my wife was in labor she wanted to stare at my teeth. She needed a place to focus, to know I was there and I wasn’t going anywhere. So I stood right next to her and looked her in the face. You need that same kind of presence, and you’re worth it, so seek it out.
Learn from it.
At some point it’s important to turn the corner and see what you can learn from what happened. Can you talk to the person who said no? Can you talk to others who can provide some insight? Do what you can. It may always be somewhat mysterious why people say no because they may not fully know themselves. That’s okay, but learn as much as possible.
To go back to my earlier example, whenever I lose a book to another publisher, I try to get on the phone with the author or agent or both. I ask them, “How can we get better? What are our weaknesses?” And I ask “What are our strengths?” too so I know what to emphasize in the future. Then I discuss what I’ve learned with the team.
What can you do with what you’ve learned? Knowing something is one thing. Doing something is another. You may want to create an action plan. You’re going to do this, this, and this, and that’s it. You’re not going to beat yourself up about it. You’re going to take these actions and move on.
Most people who succeed at anything can tell you stories of prior rejection. We dare not be content with rejection. I’m convinced at least half of success comes from a willingness to keep risking failure and rejection. No matter what you just keep trudging through the storm.
We need to keep our chins up and try, try again. C. S. Lewis said it best perhaps: “Failures are finger posts on the road to achievement.” Rest assured that’s the road you’re on. Keep walking.
My Special Gift to Mary DeMuth Readers
I put together a resource kit especially for Mary DeMuth readers, just because I love Mary DeMuth (and you!) so much. Check out this exclusive page. Drop your email address, and I’ll send you some things I’m preparing specially for you. Here’s what you’ll get:
- A 3-minute video in which I provide key strategies related to learning from failure.
- The 21-Day “Do Your Art” Challenge, which will help any creative person stay motivated and produce their best work.
Thanks so much for reading this post, and don’t forget to check out this exclusive page.
Chad R. Allen is a writer, speaker, editor, and consultant. His mission is to help creative people find their voice and do their art. Author of Do Your Art: A Manifesto on Rejecting Apathy to Bring Your Best to the World, Chad serves as editorial director for Baker Books, where he has worked for over twelve years. He lives with his wife and two young children in Grand Rapids, Michigan. To connect with him click here.