“Why Can’t Anyone See How Amazing I Am?” — Dealing With Rejection and (Literary) Loss.

One of the most difficult tasks an aspiring author, essayist, or poet undertakes is to bear the burden of rejection — or worse, the pain of being ignored or overlooked. You thought you were doing so well, or at least well enough to deserve consideration. But instead the world moves on without you and without a backward glance. (Harsh.)

 In a rejection, there is at least an interaction, someone personally engaging with the art and the artist. But when there is only silence there is no ground to stand on to help you get your bearings. You feel rejected as unworthy of notice. Did you miss something? Did an email slip through unread? Did you fail to meet submission guidelines? Were the judges biased against you? Maybe your work just stinks.

 You essentially have two choices in such circumstances:

  1. Wallow in despair and self-loathing until you give up and quit.
  2. Build from the experience.

The Seven Stages of Grief:

The seven stages of grief are a popular model for explaining our responses to the experience of loss. These stages are typically applied to circumstances such as a loved one’s death, but any strongly felt disappointment or failure, such as having a beloved project fail to be accepted, can trigger most or all of them. The seven stages include:

  1. Shock and denial. A paralyzing state of disbelief and instinctive rejection of reality.
  2. Pain and guilt. Initial, and immediate, discomfort and emotional pain. Self-pity or criticism may occur, and any collateral inconvenience given to others seemingly becomes magnified.
  3. Anger and bargaining. Building on prior denials, and seeking to alleviate the pain, we may lash out, rationalize our failures, shift blame onto others, and make psychological “deals” with Fate or God for better outcomes in the future.
  4. Depression. This can be a time of inactivity and avoidance of considering the loss, but may also be a time of reflection and assimilation of the lessons of the loss.
  5. The upward turn. This is a calm after earlier futile responses subside. Hope begins to dawn.
  6. Reconstruction and working through. The stage of beginning again, wiser this time.
  7. Acceptance and hope. The integration of new truths and a sense of future possibility.

After having a writing submission rejected, either personally or via a lack of response, an author could therefore experience these types of responses:

  1. Shock and denial: “There must be some mistake. That was the best thing I’ve ever written.” or “It must have been lost in the mail, or I would have heard back by now.”
  2. Pain and guilt: “I stink as a writer. Everything I write is garbage. I’m worthless; all I’ve done is wasted my editor’s and beta readers’ time. I could have done so many other more worthwhile things instead of being so stupid as to think I could be a writer.”
  3. Anger and bargaining: “Why can’t anyone see how amazing I am? Those judges wouldn’t recognize good poetry if it slapped them upside the head!”, “Are you kidding me? That story won the contest?”, “It’s because I’m not (insert demographic) that I can’t catch a break.”, “If only I was better looking or cooler or a smoother communicator, people would pay more attention to me.” or, “If I write trash like everyone else, maybe I can get my foot in the door.”
  4. Depression: “Who am I kidding? I give up. I’m never going to get published or win any awards. I’m doomed to fail.” or “This sucks. Being a writer is the hardest thing ever.”
  5. The upward turn: “The feedback I got was hard to hear, but I guess she has a point.”, “Obviously, I didn’t make the cut, but maybe I can polish it some more.”, and “I can still see myself succeeding in the future, but it’s gonna be tough.”
  6. Reconstruction and working through: “I need to reconsider that plot structure and follow the suggestions the editor made.”, “There is another contest that closes next week that has a theme my poem fits. If I work on it between now and then, I might have more success in that contest.”
  7. Acceptance and hope: “Every writer has stories of rejection. It just comes with the territory.”, “I know that I have a lot to say that is worth hearing.”, ” Why do I write, in the first place? Is it only for the praise of others, or is it for a higher purpose?”

Loss and rejection are hard to bear, but whatever stage of loss you may have experienced in the past, are experiencing now, or are about to experience in the near future, I hope you (and I) can make it through to stages 5, 6, and 7. Failure is an event, not a person, and success consists of rising just one more time than you fall.



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