One of the top ten fears in the world is the fear of rejection.
For writers, especially new writers, it’s probably in the top two. Why? Because we have to face it head on. There’s no way to avoid it. It’s an integral part of what we do. I’m not talking about rejections from agents and/or publishers, although that’s going to happen if you are trying to break into the traditional publishing market.
Today, I’m talking about the rejections we get from readers.
Through our blood, sweat, and tears, we take an idea and craft it out of the void into something tangible, something dear to us. Then we release it to the world for anyone and everyone to read. The very nature of this effort produces rejections. Some people just don’t get it. Some people are mean spirited. Some people just don’t like what we write.
And there’s nothing we can do about it.
Writing and reading are very subjective. There is no way we can please everyone. Nor should we.
I’ll say it again. Nor should we.
The best writing polarizes people because it reveals truth or makes a statement. There will be those who get it, who love it, who are moved by it. At the same time there will be those who hate it, who revile it, who want to bury it. There are many reasons for these reactions, but they are inevitable.
So, how do we deal with this? How do we prepare ourselves to boldly release our work to the world and keep our heads held high despite the inevitable rejections we will receive?
First, accept that rejections and negative feedback will come. Period.
Second, and this is the hard part, take feedback professionally, not personally. Writing is intensely personal, as is reading.
Dealing with feedback successfully is not.
Feedback is an opportunity to identify areas for improvement as much as it is a confirmation of existing strengths. Look beyond the “I liked it” or “This is hog vomit” for the WHY. We love to hear people say, “That was awesome!” It’s an ego boost, but it’s just as useless as someone saying, “That was the worst piece of trash I’ve ever read.” Both responses are purely subjective. We can’t work with that. All we can do is smile and say, “Thanks for the feedback.”
It’s when they say WHY that we’ve hit pay dirt.
If someone dislikes a story because my craft was sub-standard, or my descriptions were bland and uninspiring, well maybe they’ve just identified a blind spot where I can improve. On the other hand, if someone says my action sequences were so powerful they couldn’t put the book down, or if a particular scene drove them to tears; wonderful – I’ve confirmed an existing strength I can leverage in the future.
The why of feedback may provide nuggets of truth.
Some people still just don’t get it, or they’re just mean-spirited. Take all feedback with a big grain of salt. Judge it on its merits and either learn from it or set it aside.
In the end, you’re the judge that really matters.
This is hard to do, but it’s as necessary a skill as learning to develop powerful characters, craft a valid story arc, or write good dialogue. If you don’t, you can be crushed by negative feedback.
And remember, you are writing because you love to write. You hope other people will enjoy your work, but their reactions do not define you. Keep that in mind, and it will help shield you from the negative criticism that might otherwise beat you down and intimidate you into giving up your writing.
How have you overcome the fear of rejection?
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Well put, Frank. I have dealt with it in pretty much the manner you suggest. Also, the more feedback I get–both positive and negative–the better I can deal with it and put it into the proper perspective.
It’s funny how some of us shy away from rejection and so hold back our writing. I was the opposite in many ways. In school, I was always the first one to volunteer to read my short story aloud to the class, both in high school and college. I had an audience, after all. To me, the reward wasn’t who “liked” or didn’t like the story, but the reaction from classmates and instructor. Some would roll their eyes (teacher), others would mutter under their breath, and some would say, “Cool!”. It didn’t matter. Getting a reaction became my incentive.
With print submissions, I always devoured rejection notes, especially if the editor comment specifically on weaknesses in the story or craft. It was always worth it.
As hard as facing rejection can be, the right perspective can take much of the fear out of the equation and ALL feedback becomes good feedback.
Initially, I thought I might not handle rejection well and I spent a lot of time psyching myself up in preparation but (perhaps because of this) it has never been as bad as I expected. I try to keep in mind that not everyone is going to like what I write. Some people will hate my writing and some, as you say, just won’t get it. Both are fine and I’m surprised at how okay I am with that.
I consider myself a failure unless someone is outraged by what I say. Whenever someone says something important, people are going to disagree. If everyone likes what I’m doing, then I know it’s not good enough. It’s those critical issues, the ones that affect us most deeply, that polarize us. If I strike a nerve, then I know that what I’m doing is worthwhile. When it comes to that kind of rejection, I simply harden my grin and enter the fray.
However, if someone simply thinks I’m a lousy writer, then I just get sad, haha.
At first, the rejections were my pins of sacrifice, my proof that I was doing what it takes and going through the necessary hard-knocks to reach my goals. Now, they tend to be just more monotonous and discouraging. I’m not sure what has caused the shift. I’m working on getting back my previous attitude and looking at them, as has been talked about, as my opportunities for improvement.