• Zetta Brown
  • [Reality Check] Rebounding from Rejections - by Alexandra Caselle
This blog was featured on 10/02/2019
[Reality Check] Rebounding from Rejections - by Alexandra Caselle
Contributor
Written by
Zetta Brown
October 2019
Contributor
Written by
Zetta Brown
October 2019

No one likes being told "no." Rejection hurts, and sometimes it doesn't matter if it's constructive or destructive criticism. You can't please everybody, so why should we care if someone doesn't like our work?

I'm sure there are hundreds, if not thousands, of doctoral theses about how rejection affects us; otherwise, what would psychologists have to talk about?

But it's how we handle rejection that is important. Sometimes we can brush it off without a second thought, and sometimes it's so devastating that we never attempt to try anything ever again.

Then there's the reaction that falls in between. We are put off our stride and have serious doubts about our ability that it takes a while before we gather our confidence and ease on down the road doing our thang, if not for our own sake, then out of spite for our critics. Frankly, I think spite is a great motivator and shouldn't be discouraged if it helps you get the job done.

Alexandra Caselle gives us an example of one of these "in between" reactions that I'm sure we can relate to and be inspired from her experience.

 

Rebounding From Rejections
By Alexandra Caselle
©2014

Unbreak my pencil
Say you’ll love my story again
Undo this hurt you caused
When you redlined every clause
With Track Changes and all
And ripped my characters apart
Unblock these fears
I’ve had over keys every night
Unbreak my pencil

~A Writer’s Breakup Song
(inspired by Toni Braxton’s “Unbreak My Heart”)

Vulnerability is a writer’s double-edged sword. We take risks in our writing to render the complexities and frailties of real-life in hopes of connecting with readers. We also tread into the publishing waters and cast out our submission lines. Our manuscripts drift half-submerged into the Bermuda Triangle of swamped editors’ desks. They float directionless as they duck and dodge the slush pile sharks.

We stay in limbo, waiting for a piece of paper that holds the decision of our fate. How we handle that decision determines whether we will be able to persevere through the ebb and flow of the writing life.

In September 2013, I was waiting on a decision about a romance story I had submitted. The rejection letter didn’t bother me as much as the attached edits from the publisher. Every line had a critical comment. The publisher ripped my two main characters into shreds. They surrounded them with red-inked bandages, mummifying them; their eyes asked why I had subjected them to such torture. The final comment drove a wedge between my muse and me. The publisher had written that she had stopped reading after page 15 because it was the worst piece of writing she had read and questioned whether I could write or not.

My muse packed her bags and left. The rejection immobilized me as a writer. It wasn’t my first one. I have had plenty of them. Another story that I had submitted to a different publication, “Such Sweet Sorrow,” was rejected several times before BLACKBERRY: a magazine accepted it in 2013. I knew rejections are common in the profession of writing.

But this one was different. I never had been told that I couldn’t write.

I licked my wounds, seeking comfort from my online writing community. One of my writing comrades, T. J. Loveless, offered to read over my story and give me constructive feedback. She reassured me that I could write and there were technical problems that all writers have, but the story’s premise and its characters did not seem lacking. I just needed to revise more.

I was still unable to shake off the rejection. I joked around on my social media sites that I suffered from “authorile dysfunction:” I couldn’t get my fingers up over my keyboard keys.

I kept getting ideas, but the thought, “maybe I can’t write,” played like a tape over and over in my head. I questioned my own abilities and talent.

The muse, tired of dimly lit, smoke-filled spoken-word joints, returned home and demanded that I get off my derrière. I went back to my writing roots by leaning into my surroundings with leisurely walks through historic riverbank neighborhoods and taking in the sights, sounds and language with the stroke of my pen.

I became a note taker of life again, writing for the love of an image instead of publication credits.

A quote by Barbara Kingsolver also gave me a new perspective:

“This manuscript of yours that has just come back from another editor is a precious package. Don’t consider it rejected. Consider that you’ve addressed it ‘To the editor who can appreciate my work,’ and it has simply come back stamped ‘Not at this address.’ Just keep looking for the right address.”

