A Writer’s 8-Step Path to Recovery from Rejection Dejection by Cynthia Stock
by Writing Workshops Staff
A year ago
One Sunday I checked my e-mails. I sat in the early morning quiet, the aromatic steam from my Cinnamon Nut flavored coffee making me pause to take a sip. Then I saw the rejection of a favorite story, part tragedy, part eulogy, a fictional tribute to an ex-love. I felt like a piton came loose while rock climbing and sent me into free fall. My ego shattered with the fragility of my osteoporotic bones. I shut down my computer before disappointment and my apparent destiny with failure allowed me to delete my writing folders in a fit of rabid anger. Yes, it’s all backed up in the Cloud. The act of deletion would at least give me a sense of accomplishment. I fell into the abyss I call Rejection Dejection.
The rest of the day I mourned my self-esteem. I imagined a life without writing, without my friends in the writing community. I wondered if physical withdrawal from daily doses of writing was possible. I do get crabby when I don’t write. Nothing else could fill the time I spend shaping words into a story. Nothing could approach the satisfaction when I read a sentence, wish I had written it, then realize I did. A voice in my head whispered “You can’t stop writing.”
My spirits drooped all day. I went to bed early to escape the pain of my dreams of writing success coming to an end. At 3:49 a.m., I awakened to sentences writing themselves in my head. I stared into the dark. Instead of devising ways to fill the time generated by forsaking my craft, I started self-editing one story. I planned a day devoted to submissions. And I developed eight steps for recovery from Rejection Dejection.
- Nurse your grief. A writer’s story is her child. Each comes with different attitudes, emotions, and degrees of engagement. Stories grow at different rates, from the rough first draft, to the honed, workshopped beauty that is ready for submission. A story’s rejection causes the same pain a parent feels when a daughter doesn’t get asked to the prom or when a mother sees her son in jail for the first time, separated by a thick pane of bullet-proof glass, unable to touch. Rejection demands the writer ask “Where have I failed? What did I do wrong?” With rejection, a writer masters self-denigration. Take time to recover. Get a massage. Do those things that allow your mind to come full circle and realize rejection is part of the process. I made a list of famous authors and the number of rejections they accumulated before their success. Theodor Geisel garnered over four hundred.
- Get angry. Let yourself simmer and brood. Stomp around the house. Rant at faceless readers and editors who don’t “get” your piece, readers who just broke up with a partner or wrecked their car or bounced a check before reading. Torture yourself wondering where you’d be if you spent all the time writing that you did in the “other” job. Shred one of those marked up, heavily edited hard copies to show the words who is in control. Swear “I am giving up writing forever.” Saying it out loud makes me realize I never could. Those words subjugate my frustration and disappointment. They force me to turn angst into productive action. The truth is I cannot imagine a life without writing.
- Take a step back. For just one day stay away from the computer. Avoid the nth version of your latest creation. Read your favorite author. Read some mind candy. Go out for coffee with someone you knew from that other career. Watch Law and Order: SVU reruns you know by heart and let your mind pretend to pay attention. Bake a cake. Do laundry. Keep a notepad handy. Brilliance breaks through when you least expect it.
- “A body in motion will stay in motion unless acted upon by an outside force.” Sir Isaac Newton. A rejection can be a knock-out punch. The longer you stay down, the harder it is to rise. Do whatever it takes that will make you feel accomplished. A mile swim or 45” on the treadmill does it for me. A walk in the neighborhood always provides a few good story prompts. A vacant house becomes a home for space aliens. A lone galosh I found on a corner becomes an ominous discard with a foot inside, evidence of an American plot to spread a virus around the country. My mind rebounds and flourishes when my blood gets a kick start.
- Put the rejected piece aside. I wrote a story with the perfect opening line. It went through several workshops and revisions. I submitted it at least ten places; it helped me near my goal of one hundred rejections. Every day I write, my instincts and self-editing become more trustworthy. After months away from this story, the classic “aha” moment, arrived. The story was not finished. Without opening the file, I know where I will go to revise and refine my story.
- Remind yourself why you write. I write because my well-being depends on it. If I don’t write, I feel as deprived as if I’d given up coffee, wine, and York Peppermint Patties, all at once. I feel grungy, like when I haven’t brushed my teeth. Emotions, settings, dialogue, and unforeseen consequences course through my brain in search of an outlet. My head bloats with dreams and ideas while I am awake. A blank page to me is like a blank canvas to a painter. It calls for words as the canvas begs for paint. I write because I must.
- Determine your ultimate goal. My first novel started with a short story about a boy humbled by the beauty of a sunny day. It ended up a narrative about a man, suffering PTSD from a prolonged childhood hospitalization, who accidentally killed his wife. I swear I saw Judah, the protagonist, in my bedroom in the middle of the night, telling me what I would write the next day. I had no goal. It was Judah’s story. I write short stories of different genres. Lily, Fiona, and Persephone tell me what to say. Publication is a dream, not a goal. If one person reads one of my stories and finds his life has been enriched, that’s enough. I write because I must.
- Keep writing. There will be pain. There will be pleasure. Each story revives the self.
I close the door to my work space, knowing my cat guards the entrance while I am sequestered. Reheated coffee turns tepid once an idea teases its way into my head. My chair squeaks as I settle in with anticipation. The light over my computer reveals the faded letters on the “l,” “d,” and “e” keys. A shiny spot on the space bar reflects my right-handed bias. I begin:
“The day Indigo Cates found Alta Osterman’s grand-daughter face down in Alta’s swimming pool started like any other.”
BIO: Cynthia Stock is a retired Critical Care nurse. Throughout her career, she pursued writing through various institutions and mentors. Now she enjoys being a full-time writer and, like her writing, is a perpetual work in progress. Her works have appeared in The American Journal of Nursing, Memoryhouse, The Manifest-Station, HerStry, Lunch Ticket, and others. Learn more about her work here.