My previous post on this blog discussed the role of self-compassion in the writer’s life, especially when we’re overwhelmed, blocked by inner or outer obstacles such as ill health, or experience rejection. Since then, I’ve started working as a writer for the Positive Psychology blog. My first piece has already been published on the application of ACT to group work. I have another piece written which will be published soon. Researching and writing these articles has delayed me posting here, but it’s returned me to a disciplined writer’s life. My main focus has been coaching and editing for the past few years. Now, I’m back in the saddle as a researcher and writer facing similar issues to my clients. Given my changed circumstances, I have decided to postpone the app and focus on bespoke one-to-one coaching for the time being. I’ll continue to post here about the common issues challenging my clients and my own writing process, but they’ll be snappier shares, rather than longer articles.
I promised to explore the issue of rejection in this post in more depth, so think of this as part one. I’m certainly familiar with the discomfort of having my writing rejected, and I have also rejected the writing of others when peer-reviewing for journals, reviewing book proposals for publishers, and editing for blogs. Neither side of this divide is pleasant, but it does give me a useful overview of the whole process of rejection. When you’re on the receiving end, rejection can often feel random and arbitrary.
I experienced a rejection of some fiction I’d written recently. The reviewer congratulated me on the quality of my writing but explained that ‘it didn’t grab me enough to want to take it further’. Fair enough, but what to do with that feedback? I took some time to process the rejection. I wasn’t upset. I didn’t take it personally. I even expected this response deep down. Why? I knew the beginning wasn’t sitting right with me and I just hadn’t summoned the patience to rewrite it. So, I decided to try again.
I’m now using some of the material I cut out of a previous version that I’m confident drops the reader straight into a gripping situation on the first page. It’s going to take a while to get it right, but I’m already much happier with it, and especially happy to include the writing I’d been advised to cut out by an editor of a previous version. It was well written he’d said, but not necessary. Now I see it was actually in the wrong place. I eventually stopped working with that particular editor as his advice was 100% market and sales driven, so we ran into a clash in values. Perhaps this clash in values is at the root of a lot of rejection, in one way or another. As writers, these clashes with publishers confront us with choice points. I’ve referred to choice points in earlier posts. Here’s a quick reminder.
The choice point facing me when my editor’s values clashed with mine was between reaching my goal of becoming a published writer in the near future, or choosing to adhere to the values driving my writing process. I took the latter option as integrity is the primary value driving my creativity. Different writers will have different values. For some, commercial success will be all important and there is nothing wrong with that. Nothing at all! However, in my case, compromising to reach a cherished goal was one thing, but ditching the values driving my writing process was not an option. I’ve discussed the difference between values and goals in previous posts, but here’s a quick reminder.
In short, if I’d prioritised my goals over my values, I would have been rejecting myself to try and capture a market. Out of self-compassion and a longer-term view I chose in favour of my values.
This type of rejection experience is specific to fiction writing. A publisher’s or agent’s acceptance and rejection of fiction is somewhat subjective, based on taste, and of course, markets. If you are suffering a growing pile of rejections, then be assured you’re in great company. One of my favourite writers, Kurt Vonnegut, received the following.
“Dear Mr. Vonnegut, We have been carrying out our usual summer house-cleaning of the manuscripts on our anxious bench and in the file, and among them I find the three papers which you have shown me as samples of your work. I am sincerely sorry that no one of them seems to us well adapted for our purpose. Both the account of the bombing of Dresden and your article, “What’s a Fair Price for Golden Eggs?” have drawn commendation although neither one is quite compelling enough for final acceptance. Our staff continues fully manned so I cannot hold out the hope of an editorial assignment, but I shall be glad to know that you have found a promising opening elsewhere. Faithfully yours, Edward Weeks.”
You can read more of the harshest rejection letters received by great writers here.
These days, one easy way to avoid rejection is self-publishing, but then marketing becomes the author’s responsibility. New writers with no platform will find marketing their work very difficult without a great of time and money to invest. I’ll discuss this option in another post. However, when academic writing is rejected, the considerations are very different. I’ve spent many years editing academic writing for publication. I’ve also participated in the peer-review process. My next post in this series on rejection will discuss this process in detail, and how academic writers can maximise their chances of publication. Until then, remember rejection provides you with an opportunity to revamp, re-evaluate, and improve your writing. It may even be setting you on course for something far better than you imagined.