Providing Space for Disappointment
Written by
Jill Jepson
February 2014
Written by
Jill Jepson
February 2014

Not long ago, I got a rejection from a publisher. It was just one publisher—and god knows I’ve been rejected enough times before. Still, it stung. It ramped up my anxiety about the prospects of my book, reminded me of how difficult the road to publication can be, and alerted me to the very real possibility—faced by every writer—that this particular work might not make its way into print.

When I told a few friends that I was feeling bad about the rejection, most of them leaped into verbal action. Over and over, I was told, Chin up! It’ll happen! Go for the gold! Keep your eye on the prize! Move on to the next project! Don’t let it get you down!

All of this was well and kindly intended, but frankly, it made me want to scream. What I really needed at that moment was to grieve the disappointment, and my supporters just weren’t letting me do that. Only a few said what I needed to hear: I’m sorry you’re hurting.

When the writers around you are struggling, it’s important to know where to stand in relation to that struggle. Our culture stresses so-called “positive thinking.” We’re urged not to suffer too long over any loss. Instead of feeling bad, we’re told to get up, brush ourselves off and keep on truckin’. Often, these attitudes only serve to trivialize our distress and push us out of our grief before we’re ready.

I’ve been guilty of this myself. I still cringe when I remember saying to a friend who’d just been fired from her job, “When one door closes, another opens!” I’ll never forget the look she gave me, and my realization that I was being flippant and facile. What my friend needed was the time and space to feel bad, not a silly platitude.

The self-help movement doesn’t have much tolerance for people who feel sad. It often treats sadness as just plain wrong—as if it were an illness or even a moral weakness. But negative emotions aren’t diseases or evils. They’re natural and real—part of the experience of being human—and to deny them is to deny a part of our selves.

Allowing people the space to feel bad over a loss applies to yourself as well. Like a lot of people, I often find myself scoffing when I take a disappointment “too seriously”. I hear myself saying, I should be strong enough to take a few hard knocks. What’s wrong with me, feeling so bad? I should be more resilient! Of course, this kind of self-talk only makes us feel worse.

When you’ve met with pain in your writing life, give yourself some time. Don’t deny yourself the very authentic experience of disappointment. Disallowing your pain won’t make it go away, and won’t help you get over it any faster. If anything, that pain will just emerge later, stronger than ever. So be there with it. Feel it. Acknowledge it.

And when those around you are dealing with their own griefs and losses, be there with them as well. Just sit with their sadness. It will lose its power eventually. Give it time.

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  • Jill Jepson

    Thanks, Bella.

  • Jill Jepson

    Hi Caroline. I will definitely check out your blog!

  • Bella Mahaya Carter

    Wonderful, Jill. Beautifully stated. Thank you.

  • Very moving -- you have to take time with the sadness. I often try to give it, the sadness, the anger even, a time-frame -- a day or week, and then let it go. Don't let it have power over you for too long. And then, when there is happiness, a compliment on your writing, joy even at a piece being accepted, make sure you celebrate --it will help to have that during the times of sadness.  For more, see the post I wrote today -- at my shewrites blog -- Caroline

  • Jill Jepson

    What a lovely anecdote, Valerie! I love the analogy. I agree: those holes remain, and we need to let them heal.

  • Valerie Bonham Moon

    Jill, what you write reminds me of a little homily about merely saying "I'm sorry."  The story was about, perhaps, a parent whose child gave an insincere apology, perhaps to another child. The parent sent the child out into the garden with a hammer and nails with the instruction to hammer some of the nails into the fence.  The child did so and was then told to remove the nails, if I'm remembering correctly, by way of apology to the fence.  The parent then asked the child what he saw, and the answer was holes.  The parent then explained that once something happens, there's no undoing it.  The holes remain.

    Rejections of whatever kind leave their holes and the facile (I like that!) dismissal of the hole's existence, rather than acknowledging that the hole is indeed a hole, is insensitive, if not callous. 

    Thanks for the reminder about being kind to those in pain.