Elephant in the Room

It’s time to address an elephant in the room. A couple years ago, I received the results from a writing contest where I submitted the manuscript of my first novel. I didn’t win. Didn’t even come close to being considered. And despite the repeated assurances that the loss doesn’t define the quality of my work or that I won’t give up on my dreams, it still hurts.

But this isn’t a message where I bemoan my losses. I want to talk about coming to terms with that danger of all creative professions.


A common occurrence in the world of writing, especially for fresh-faced newbies, is rejection. And no matter what, it hurts. We put so much work and passion into everything we write, so much blood, sweat, tears, time, stress, and hope into each word we set down. It’s that hope which is so important to us, and when those hopes are dashed, even for just a moment, it can feel like heartbreak, the death of a loved one, the end of the world.

If you are a sensitive soul like me, it can cut right to your heart.

Rejection happens often in business, and writing is a business as well as an art and a craft. So in your careers, there will be rejection of all kinds. It can be overwhelming. And when your heart breaks when you see your pride and joy dismissed, it can feel very difficult to get back into being a writer. It was for me. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue writing anymore.

The advice many give is to dive immediately back into the business, push for the next contest, publisher, agent, venue, etc.

I want to tell you it’s okay to stop and breathe. Understand your emotional cues. Some are better at compartmentalizing than others. I’m reactionary. I feel first, then think. After rejection, I have to step away from what I’m working on. So I can grieve. Then I can allow my rational brain to take over and settle everything.

The rejection doesn’t define my work, and I refuse to give up.

If your work is rejected and you find it hurts especially strongly, don’t force yourself to work on the next step. Take a step back. Breathe. Grieve for the loss. Surround yourselves with loved ones. Don’t write. Work through your emotions. By taking that time to yourself, you’ll be able to return to your work with a clearer head. Analyze your work. Is there something you can do to improve its presentation? Be objective.

By taking that moment to breathe and process, you’re less likely to make rash decisions. You’ll be more objective and clear-sighted with the direction you want to take. And you just might learn something about yourself in the process.

Lots of people like to focus on the positive side of writing and publishing, to be encouraging to those just starting to dip their toes into our world. Me included. Still, the fear of rejection, that elephant in the room, looms over many a young writer’s head.

I want to say it’s okay to feel hurt when it happens. It’s okay to step back and evaluate how you feel and what you do. It’s okay to not dive into the next project immediately. It’s more than okay to try and understand yourself as an emotional being and a creative person.

Because it’s wonderful to return to writing, ready to tackle the next hurdle in this career.

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