Finally, I defeated the negative tape and wrote a flash fiction story in April 2014, “Mistakenly Meant to Be.” 

Those leisurely walks also helped me to reflect on the whole situation. Although my writing and I are a symbiotic being, it wasn’t me, the writer, being rejected, only the writing.

I realized that many factors could have been at hand. The story may not have been a good fit for the vision of the publication. Sometimes people just don’t like a writer’s style. Through this experience, I learned that writing is a journey in which craft is never quite perfected. I have grown another layer of armor to withstand the submission process.

As I work on my next piece to cast out on the line, I have another mental tape in my mind now: “It’s always business, never personal.”

I still haven’t picked up the rejected story. Later on this year, I will hold my muse’s hand over my laptop with the missing left mouse key to sit a spell with my two main characters and listen to their love story again.

Maybe we will get it right this time.

 

Alexandra Caselle is a native Floridian author and poet.  She writes short stories, blogs, and dabbles a little in the following genres: paranormal, YA, contemporary/literary fiction, & romance.  Her blog, Rhet Effects (http://rheteffects.wordpress.com), features author interviews, creative writing, & unique perspectives on writing conventions. She often believes there is a phoenix bird inside of her, waiting to be unleashed, or maybe it’s heartburn.  Follow Alexandra Caselle on Twitter @AlexandraCasell.

 

©2014. Zetta Brown is an editor and the author of several published short stories and the erotic romance novel Messalina: Devourer of Men. She also provides editing services through JimandZetta.com. If you like this post, then stop by her editing blog Zetta’s Desk or Zetta’s House of Random Thoughts.

 

* This post was originally published in Junly 2014.

Let's be friends

The Women Behind She Writes

449 articles
12 articles

Featured Members (7)

123 articles
385 articles
54 articles
60 articles

Featured Groups (7)

Trending Articles

  • 8 Changes that dramatically improved my writing.
  • 5 Things You Should Drop for NaNoWriMo
  • Book Coaching: The Perfect Side Gig to Support A...
  • NaNo 2019 Begins...
  • The First Spark--How I Became a Writer
  • In Search of Inspiration: How 5 Brilliant Authors Do...

Comments
  • Raine Fraser Writing

    Alexandra, I'm not sure I've ever engaged so actively with an article before. Good thing I was alone in my studio when I read it. The audible sighs, LOLs, and exclamations would have attracted a fair amount of attention. I got my first rejection letter in August. It was, thankfully, much more kind and instructive than the one you received, but the disappointment and self-doubt were no less difficult. The rejection rendered me virtually immobile for weeks. Oh, I wrote. But much more tentatively. I almost felt sorry for my characters. Poor innocent little things...stuck with a no talent mama like me. I had no choice but to come around, but I'm tucking away this gem. I know it will help me snap out of it more quickly next time. Thank you for writing this.

  • Alexandra Caselle

    @Veronica--Wow, I feel inspired reading your comments.  I think writing becomes therapy to a lot of us some time or another in our lives.  I can relate to parents throwing away writings. I'm still shedding a tear over my teen soap opera that was a little too racy for my mother's taste.  Years later, we have Pretty Little Liars, which makes my soap opera seem like a putty cat. I felt the same about my poetry.  I always thought that I couldn't write poetry.  I called my poems emoetry.  It wasn't until I read Sonia Sanchez's collection of poems, Shake Loose My Skin, that I really understood poetry and fell in love with the haiku form.  I realized that I could write poetry.  I liked what you said about your need for writing feeling like a need to breathe. Writing is an urge that I cannot deny.  During the time that I couldn't write because of the rejection, I really felt off kilter because I didn't have a way to express myself.  I'm glad that you liked my flash story.  Thank you for commenting!

