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3 Tips for Riding the Rejection/Acceptance Roller Coaster

[1]The writing life is one never-ending roller coaster ride of rejections and acceptances, of form rejections and personal rejections, of thoughtful feedback and hurtful criticism.

One day, you’re down in the dumps. The next you’re on top of the world, and nothing can come between you and your victory.

Until the next dip in the ride.

Ever since I got back into writing short stories and submitting them to literary magazines, I’ve personally experienced the ups and downs of the writing life. With my most recent story out on submission, I’ve found the mixed messages especially difficult to deal with.

I’ve received form rejections from very small publications, which made me second-guess my ability to write. A form rejection from a tiny, nobody’s-ever-hear-of-you magazine hurts a lot more than a form rejection from a top-tier journal. If the little guys don’t like my work, does that mean it’s not very good? Should I just give up now?

On the other hand…

I’ve¬†received personal rejections from higher-tiered journals, praising some aspect of my work and encouraging me to submit more. So, a few of the more well-known magazines have said they liked my writing and wanted to see something else. I don’t get it. I thought those form rejections meant my writing wasn’t very good. Does this mean there’s hope after all?

Just when a seemingly endless string of rejections—both form and personal—started to crowd my rejection folder, and just when I was seriously considering withdrawing my work from consideration…

I’ve received a letter of acceptance from a university-affiliated, print-based journal. Expecting just another “Thanks, but no thanks,” and instead reading “We absolutely love this and want to accept it for publication,” sends me into a state of elation.¬†You mean they want to publish my story? The one that nobody else seemed to want?

Today I’m on top of the world. Somebody likes my writing. Someone wants to publish my story.

But I have to remember that although victory tastes sweet, more rejection waits just around the corner. If I want to stay in the game, I have to learn how to ride the coaster without falling off.

Here are three keys I’ve personally found to help with the ups and downs:

1. Remember that writing is subjective.

Why do some agents or editors think your writing merits only a form rejection, while others think it merits publication? Because all writing is subjective.

It depends on the reader, on the potential audience, on the market, and on a lot of other factors. Just because one person doesn’t like your work doesn’t mean nobody will like your work. Every book you classify a masterpiece, someone else considers not fit to be read. And a book you find snore-inducing probably keeps someone else awake at night.

Often, it’s not a matter of “my writing is crap,” so much as “I just haven’t found the right place for it yet.”

2. Celebrate high-point accomplishments.

The top of the roller coaster is obviously the most fun place to be. It validates all your hard work and assures you that someone enjoys your writing.

Whether your high-point be an outright acceptance or a positive personal rejection, celebrate your accomplishments along the way. If you don’t have big things to celebrate, focus on the small steps. Acknowledge how far you’ve come in your writing journey.

On the other hand, don’t get too cocky just yet. Staying humble keeps you grounded so you can focus on improving your craft.

3. Embrace low-point teachable moments.

No one likes rejection, but hitting bottom can often be the point at which you acknowledge your personal weaknesses.

If you’re getting nothing but form rejections, take a close look at your work. What are those agents or editors seeing (or not seeing) that’s turning them off? Is your story strong, but your prose weak? Are you telling the wrong story? Is there enough conflict? Show your piece to fellow writers and ask for a critique.

Look for teachable moments in the low-points of your journey, and apply them to help you better your writing.

Staying on Track

Whether you experience more ups or downs, know that every writer goes through the same emotional turmoil to some extent.

Here’s to hoping for high-highs, productive lows, and the strength to keep it all together in between!

Photo courtesy of gaelenh [2] on Flickr

About Suzannah Windsor Freeman [3]

Suzannah Windsor Freeman is a Canadian freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared in The Writer, Sou'wester, Grist, Saw Palm, Anderbo, The Best of the Sand Hill Review, and others. She is the managing editor of Compose: A Journal of Simply Good Writing and Writeitsideways.com. She lives in Ontario with her husband and four children.