I don’t think there is a writer in this world who particularly enjoys being rejected.
There are some who seek it out, who make it a point to accumulate as many rejections as possible to both increase their chances of success and prove to themselves that “failure” is a necessary part of the journey.
But we all secretly wish it didn’t have to happen — and that it didn’t happen to so many of us in such a variety of unappealing ways.
Yes — there are many, many kinds of rejection writers can face. The most common is the “thank you for your submission, but …” email (or something of that type). About just as common, but so much more painful: The “non-response.” You know the one. You’re probably still waiting for that email reply that will, sadly, never come, no matter how tightly you might hang onto your last centimeter of hope.
There’s another type of rejection we don’t talk about enough, though. It doesn’t come from a publisher or an agent or an editor. It might, or might not, come from someone you know. And it is such a frustratingly passive form of rejection that it’s almost impossible not to react negatively to.
It’s the rejection that comes from readers — or rather, a lack thereof.
It does not feel good when people do not read what you publish. At all.
Even I still experience this pain quite regularly and I’m a “professional.”
How do I deal? I get a little sad. I get a little mad. But then … then, I somehow just keep writing anyway.
When you put in the hours of work, when you pour your heart and soul into something only you could have created, when you want nothing more than your effort to mean something, and it doesn’t pay off the way you hoped it would — is that really all it takes to knock you down? To darken your spirit? To snuff out your hope?
Maybe it is. And there is nothing wrong with that. Because the one thing all writers have in common besides the fact that they all write is that we are all human. We are not invincible. Even the most optimistic of the group get discouraged. We all fall down, we all mess up, we all set our expectations higher than we should — even though we have been told not to do this, we do it anyway — and we are forced to watch our efforts fall flat in comparison to our imagined outcomes.
But this does not mean our hope is dead, that we can never put faith in ourselves ever again. It just means we have endured the consequences of trying. And I don’t know about you, but I would much rather feel down on myself because I tried something that did not work than sink into a stretch of self-loathing because I failed to try anything at all.
Trying is how we learn. Learning is how we grow. So much writing advice out there in the world is focused on how to do everything right the first time. Well guess what? That’s just not realistic. You’re going to mess up. You’re going to do things wrong. Waiting for those numbers to go up and not seeing those results does not mean you are a failure, it means you tried something, and it did not work, and next time, you can — you should — try something else.
The problem with the “rewrite until it’s perfect” mentality is that instead of helping you get better and improve your writing, it very often hinders your progress in the end. When you focus on fixing something that might not even be broken — maybe for days, possibly for weeks, sometimes even for months or years — you learn only one thing: That you are terrified of hitting that publish button, that you are scared of people’s reactions. Most of all, you are mortified that no one will read it at all.
But it’s those moments those analytics and engagements don’t tick upward that we are forced to ask ourselves the hard questions, the questions we might never ask if we had kept that article to ourselves. Was my specific piece of work a well-written, thoroughly researched, high-quality article that just landed in front of the wrong audience? At the wrong time? Was it too unrelatable? Is this a mistake I could avoid in the future?
Or is it something deeper — that it wasn’t a good headline, or your social media promotion failed, or — it’s always a real possibility — it wasn’t a good article after all, it wasn’t well-constructed, people stopped reading after the excerpt and never got around to clicking?
How do you know what the answer is, if no one tells you what went wrong? The truth is, you don’t. You might never know. Most readers, unless there is something obviously wrong (which there usually isn’t), will not bother giving you helpful feedback. Most readers probably are not skilled editors who would have the experience to give you the proper feedback anyway, so maybe not getting any comments isn’t the worst problem to have? (Maybe.)
The hardest thing in all this is that often the only “solution” to a poor performing article is to just keep writing more articles, trying different little things here and there, until you finally figure out what works for your specific audience and what doesn’t.
There are tools to help with more in-depth analyses, of course — you can dig as deep into Google Analytics data as you see fit. But the reality for most writers is that this is not a problem with a simple solution. And the worst thing you can do in response — the very thing so many writers end up doing — is stop trying.
I know it’s hard to find the motivation to keep going when it feels like nothing you are doing is making any difference. Trust me. At my day job, it’s standard that about 80 percent of the headlines I try out will never take off in a major, significant way. Guess what? Writing headlines is part of my job. I can’t just stop writing headlines when a bunch of them in a row don’t perform well. I have no choice but to continue writing headlines, applying what I learn as I go, and celebrate when the occasional hit does happen.
That’s how you have to train yourself to treat your work. You just have to keep at it consistently no matter how much you would rather give up and start a new life in a new profession where failure is less prevalent (does something like that even exist?). They don’t call it “the grind” for nothing. It’s not always fun. It gets discouraging. It can start to feel like you’re banging your head against a wall repeatedly, silently begging people to give you a chance.
Those who succeed in writing do so because they keep writing until their hard work pays off, even in very small ways.
Sure, they take moments to breathe. They have to talk themselves off ledges, they have to remind themselves of their worth. But they take time to figure out what is working and what isn’t. They pay attention. They learn from their errors, they are in a constant state of change. They adapt. They grow.
And that’s how success happens. By doing, and by growing. By never stopping, at least not forever.
Rejection, in any form, is hard. It might just be the hardest thing you will ever have to deal with as a writer.
So deal with it. Embrace every fall, every mistake, every disappointment.
Because someday, all of these things will be worth it. Somehow, some way. They always, always are.
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.