    @Joanell  Thank you for your comments! I think the important thing is to always come back to writing, no matter how critical the rejection or review. If you walk away from your craft, then you are missing an opportunity for your words to give that one reader something he or she needed.

  • "... searching for an exit door out of a depression so deep that it suspended time...."

    Wow!  I love your flash story, Alexandra!  Evocative and laden with images... "sewing time within the pattern of our days."


    Your muse is definitely 'in the house!"

  • "I became a note taker of life again, writing for the love of an image instead of publication credits."  I love this line.  It's a perfect reminder of why I write.

    I began writing several years ago as part of my therapy.  At first it was about the ordeal I had gone through; I just wanted to get the poison out of me.  I don't remember exactly when or where it happened, but one day I had an epiphany...

    I HAD to write.  I couldn't NOT write!  It was like I had ten billion words and images in my head... a collage of my life... wanting out.  Wanting... needing to breathe free air.  Twenty-three years of experiences and encounters to draw on for the stories I wanted to write - noir fiction, a sub-genre that I had had a fascination with ever since I was a teen (my fascination may have been fueled in part by the fact that such stories were 'forbidden' in our home and there was always the danger that Mama would find my contraband, which in turn would lead to either a lecture or a visit from a priest, bringing with him the vestments of exorcism).

    And so, I began writing flash fiction and short stories.  And it wasn't long before I got my first rejection.  I'll admit I was shaken a bit, but... I am half Russian/half Portuguese, which means I can be incredibly determined and stubborn!

    My most memorable rejection led to an unexpected acceptance.  I'd submitted a short story - part auto-biographical and part fiction - and when the editor rejected it, he took the time to make several points about the story and offered suggestions to revise it.  He also related a couple of his own rejections, one a rather painful rejection of some of his poetry.  Something in his telling struck a chord with me and I submitted a short poem I had written as an exercise (I failed miserably in school at writing poetry, totally unable to grasp the concept, my teachers said) to an online literary magazine for their inaugural issue.  AND IT WAS ACCEPTED!  YES!!

    Never give up!  Never stop writing!

  • Thank you for sharing your experience. Sometimes we get thoughtful, helpful constructive engagement with editors and publishers. Usually not. I too have been shaken, come back, and published more lately then ever. Glad to hear your back at it. You write well.

  • Alexandra Caselle

    @ Reese  Thanks for commenting. :) I think constructive is the main word here.  I'm all for making my work more insightful.  I'm glad to know that I am not the only one who has questioned her abilities.  You definitely can write a good romance. :)

    @Rita  Thanks for your comments. :) I'm glad that you enjoyed reading my piece.  The heartbreak of heartless rejection---sounds like a good storyline for a romance novel, doesn't it? :)

     

  • Reese Ryan

    I get where you're coming from with this. I felt that way because of a couple of negative reviews I'd gotten early on. It made me question my abilities and my confidence was shaken. An R&R from my publisher added to that. Yet, the truth is I learned a lot from the constructive reviews I received, even though the reviewer might not have liked the story or some elements of it. And that R&R? The suggestions were gold. I laid that story aside for some time, but now I'm back at it again and I'm implementing those insightful suggestions.

  • Rita Gardner

    A beautiful post about the heartbreak of heartless rejection! (Agree that in general, rejections are just part of the process; necessary sometimes, and like you said - business, not personal. Clearly you CAN WRITE...and I'm thankful you wrote this piece.

  • Alexandra Caselle

    @Carole  I've always taken writing courses during my college career, and I used to cringe at peer critiques.  I was more reluctant to share my writing in a group. I preferred one-on-one feedback. But I have found two local writing groups that meet monthly, so I may bring the required two pages and get some constructive feedback on pieces that I am working on.  I am also constantly studying writing books in hopes of honing my craft. Hearing your experience and seeing that you have become published reinforces my hope to keep trying through my submissions.  Thanks!

    @Lea I have never considered a developmental editor, but I think I will try to find one.  I recently have heard of beta readers who can help give you feedback as well, so I will definitely look into using them. Thanks!

