Life is filled with disappointments – the breakup of a relationship, not getting that coveted job or promotion, a cancelled vacation. But I’ve always believed that it’s how we respond to those disappointments that show who we are.
Suffering through one disappointment is bad enough. But a lifetime of disappointments (and rejections from editors) can make us feel like giving up. Fortunately, most of us don’t. Can you imagine if Stephen King or Toni Morrison had given up writing after being rejected?
Over time, those disappointments can serve an important purpose by building up a hard shell around us, so future rejections can bounce off. As Polly Campbell writes over at the Writing Cooperative, resilient writers are also among the most successful.” They learn to bounce back from setbacks and keep going despite the pain of rejection. And as they keep working, they are learning their craft and improving their writing.
“Resilience doesn’t prevent hardship or adversity, but it does help us to reframe the difficulties and move through them faster. With resilience, we become more adaptive, creative and flexible. We are less stressed, more capable. This helps us keep writing despite the setbacks,” Campbell says.
Resilience is an important behavior that writers need to develop. But it takes time. Some of us are naturally better at it than others. But like any other behavior and skill set, it needs to be developed, honed and fine-tuned. Unfortunately, that means going through some rough stretches in our writing careers and opening ourselves to disappointment – over and over again.
But successful authors says there are ways to strengthen our inner resilience beyond the school of hard knocks.
Stay optimistic. It may be difficult to maintain a positive mindset when your work is constantly being rejected or criticized. The most resilient writers are able to do that. Campbell says optimism can motivate behaviors which foster improvement or better outcomes. That means keeping our eye on the prize and not letting it out of our sight. Believing in the potential of your latest work-in-progress may be enough to keep going.
Not everyone will “get” your story. Whether writing science fiction, historical romance or non-fiction, recognize that not everyone will “Get” your story. They may not understand the plot, the characters or some of the action that takes place. That’s okay. There are other audiences what will understand it and believe in it. The most important person who needs to “get” the story is you. If you lose faith in what you’re doing, then you’ve lost the fight. Keep believing in the story, and others will get behind it too.
Celebrate the rejections. As contradictory as that may sound, it actually makes sense. Science fiction author Alex Woolf suggests rewarding ourselves every time we receive a rejection. It’s a way of honoring our efforts. “Rejections are milestones showing you’re on your way to a win,” Woolf says. “Rejections show you are working hard to achieve your goals. The more stories you submit, the more you’ll be rejected, but it also raises the chances to get an acceptance.” One idea is to drop a dime (or a quarter) into a jar each time you receive a rejection notice. Over time, you will have built up a supply of coins that you can take to the bank, or reward yourself with a special treat.
Look for positive nuggets in the feedback. Woolf says we’re programmed to focus on negative comments to the point that we overlook the positive ones. After the dust has settled and you’ve regained your composure, go back and re-read the rejection letter again. Did the editor make any positive comments? Did they make any suggestions for improving it, or invite you to re-submit something else? If so, take heart. Focus on the positive news, implement their suggestions, then be sure to respond with a kind thank-you to the editor.
Remind yourself of your ‘why’. Several weeks ago, I challenged myself to list forty reasons why I write. (I actually came up with fifty, but who’s counting.) If you feel tempted to give up on writing, go back to your why. When we’re disappointed and feeling hurt by repeated rejection, it can be tempting to give up on your craft. But when you remember why you’re doing this and why you love to tell stories, it may be enough to keep going. When you keep your ‘why’ in perspective, you’ll easily bounce back from setbacks.
Whether you focus on positive feedback, celebrate rejections or remind yourself of your ‘why’ of writing, you’ll develop stronger mental capacity to deal with setbacks on your writing journey. The most resilient writers are the most successful. Don’t let rejection and disappointment deter you from your writing goals.
Happy New Year! I’m pleased to announce the debut of my white paper “Find Motivation to Start Writing — and Keep Writing” which you can find on my website. Also check out the new weekly writing prompt in the sidebar.
