Why We’re So Scared of Being Told ‘No’

Why does rejection hurt so much?


It’s the word we fear. The word that haunts us, that reminds us we, in some capacity, did not succeed.

Some of us have heard it a thousand times.

Others may be hearing it for the first time.

A veteran writer is no stranger to the term. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t affected deeply by it.

A newcomer may struggle even more to wrap their heads around the fact that they took the time to write something, and it all feels meaningless now.

For many, the possibility alone of rejection in any form is enough to never bother trying.

That breaks my heart.

As someone whose writing has been rejected countless times — hello, welcome to publishing, may I take your tears? — I know it hurts. I legitimately sat on my bathroom floor and cried for 20 minutes last week because a publication said “nah.” It’s completely normal to feel sad/disappointed/discouraged.

But you have to realize that this is something you sign up for when you decide to try getting published in any capacity. There will be silence. And robotic rejection templates. And people online who just refuse to accept that you’ve worked hard on something and did your best.

That doesn’t make it any less painful. But it also doesn’t mean you have to stop trying, or refrain from trying at all. You just have to learn to let rejection run its course through you and then move on.

Yes, you can grieve.

But the grieving period does have to end, and you do have to move on.

Why is this so much easier said than done for many aspiring writers? The reasons vary.

Some are never taught that “failure” is a normal part of real life.

Some have self-esteem issues that make it nearly impossible to separate their worth from their work.

Others just refuse to accept that not all hard work will earn them the results they want — instantly or ever.

The hardest part about rejection for me, personally, is feeling like I overestimated my abilities or qualifications, even if this has nothing to do with the reason another person got an opportunity instead of me.

Everyone’s reasons are different. But the problem isn’t that you feel bad about yourself for receiving an answer you didn’t want. It’s what you do in the aftermath that matters.

And if you respond to every “no” by threatening to quit, boycott a publication or company, or some other exaggerated reaction, you have some growing up to do.

And by that, I mean it’s time to accept that just because one person or group of people rejected something you wrote doesn’t mean the world is going to implode.

When I received the email that brought me to tears, I’ll admit, I had a good, long cry. But then I got up off the floor, went back to my computer, thanked the publication for the opportunity, and went back to writing.

And that’s why I’m, eh, technically, a published author. Because even though rejection is awful, I keep writing anyway. And so can you.

Trying to deal with a recent rejection? These posts might help.

7 Steps to Take After Your Writing Gets Rejected

Everything You Learn Each Time Your Writing Gets Rejected

Editor's Perspective: This Is Why You Were Rejected

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

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3 thoughts on “Why We’re So Scared of Being Told ‘No’

  1. For me one of the greatest challenges is not knowing how close or far I am from acceptance. One works at writing, but even though I hope and suspect I’m improving, there’s usually no hint of a changing response in the rejection. Until we are accepted, it can often feel like nothing’s changing, even though we as writers are learning and improving.

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