    @Pat Hi, fellow Floridian!  Thanks for your comments.  I really liked the last part you said about being protected.  Another writer friend said something similar about questioning whether I really wanted to work with this particular editor.  I would like a partnership in which we both have the mutual goal of bringing out the best in the work.

    @Kathryn  Thanks for your comments. It probably is personal, but I just think of it as business.  A publisher/editor looks for works that fit into his or her vision.  He or she has her preferences and such, so the submission game becomes a bit of a game of courtship. I feel encouraged by your comments about never letting someone destroy my confidence.  I love to create.  The creation may have its imperfections, but it still has the potential to be more. 

    @Vivienne  Thanks for commenting.  Actually, when I read  "She couldn't write worth a damn," it made me think of Hemingway & Dorothy Parker.  Hemingway always criticized Parker in this manner, even though she constantly tried to befriend him.  You are so right about there is never a perfect work.  I think we as writers really don't strive for perfection; we seek connection.  I also liked what you said about a person refusing to see the story for what it is .

  • Hi Alexandra:

    Your story reminds me of an article I read sometime ago whereby a famous author, whose books have been adapted into big screen and TV movies, made a remark about another author saying, "She cannot write worth a damn." And her books have been adapted into movies also. Every writer has his or own style of writing. It does not mean that the person can't write, it just means that the person reading the story refuses to see the story for what it really is or has a narrow view as to what is good writing as oppose to bad writing. The question is how does one define good or bad writing. Sarah Treem, a playwright, said "You will never write a perfect play." The same can be said for writing fictional stories. It is good that you did not let that negative and mean-spirited rejection prevent you from doing what you love to do and that is writing. Continued success to you and your stories.

  • Alexandra, tsk, tsk, tsk. You can't see me, but I'm shaking my head in sorrow. As a long, long time writer who's received a million critiques and one star reviews (as well as many 5 stars for the same stories, so there!); nasty comments that, I swear, must have been written either by jealous old lovers, hated friends or demented idiots and were meant to hurt like knives, I've heard it all. It took me a very long time to accept the truth that it sometimes is just personal...preference, that is. So don't listen to any of them! Your mind told you: “It’s always business, never personal.” No! It's ALWAYS personal. That's what you have to remember. Every critic or reviewer is ONLY telling your their personal opinions about your work...THEIR opinions. And WHO are they anyway for us to believe everything they tell us? Just ONE person. I learned the same things after 42 years of believing editors, agents and publishers - that they are not gods - but JUST people like us. Thing is, everyone in the world likes/loves/hates different things. One person will hate your piece, while another will love it. Really. Believe me. So NEVER let any one person, no matter what their fancy title is, ever destroy your confidence. Just keep writing and perfect your craft, gain experience and wisdom and remember always: That's only what ONE person thought. As a writer we all go through this. One day, as I have, you'll realize the only one you have to please is YOU.

  • Pat Sabiston

    Dear Fellow Floridian, having worked for a book publisher in the past, I can honestly say that such negative critiques aren't the norm thank goodness!  We always tried to let a writer down softly, keeping the door open for future submissions.  And, as one writer to another, would you really want to publish with someone who could be so hateful?  I'd say it was God's way of protecting you, so continue to nurture your gift ... and ... protect your heart!

  • Lea Galanter

    Have you thought about working with an editor (that is, a professional copy or developmental editor, not a journal editor)? An editor can help you and your work before submitting it for publication. An editor can help you improve your writing in the kindest, gentlest way. There is absolutely no cause for anyone to have written such a horrible rejection letter! I have to wonder about the truth of their comments at all if that's how they feel they have to phrase it. (It also sounds like the person was having a really bad day and took it out on you.)