“Why do I write?”
Have you ever stopped to ask yourself that question? It’s important to think about the ‘why’ of your writing every so often. Whenever you feel lost in your writing journey, go back to your ‘why.’ It will reconnect you to your mission and set you back on your path.
Recently I came across a new writing challenge: Jot down 40 responses to that very question – “Why do I write?” When you stop to consider how many reasons you have for writing, you will never feel lost.
I did the challenge too, and I was able to do it in one sitting. Then after letting it sit for a day, I came back to it, and added a few more. Not only did I hit the magic number of 40, I surpassed it — by a good 10 items.
So grab a pen and paper, and find a quiet place to contemplate this question. Ask yourself, “Why do I write?” It might help to set it up as a prompt, such as “I write because…”
Then start filling in the blank. Bonus points if you can do this all in one sitting.
Give yourself a day or so to set the list aside before reviewing it. You might tweak it here and there, and maybe you’ll notice that you have a duplicate answer. You might even think of one or two more responses.
When you’re done, put the list somewhere where you can see it every day – a bathroom mirror, by your work space, the refrigerator or wherever. If you want, share it on social media too. Invite others in your circle to participate in the challenge.
So how did I do with this challenge? Here’s what I came up with. “I write because…”
1. I love working with words. 2. I enjoy story telling. 3. My bosses and teachers always complimented me on my writing. 4. I like sharing positive, uplifting messages to my readers. 5. I like escaping into other worlds I create. 6. I express myself better in writing that I do verbally. 7. I’ve always enjoyed reading, so it only made sense that I would write too. The more I read, the more I want to write. 8. I come from a family of teachers, so I use my writing to teach and motivate others. 9. I was inspired to write by some of my favorite authors, especially the late Mary Higgins Clark. 10. I enjoy using my imagination. 11. I like developing different characters, especially strong female protagonists. 12. I like the challenge of experimenting with different genres. 13. I like the challenge of creating different plots that people may not have seen before. 14. It helps me release my negative emotions, like anger and grief. 15. It helps me document my life experiences 16. It helps me heal from old and new wounds 17. Writing relaxes me. 18. I want to leave a lasting legacy of my existence. 19. I like seeing my work published. 20. Writing has no age limit. I can write well into my 80s and 90s if I want to. 21. I tend to live inside my own head so I might as well make good use of the space there. J 22. I write to make people happy, because I like to see them laugh and smile at my stories. 23. I write because I have more story ideas than I know what to do with. 24. Writing gives me the freedom to choose what to write about. There are no limits to subject matter. 25. Writing helps me describe and make sense of the dreams I have during the night. 26. Writing is portable. I can write anywhere and at any time. All I need is a pen and paper. 27. Writing is a great hobby to have. 28. Writing is a great career to have too. 29. I write because my soul calls me to do so. 30. I write because I like getting a byline. 31. I write because it’s an extension of my identity. It’s who I am. 32. I write because I feel I’m making a valuable contribution to society. 33. I write because it makes me feel whole and authentic. 34. I write because it makes me forget what is happening in the outside world. 35. I write because I like to entertain myself. 36. I sometimes use writing to create an alter ego and pretend to be someone I’m not. 37. I like to dream up whole new worlds (world building). 38. I write to set an example for young, aspiring writers. 39. The more I write, the better my skills become. 40. I can’t imagine doing anything else.
Bonus answers: 41. I write so I can keep my cat company while he sleeps on my desk. J 42. I write because I believe it’s a misunderstood and underutilized skill in the world (especially in the workplace.) 43. I like getting positive feedback about my work. 44. I write because it forces me away from the refrigerator so I’m not constantly snacking. 45. I write because I can’t think of any other way to earn a living 46. I write to get myself out of boredom. 47. Writing gives me a break from watching TV and forces me to turn it off during the day. 48. Writing makes me feel productive. 49. I like the solitary nature of writing. 50. It makes me feel at peace with myself and gives my life meaning and purpose.