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Writing

How to Use Rejection to Make Yourself a Stronger Writer

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Nov 9, 2020 • 4 min read

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Judy Blume Teaches Writing

Whether you’re submitting stories to literary agents or simply bringing your writing to a workshop, you will experience criticism and rejection. And it’s true, rejection hurts. But if every writer that ever felt the sting of rejection decided to stop writing, the profession of writing may not even exist. “Rejection is a fact of life if you want to be a writer,” says world-class fiction writer Judy Blume. To be a successful novelist, short-story writer, poet, or essayist, you need to learn how to handle—and feel good about—rejection.

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Judy Blume Teaches WritingJudy Blume Teaches Writing

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4 Common Reasons Why Publishers Reject Writing

If you’re wondering why your writing—whether it’s your first novel or your eighth—keeps getting turned down at publishing houses, here are some of the most common reasons:

  1. The writing needs to be polished. Unpolished writing is one of the most common reasons that writing gets rejected. If you keep getting rejections, it may be time to reevaluate your craft and look for significant ways to make your best writing even better, whether that’s trimming down your descriptions or upping the punch of your metaphors.
  2. The ideas are too derivative. From middle-grade chapter books to young adult novels to adult fiction, all publishers are looking for the same thing: a book that will sell. Publishers want fresh ideas that readers will find interesting enough to purchase. If your manuscript keeps getting turned down, it may be that you need to push your plot and conflict further to find new ways to tell the story.
  3. The query letter is flawed. Query letters are the first impression that publishers will get of you and your work, so it’s vital to strike the right tone and capture the agent’s attention. If your letter has a lot of typos, comes across as arrogant, or the summary of your novel is boring, the publisher may not even touch your manuscript. Learn how to write a query letter with our comprehensive guide here.
  4. Poor formatting. A lack of proper formatting can be a death sentence for even the most promising manuscript. When querying, read the publisher’s requirements and follow them explicitly. These requirements typically include their submission guidelines for spacing, indentation, page breaks, and the number of pages or chapters you should send. (For example, if a literary agency asks for the first three chapters, don’t send the full manuscript.)

Judy Blume Details Her Personal Experience With Rejection

5 Tips for Handling Rejection

Receiving a rejection letter can be overwhelming. As a writer, it’s important not to let rejection letters impede your ability to continue producing work. Here are some practical tips for dealing with rejection so that you can continue working toward that book deal:

  1. Develop a thick skin. Every writer works to develop their writing skills—even new writers who start with raw talent. If you’ve finished an entire manuscript, you’ve probably spent months working on your writing, ideas, characters, and scenes. Why should your rejection-handling skills be any different? Learning to overcome rejection requires practice. To hone this skill, attend workshops and patiently listen when others explain what’s not working in your writing. Remind yourself that your ability to write shouldn’t determine your self-worth; instead, let yourself continue to learn and improve.
  2. Process your emotions. While rejection letters may not seem like a big deal to non-writers, it can feel like physical pain to a writer. Taking a time-out to cry after receiving the bad news is normal and can help you process negative thoughts and hurt feelings. Avoid indulging in negative self-talk, which will only make you feel worse and impede your writing.
  3. Learn from the criticism. If you continuously receive rejections or receive a lot of hard criticism in workshops, don’t ignore it. Turn the rejection letters and constructive criticism into a learning experience. Often, rejection or criticism signifies that something isn’t working in your manuscript, so you should do all you can to understand the issue and revise accordingly. If a rejection letter features a specific comment about polishing, character development, or pacing, use the comments to improve your work. In some cases of rejection, you may have sent your work to a publisher that is not the right fit for your material. If you know your manuscript is as good as you can make it, move on from the rejection and keep trying.
  4. Don’t listen to your fear of rejection. Receiving a rejection letter can be a major blow to your self-esteem. It’s natural for human beings to want to avoid similar pain in the future—but if you start trying to avoid rejection, you may stop submitting your manuscript, or worse, quit writing altogether. Don’t let the fear or pain of rejection get in the way of your writing; keep submitting and keep writing, even if you’re feeling down.
  5. Turn your rejections into fuel. “Determination is every bit as important as talent,” Judy says—so when you get rejected, let it make you determined rather than discouraged. Judy says that she had a painful experience early on in her writing career in which someone in the publishing industry told her on a phone call, “You’re a nice girl, Judy, but get out your hankie and get ready to have a good cry because you just can’t write.” But rather than let it get her down, Judy kept writing. “That really makes me feel good now,” she says, because now she’s an award-winning writer—she proved the critic wrong. So when you experience rejection, turn that hurt into fuel that you can prove the critics wrong, and use rejection to help you succeed.

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