Today, I’m pleased as punch to hand my blog over to a very special writer, my son, Chris Hoornaert, who investigates what science has to say about an issue of importance to all writers:
Whether its a curt note from an editor, agent, or simply a bad review, we’ve all felt its viperous sting. So how do we cope?
Let me turn it over now to Chris.
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Five Ways to Overcome the Sting of Rejection
“You have no business being a writer and should give up.” Zane Grey ignores the advice. There are believed to be over 250 million copies of his books in print.
You’ve slaved for countless hours over your masterpiece, pondering every detail. This work has been your driving purpose. In your mind, the division between you and your work has blurred completely. And then the answer arrives. The editor responds to your prized submission with a “thanks, but no thanks”. You have been rejected. How are you going to cope?
We are biologically conditioned to fear rejection. Our early ancestors risked death if they were rejected by their tribe. We carry this fear with us today. Rejection hurts.
Rejection is also necessary. Success isn’t possible without it. Learning to cope with rejection is one of the most important life skills we can master. Here are five ways that we can deal with it better.
Use positive affirmations
One study found that doing positive affirmations effectively reduces the negative thoughts associated with a negative event (1). These affirmations can be done before or after being rejected. On a daily basis, we should remind ourselves of what we do well. It is also important to remember our core values. These core values are the foundation that will keep us strong through the good and the bad. And these things can’t be taken away from us, no matter how many times we hear the word “no”.
“An absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull.” Rejection letter sent to William Golding for The Lord Of The Flies.
Look at the experience through the eyes of an optimist
A pessimist will look at rejection as the result of some internal flaw. Or perhaps think rejection is simply inevitable.
However, an optimist likely views the rejection as a learning experience. Or perhaps this is just a minor setback on the path to eventual success. They will still feel disappointment, but for an optimist each rejection is a building block towards something better.
Optimism is not a cure-all, but one of the scientifically proven benefits of optimism is increased resilience (2). And resilience is something that we all need when dealing with rejection. So even if we are not naturally optimistic, we should try to look at rejection in a more positive light.
Reframe this rejection as the result of circumstances and not an inherent personal weakness. It is also good to remember that by putting ourselves on the line, we gave this person an excellent opportunity. The fact they didn’t take advantage is their loss. Believe that the next person will benefit from the previous person’s mistake.
“Our united opinion is entirely against the book. It is very long, and rather old-fashioned.” Publisher rejects Moby Dick by Herman Melville.
We are social animals. We need to feel socially connected. This is one reason that rejection hurts so badly. If we feel more connected in our daily lives, however, rejection may have less
A study at Stanford University showed that doing Loving-Kindness meditation made people feel more connected and less isolated (3). Meditation is often viewed as a solitary activity. With Loving-Kindness meditation, participants send good thoughts and wishes towards other people. When done on a daily basis, study participants reported feeling more compassion and empathy. And the more compassion and empathy we have, the less estranged we will feel from others.
“An absurd story as romance, melodrama or record of New York high life.” Publisher rejects The Great Gatsby by F.Scott Fitzgerald.
Take action in the face of fear
There are some of us who avoid taking chances due to the anticipation of failure. The thought of being told “no” can seem overwhelming. Our brains can conjure up the most tragic disaster scenarios. We may think to ourselves “what if my boss says no to my raise request and gives me a pink slip instead”. These fears can paralyze us.
But such disaster scenarios rarely play out in real life. It can be effective to simply remind ourselves of a time when we feared something, but it turned out OK. Disaster is not imminent.
And remember, the rejections we deal with today can’t kill us. In many cases, our fear of the unknown is the scariest thing. Taking action reduces fear, even when the outcome isn’t what we want. Getting a harsh rejection from an editor is definitely unpleasant. But it is also a learning experience. A learning experience we would miss if we don’t even submit our book or article in the first place.
“I haven’t the foggiest idea about what the man is trying to say. Apparently the author intends it to be funny.” Publisher rejects Catch-22 by Joseph Heller.
Seek moral support
Sometimes the right words at the right time are invaluable. Close friends and family members can show us the forest, when we only see the trees. Simple words of encouragement can quickly restore our confidence and sense of balance.
There is no shame in rejection, so sharing with people we trust is critical. Hearing words, such as “they are stupid for not hiring you” can be surprisingly cathartic. An outside viewpoint can put everything in focus. Simply put, we need to find people who are rooting for us.
“We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.” Stephen King’s Carrie sells 1 million in the first year alone.
Nobody said it was easy
Each of us have a different tolerance for rejection. Perhaps in certain circumstances, we can gracefully cope. But in others situations, we fall apart. Going after something we value and being told “no” is never easy. So when needed, call upon these five methods. If we resolutely face our fear of rejection, the fear will diminish. And soon rejection may be nothing more than a pebble on the road to success.
“Too different from other juveniles on the market to warrant its selling.” A rejection letter sent to Dr Seuss
What about you — do you need moral support? Or do you want to share your juiciest, nastiest, most absurd rejection? Tell us about it in a comment, or contact Chris at his website.
Hutcherson, C. A., Seppala, E. M., & Gross, J. J. (2008). Loving-kindness meditation increases social connectedness. Emotion, 8(5), 720.
Koole, S. L., Smeets, K., Van Knippenberg, A., & Dijksterhuis, A. (1999). The cessation of rumination through self-affirmation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77(1), 111.
Tugade, M. M., & Fredrickson, B. L. (2007). Regulation of positive emotions: Emotion regulation strategies that promote resilience. Journal of Happiness Studies, 8(3), 311-333.