Three Rules for Surviving Rejection

By this point in your life, you know that rejection hurts. Criticism hurts. No matter how tough you are or how much you try to shrug it off, it is going to hurt. Everyone will say it isn’t personal. But it is your writing. You created it, a product of your conscious and subconscious. What could be more personal, short of someone calling your baby ugly?

It is going to hurt. But that is okay. Rejection and criticism are just pain. If you workout or practice any sport, you know that pain makes you stronger. It makes you better. You learn from it. Pain teaches you quickly and efficiently. When you get rejected, when you feel the bite of criticism, just remember “pain is weakness leaving the body.”

That cliché, used in a variety of sports, is a good thing to remember when you are submitting your writing for critique or publication. Building a tolerance to rejection and criticism allows you to create a distance between you and your writing. Don’t get me wrong, it is a small distance, similar to sitting on opposite ends of the couch with your writing rather than whispering sweet nothings to it just prior to copping a feel. It is a healthy distance, one that allows you to think of the work rather than yourself.

We all start off thinking about ourselves during any sort of submission process. I want people to like my work because I want them to like me as a writer. I want to be appreciated. I want to be told I am the greatest writer since Faulkner, and that a hundred years from now, people will be erecting statues and making pilgrimages to Iowa to see my childhood home. Thus, with that line of thinking, I am being rejected as a writer, rather than the piece itself. If I can separate myself from the work, then I understand it is the piece they didn’t like, not me.

Rule 1: Start thinking of a piece of writing as “your work” rather than “you.”

Once you have figured that out, realize that you don’t like every book you’ve read, but some publisher and editor thought enough of it to spend money on printing and marketing. Who are these people? Think of that for a moment. There are some markets with highly successful editors and publishers. They pay professional rates, if not more in the cases of publications like The New Yorker or Playboy. However, if you really start looking at editors for small presses and small literary magazines, you might be surprised. Often, they are writers. Perhaps they’ve had a little bit of success getting published themselves. They might have a degree in English, maybe even an MFA. Who else has been published? Who else studied English? Oh yeah, that right, me. This goes double for critique groups. Generally, your critique group is on your level.

Rule 2: Realize that most of the people who will critique your writing don’t know any more about writing than you do.

This is comforting. You are peers. They aren’t rejecting you from their ivory tower, but from the desk next to you. They don’t like it. It doesn’t mean it sucks. It just means it doesn’t work for them. That being said, they have a different perspective. Perspectives are important. They see things you don’t see, and if they can clearly articulate why they don’t like it, it can be extremely valuable to address their objections. Just because they may not know any more about writing than you do doesn’t mean they aren’t correct.

Rule 3: Realize that anyone who reads your work might have something helpful to contribute. Trying it out won’t cost you anything but time.

Take their advice, try it out, and see what happens. Look at it objectively. Would it make the work better? If the answer is yes, keep it. If no, chalk it up to difference of opinion and blow it off, unless they are willing to pay you. I’m a lot more open-minded if there is a chance of money.

I try to keep those three rules in mind any time I submit a piece for either critique or publication. By creating distance between myself and my work, realizing the editor and I aren’t that far apart, and trying out suggestions, I set myself up for a higher probability of success, while minimizing the pain of rejection.

It is all about becoming a better writer. Rejection forges good writers.

Jack Campbell, Jr. is a dark fiction writer in Lawrence, KS. His writing has appeared in various venues including Twenty 3 Magazine, Danse Macabre, and Insomnia Press. He writes about reading, writing, and life on his blog at

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