How to maintain motivation when you are rejected.

Rejection seemed to be part of the process of becoming a writer for me. Rejection is harder to deal with after fifteen years of trying to learn the craft, an MFA, and multiple publications. It’s hard because each piece is a brand-new offering to the world, no matter how much experience I have; and it’s hard because my identity is even more wrapped up in my success as a writer than it ever was because I’ve been doing it for so long I am learning that the success of the work is not the same as my creative practice, and that dealing with rejection is a matter of re-centering my values around my creative practice rather than the success of the work.

My art is not what I am. Here are some thoughts I hope I can come back to when I feel despairing, and help other people along the way.

This piece is not going to be published at this particular time with the publishing company that rejected it. That is it. It doesn’t mean that it’s not good. It doesn’t mean that the editor didn’t like it. After I had a piece rejected, the editor e-mailed me out of the blue, saying he had never stopped thinking about it, and that I should submit it to the magazine and the new editor. They took it after I did that. I was given some time and distance from the story so that I could be more open to edits, and it was amazing to hear that someone had thought about my work for a long time.

It is an expression of me. We wouldn’t need therapists or election campaigns if an entire person could be summed up in a five-page creative essay. My work is more than just a piece of me because I write because I am always changing, learning, and have new things to say and express. It is a representation of that piece of me. Other people’s rejection of my work is not a rejection of me as a person. Not every other person will like me. That is impossible and unwanted. Who wants everyone to like them so much that they like water? I would be invisible.

If the piece is rejected, like I have 100 rejection letters in my hand, and it’s time to throw in the towel, I learned something. I can either work on something new or rewrite something. It isn’t a judgement of my ability or me as a human being. It is a judgement of that piece.

Sometimes a rejection can lead to a better situation later. If the piece is already published, it cannot be published somewhere else with more readers. Success may be the result of a rejection.

Getting work accepted by a publisher or magazine is a matter of skill, but on top of that it is a matter of timing and the opinions of other people, neither of which I can control. It’s like judging my worth as a human being based on where the leaf I threw into the water lands on the shore. I don’t know why my metaphors are water metaphors. Publishing is not doing anything.

I have to keep an eye on what I can control and measure my abilities by that. Not if the intern at the publishing house fell asleep trying to read my memoir on the E train. She stayed up way too late last night and hates memoir and it has nothing to do with my work.

I have the ability to control output. I can control Deliberate practice. I want to measure my success by whether I produce, by my own judgement of what I produce, and by whether or not I am pushing myself to overcome my personal weaknesses. Plot is one of my weaknesses. Did I write today? Did I watch or read the plot of something this week? Is my ability to create the plot bones of my work improving?

Hemingway advised writers to stop work for the day only when they know what they are going to write tomorrow, and I have begun to submit my finished pieces for publishing only when I have started a new piece. It makes me feel better to have a new work to invest in and still meet output goals. It is a way to move forward and mitigate rejection. Don’t submit until there is a new work going.

I wanted to get 100 rejections this year. I got this idea from a friend who is a great writer and has two books out. This is a goal of 100 submissions, but it incorporates rejection into the fabric of the idea so that you aren’t secretly hoping for 100 acceptances. The judge is not publishing outcomes.

The key to why I think the method is a good one is that it is a goal whose metric is the writer’s effort, rather than the subjective decision of an editor. Aiming for 100 rejections means deliberately submitting, accepting rejection as a likely outcome, and committing to doing it for a long time. Success is measured by effort rather than outcomes. Measuring success by one’s own efforts means that success is always possible, and it makes a writer so much less likely to give up.