  • Carole Avila

    Alexandra,

    The first time I submitted a work for critique to an online group (and not knowing at the time that they were all published authors) my writing was machine gunned down into shreds. After I licked my wounds, I took their comments to heart:  I enrolled in creative writing classes, joined writing groups (not where you read aloud and everyone says how "nice" your work is, but the kind where you get honest feedback), and I read books on the creative writing process. I'm published now, have 2 books under contract, and 4 more in the works that other publishers have asked for. Sometimes we can't take criticism personally but need to see how it can serve us. (In other words, take what you can use and let go of the rest.) The best of luck in your writing endeavors!

    ~Carole Avila

    Eve's Amulet, Book 1

  • Alexandra Caselle

    @Lori--Thanks!  Yes, resiliency and perseverance are the coat-of-arms for a writer. 

    @Suzy--You gave me a good laugh today with your comment.  It could be somewhat personal with some editors. I realized that I can't worry about that anymore.  As Kingsolver suggests, I'm searching for the right home for my work. So a publisher house-hunting I will go ! :)

    @ Pam--Thanks!  You made a great point.  I'm just hoping to reach just one reader one day.

    @Maureen--Thanks!  Yes, I found it best to develop a healthy attitude if I want to pursue writing seriously. I realized that with every dream, there will be some kind of struggle.  With writing, that struggle is finding the right place for your work.

  • What an honest and inspiring post, Alexandra. I love Barbara Kingsolver's suggestion! Congratulations on your resiliency and perseverance!

  • Suzy Soro

    Whenever I get rejected I assume their spouse just dumped them, they declared bankruptcy, they were in a car accident that was their fault, and they gained 35 pounds. AND THEY'RE TAKING IT ALL OUT ON ME.

  • Remember, there is no book (at least not one that I can think of) that is meant for every reader. I love the Barbara Kingsolver quote...it reminds us that we must seek those editors that will appreciate our work. I'm glad your muse is back!

  • Maureen E. Doallas

    Wonderful to see you here, Alexandra. What a response to your piece! You have adopted a particularly healthy attitude toward rejection and the people who do the rejecting: "one of those things to deal with... to take it in stride." Your approach will keep you writing and submitting, and that's what counts. Thank you for sharing your experience. And keep on writing!

  • Alexandra Caselle

    Thanks, Diedre! :)  I'm glad you enjoyed the post.  Well, I've really learned the meaning of the statement, "publishing is a business."  It definitely has taught me to make sure my work is really ready before I submit it, and that each rejection is a lesson in my journey.

  • Alexandra Caselle

    Thanks, Sydney!  :)  Well, hopefully, my post will encourage writers, especially those who are just starting their writing career like I was last year.  I had just made the leap into writing full-time as a career, so the rejection made me question my decision for a bit.  I know in my heart I have made the right decision.

  • diedre Knight

    Alexandra, I'm cheering for you with a hanky in my fist! How dare anyone be so disrespectful! I enjoyed the post very much as it shared an unpleasant event with such unassuming honesty and inspiring eloquence.

    Thanks for sharing, Zetta!

  • Alexandra Caselle

    Thanks, Julie. :)  It definitely has given me fuel to continue writing.  I'm beginning to see the relationship between publisher/editor and writer as any other relationship--some people bond; some people do not.  But rejection is just one of those things to deal with, and I just have to take it in stride.  I won't let the rejections stop me from writing again.

  • Obviously you can write, Alexandra! That the publisher would take so much time to edit and critique your work says something, I'm not sure what...she was having a nervous breakdown? My goodness! Lot's of encouragement and wonderful thoughts in this post. Thank you!

  • Julie Luek

    's. Alexandra, I have always loved your way with words. Your writing has a smart, elegant beauty. Maybe that particular editor likes boring , non-visual, non-poetic writing. I stick my tongue out at him/her. I agree with Barbara.

    I'm sorry the aforementioned red-pencil monster shot such hurtful arrows. We'll assume the intentions were good and the pain was unintended and promptly dismiss the opinions. 

    I hope this fuels you with determination to prove her wrong rather than to give up. Thanks for such an honest article I think every writer can relate to on some level.