Two Ways to Handle Rejection for Writers

In 1978, I was a high school senior and an exchange student living in Knutsford England, and I wrote a personal essay for my hometown paper about my study abroad experience.

My first byline!

But it wasn’t until the Southampton Writers Conference in 2013, when I took the plunge and applied for Mary Karr’s memoir workshop that I finally—publicly—declared “I’m a writer.”

It took me 35 years after that first byline to COME OUT as a writer.

They don't call me a late-in-lifer for nothing!

When I soaked in Mary Karr’s wisdom as I sat around the table with 12 other writers, many of whom were much more accomplished than me, I realized how much I didn’t know AND I knew that I was in the right place.

The learning curve would be steep and I would get there someday. And someday has happened.

My coming out later-in-life memoir THE ONLY WAY THROUGH IS OUT will be published in February 2024.

More details to come! 

Now that I work with writers for a living, I've thought about WHY it took me so long to call myself a writer.

I've thought about why so many people say they want to write a book and why so few people actually do.

The most oft-quoted statistic is that over 80% of Americans say they'd like to write a book "some day."

The best guess is that less than 1% will even start.

There are likely many, many reasons for that gap between desire and action, but one of those reasons has to be the fear of rejection.

Because rejection—and fear of rejection—is one of the hardest parts about showing up and being OUT as a writer.

It’s part of the job description and it can’t be avoided … And it’s still hard.

Sharing your work with others is vulnerable & when you’re a memoir writer, it can feel even more vulnerable—because it’s not only your work on display, it’s your life.

While rejection is unavoidable, there are ways to protect yourself.

Here are two of my favorite tips for handling rejection as a writer:

#1: Be careful about who you share your work with and when you share it.

Your first draft is usually just for you to get your ideas out. I've been part of too many writing groups where a writer shares first draft material and gets 12 different ideas about what they should be doing with their pages and then they get discouraged and don't get past Page 1.

The first time I went to a writing group with my Chapter 1, I was told that my pages were "a very pedestrian effort at a potentially interesting subject." Brutal, harsh, and not particularly helpful.

Which brings me to the next part of this tip:

If you want feedback on your first draft pages, share them with only one or two people, such as a book coach who is committed to working with you for the long haul or a trusted critique or writing partner.

With critique partners, be aware of what type of feedback you’re looking for and let your CP know. Otherwise you risk being overwhelmed by too much feedback or feeling like your story isn't worth writing.

#2: With the potential for rejection around every corner of the writing journey, make sure you celebrate the writing victories—big and small!

Celebrate the fact that you:

  • Put your butt in the chair X number of times in a week when you really would have rather done anything else.
  • Sent your pages to your book coach or your critique partner.
  • Fought through your fear to submit an essay to Modern Love.
  • Queried an agent & received a thoughtful rejection.
  • Are OUT and proud, having claimed your call as a writer.

You don’t need a fancy degree to write your story. You simply need passion, a plan, and a community to support you on your way.

What are you celebrating in your writing journey today?


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