Since I’ve started submitting to literary journals, writing contests, and flash fiction websites, I’ve developed a greater appreciation for what rejection means. And, more importantly, what it doesn’t mean.
In this post I’ll demonstrate how I’ve used reframing to change how I think about rejections as a writer. I’ll also provide some tips that might be useful in your writing journey for dealing with rejections.
Trained in psychology, I often fall back on what I’ve learned about how we think, feel, and behave to make my life better. One technique I’ve been using a lot lately is cognitive reframing (also called cognitive restructuring or just reframing).
Reframing is the process of changing our negative thoughts about who we are, what we do, or what has happened to us into positive, constructive thoughts. This doesn’t mean we ignore the bad things in our life, but we work to control our reaction to them and consider how we can move forward by changing our thoughts. This technique is often used in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) but can be used by anyone for any negative thoughts they have. I’ll demonstrate now how I’ve used reframing to deal with my own fear of failure and rejections.
Fear of failure
One of the scariest things about submitting a story is the fear of failure. You think everyone will finally realize you suck, all of your stories suck, you shouldn’t even call yourself a writer, and other thoughts that lead to a downward spiral before and after you hit that Submit button. Though in the moment I might believe all of these, typing them out or writing them down makes me realize how ridiculous these all sound. These are blatant overgeneralizations and illogical interpretations of the situation. But they all come from my fear of failing, not being good enough, my best not being good enough.
This lead me to a big discovery over the last few weeks about rejections – you have to take a step back from your work and think of it as being something separate from yourself.
Your story isn’t you!
I’ll repeat that – Your story isn’t you! Yes, your voice, and maybe even your memories, personality, and thought processes, are evident in a story, but that still isn’t YOU – the person that created that work. If we can separate ourselves from the work we put out into the world, it is much easier to deal with the rejections. (More on this in a minute.)
My rejection story
My story, “The Summer Before,” started as a submission for a writing contest. However, I didn’t win; I was rejected. I really loved my piece, like we all do of course since it is often hard to be impartial when you put so much of yourself into your work.
At first I took this rejection of my story to be a reflection on me as a writer. Thoughts swirled around and bubbled to the surface – “Maybe I’m not a talented writer,” “Maybe I don’t have what it takes,” and “Maybe my stories aren’t as moving or interesting to others as they are to me.”
I caught myself going down that familiar spiral. I stopped and considered how I could reframe this rejection –
I put myself out there. Yes, I got rejected. Yes, my feelings were hurt. But I have to have some skin in the game if I want to have any chance of winning.
I told myself to put on my big adult pants and “buck up, buttercup.” (Okay, I didn’t really say that but it would have been perfect in that moment.)
I put another tickmark on my rejections spreadsheet, which is another example of how I’ve reframed my view of rejections. Then I set to work finding somewhere else to submit my story. I revised the story, mostly because I had to go from 53 words to 50 words, and then submitted it to fiftywordstories.com.
Within days I was told my story would be published on their website. (Read it here – “The Summer Before“).
I was ecstatic!!! I poured a glass of champagne, I tweeted and posted to my social media feeds, I told my writing group. I smiled from ear to ear for at least 10 minutes straight while I stared at my story posted on their website. I checked it every hour to read comments or see the number of likes.
This was a big deal because it was the first time I’ve been published. I’ve submitted plenty of stories, 95% of which I still haven’t heard back, but this was my first official acceptance.
Then I felt myself slipping and part of me felt the need to justify why I was published – “It is only a flash fiction website, not a prestigious literary journal,” or “It is only a 50 word story.”
Then my reframing started to kick in and help me out:
- Did it matter that this was not a prestigious literary journal? No, it doesn’t matter where the story was published or who published it. I was being published along with other talented writers on a website dedicated to sharing flash fiction stories with the world.
- Isn’t just being published what I wanted? Yes, it was. Now my family and friends could read my work online (other than on this blog), and I could start to make connections with other writers. My work was now out there for more people to read.
- Does it matter that it was only a 50 word story? No. Besides, writing a good 50 word story is an amazing accomplishment in its own right. If I can connect with someone or move them with so few words, I’m patting myself on the back because I’ve really done something amazing!
So what started off as a rejection turned out to be my first publication. What began as a trigger to thinking I was a crappy writer and will never get published, ended up being an opportunity to get accepted and published elsewhere. We’ve all heard it before – “When one door closes, another door opens.”
Overall, this was a huge win for me and now that I’ve recognized my thought patterns and what I can do to change them, I will continue to use reframing whenever these pesky negative thoughts start to surface.
Tips for reframing rejection
Consider what comes to mind when you get a rejection:
- What thoughts or emotions bubble up to the surface? Write them down. How does reading them make you feel? Do they instantly seem irrational or overly emotional?
- How do you currently deal with these thoughts? Do you ignore them, reframe them, ruminate on them?
- If you don’t currently use reframing, how could you reframe each of the thoughts you wrote before into a more positive, constructive thought?
Next time you get a rejection, consider this as part of your reframing:
- You are not your work!!! Your value as a person or a writer is not based on whether someone rejected (or loved) your story. This separation is key to not taking rejections personally or allowing them to destroy your passion and motivation for writing.
- Your story will be right for someone. Your story might not have been right for that person/editor/publication but that doesn’t mean it isn’t right for someone else, everyone else, your mom, or one person waiting in the abyss for your story to reach them. As they say, “Different strokes for different folks.” You don’t like all stories so why should you expect the person who read your story to like every story they read, including your’s?
- Consider revising. Do you need to make any changes to the story or do you still love it the way it is? Edit or not, but make a decision as to what you think of the story now. Read it aloud, read any feedback the editors or readers gave you, and plan what you want to do with it. Either schedule a time to revise it in the future or edit it immediately so you can resubmit it somewhere else.
- Submit it somewhere else. Whether you edited the story or not, don’t let your “baby” sleep on the couch too long or it will get too comfortable there and will never see the light of day again. Keep your momentum going, take action, submit!
- Reframe how you view your story. (Stick with me here as I use my “baby” metaphor.) Think of your story as your “baby.” It isn’t you, but it comes from you. You develop it, give it love and attention, and then you send it out the door on an adventure – to college, Wonderland, Mordor, cyberspace. It doesn’t matter, but when your “baby” comes back home, pay attention to what it tells you about its adventure:
- Did your “baby” just not fit in? (Maybe it wasn’t the right publication; try another one.)
- Was your “baby” not ready for that adventure? (Maybe you need to make some revisions and submit somewhere else.)
- Did your “baby” have fun but wants to try a different adventure? (Maybe the editors or readers liked the story but it wasn’t for them, or it doesn’t fit what they are looking for right now. Try somewhere else.)
- Learn from the process. The more rejections you get, the more opportunities you have to learn from this process – for you to get used to the fact your “baby” is going on all these scary, exciting adventures and getting judged out in the world. But one day your “baby” will come back to you bursting with joy to tell you how well you prepared it for the world and someone (or many someones) loves your “baby” just as much as you do.
For more tips on reframing or cognitive restructuring, I think this handout is a great resource.
I hope you’ve found these tips useful or my experience can help you deal with those inevitable rejections. I know this has definitely helped me not get pulled down with the weight rejections can have if we give it to them.
How have you dealt with rejection? I would love to hear your thoughts on the topic so feel free to comment below and let me know how you deal with rejections.
Until next time, welcome your “babies” back home with love and acceptance, then kick them back out the door for their next adventure! (Okay, I’ve beat that metaphor into the ground now so I’ll stop 😉
Busy getting rejected,
P.S. – I’ll be writing in the future about submissions and rejections in relation to goals and tracking, so stay tuned!