Writing Tips: How I Handle Rejection

23 Mar


Price Change: November Snow [NOOK] is now available for $7.99 via Barnes & Noble here

I’ve also joined LinkedIn. Connect with me here

In A Certain World: A Commonplace BookW. H. Auden writes, “For an adult reader, the possible verdicts are five: I can see this is good and I like it; I can see this is good but I don’t like it; I can see this is good and, though at present I don’t like it, I believe that with perseverance I shall come to like it; I can see this is trash but I like it; I can see this is trash and I don’t like it.” 41V1x246SUL._SL500_AA300_

While this is a great truth, it becomes a anxiety attack waiting to happen when it’s your writing under judgement, knowing one of these five results will happen. Unfortunately, I think many aspiring writers only accept one response as positive: “I can see this is good and I like it.” I wish this wasn’t the case, but it seems to be true the more I talk to writers. Rejection is hard, and it always will be, but we can learn how to handle it in a way that is healthy.

I have discussed this before. In my post Writing Tips: How to Handle Rejection, I commended John Tompkins for his positive (and hilarious) attitude towards rejected query letters, but I failed to address how I personally deal with such instances.

However, I’d rather not talk about query letters and/or agents, because I look at that as business, and, for me, those rejections are easy to write off, because there’s always another approach to business, and I don’t take it personally. As I said before, it’s business.

BUT–I wanted to talk about another kind of rejection: the reader rejection. This is when readers read your work and respond negatively, often publicly, and there’s nothing we, as the writer, can do about it. I’m often okay with this. In fact, I advocate listening to critics, because I’ve learned some of my best lessons by taking a step back and listening, but I still have my days, and I wanted to show an example.

As many of you know, I’m taking a Nonfiction Writing I course this semester. Honestly, I thought it’d be more memoir writing than essay writing, but, nevertheless, I am in the course, and we turned our first essay in to workshop awhile ago. We were supposed to write about something personal and riveting, so I chose, knowing it’s still a sensitive subject, to write about my roommate’s recent death and compare it to my mother’s.

Here’s the piece: In Memoriam.

And here are my top three negative comments:

1. I don’t want a guilt trip. It seemed too forced, the pity was weakening the audience. I don’t know. Not that complex.

2. Too pep-talky. Blase ending took me out of the story. Very self-centered.

3. This is a nice sentiment, but we’ve seen it so many times before that it’s lost its effect. It almost feels like your trying to establish your authority as a writer rather than just letting the essay stand on its own. The first and last paragraph had nothing to do with the essay, bragging.

I won’t lie. At some point during my drive home, I was in tears, because I couldn’t believe that fellow students would find my dedication to turning grievance into passion was selfish and/or bragging. I felt like they had attacked my personal growth and everything I have been striving for since my mother died when I was eleven. Furthermore, I was astounded by the fact that many of these students didn’t say this to my face, but remained silent in the classroom. I would’ve liked the opportunity to ask them why they felt that way (because you do get a chance at the end to speak), but I don’t know if I could’ve spoken. I was too emotional, and, when I took a step back, I realized why.

I wrote about something I was not ready to write about. Even more, I immediately allowed my emotions to react; not my thoughts. When I took a moment, I realized their “bragging” statements were more directed at the beginning when I listed off accomplishments, which I should’ve explained as a conclusion. I also needed to consider my audience. It’s entirely likely many of my fellow 20-year-old’s haven’t lost a loved one to death. It’s also (more) possible that they have a completely different reaction towards death than I do, which is completely understandable. Even though the essay was an assigned personal essay, I think I made it too personal by focusing on me instead of the audience, and, in the end, that was selfish, but I’d rather call it misdirected. I’ve never written nonfiction essays before, and I’m learning how to do so still. Of course I’d be critiqued at the beginning; even if I was a professional I’d be critiqued. And I had to remind myself that before I imploded with misunderstood emotions.

So how did I cheer myself up?

After a healthy dinner with my father, I looked over everything again, but, this time, I concentrated on the good comments. I realized there were more “Great job!” than I thought, and I really focused on appreciating the complements, rather than the hurt.

Here are my top three positive comments:

1. Thanks for sharing! I know it must be hard for you to carry these loses with you for the rest of your life. I know it’s hard, but I also know how inspiring it can be as a writer. Keep striving for the preservation and ultimately your understanding.

2. I loved the candor with which you spoke about their deaths. Your level-headed recounting of events is incredible. You’re not bemoaning your life, which actually gives me greater sympathy. Really strong ending.

3. This is such a brilliant outreach to the audience. And to be quite honest, I needed to hear this. This was a beautiful piece to read. Consider sharing the title of your YA sci-fi novel because I’d love to read it. Looking forward to your other essays!

Next time, when rejection gets you down, try to remind yourself that one rejection doesn’t define all of your success. In fact, it only furthers your range of success by pushing you to achieve more. I have moments where my emotions take over, and I think that’s perfectly normal. After all, we are human, and we’re very exposed humans when we throw our art out for all to see. But we must realize that judgement will come, and it’s up to us to decide what to make of it.

As I took grieving and created passion, I will focus more on taking rejection and making success.

This is how I will handle it, and I hope opening up about my experience will help others see they are not alone, along with encourage them to continue to follow their dreams, even when they are hurting.

Another thing I love to do when I'm feeling down is to return to those beautiful moments in life when everything seemed right. This is me in Puerto Rico in May, 2012. It was one of the best trips of my life, and I know it's only a memory away from reminding me what happiness is like.

Another thing I love to do when I’m feeling down is to return to those beautiful moments in life when everything seemed right. This is me in Puerto Rico in May, 2012. It was one of the best trips of my life, and I know it’s only a memory away from reminding me what happiness is like.


March 25: Shannon Summary: Six Months In

47 Responses to “Writing Tips: How I Handle Rejection”

  1. suddenlylostinwords March 23, 2013 at 2:28 am #

    You give wonderful advice and show remarakable courage. Thank you. I wish you peace.

  2. picturemereading March 23, 2013 at 4:10 am #

    I always think about the source when I get a critique..do I respect the source..if the answer is yes, then I think you should consider the comments..if it’s a person who in general doesn’t think out there responses well or doesn’t have a good set of reasons behind it I disregard it. It is a good thing in the end.. my husband is one of harshest critiques in some ways but he is also one of my biggest supporters at the same time so I value his feedback.

    • Shannon Thompson March 23, 2013 at 3:15 pm #

      I completely agree. I always say pay attention to the critics, not the haters. but your description is much more professional :] And includes a wider range of people. Thank you for your comment. Great advice.

  3. noemibetancourt March 23, 2013 at 8:17 am #

    Great post! Whenever I write something new I’ve found it’s like pulling teeth to try and get loved ones to read it even though I tell them to be honest with me and tell me why they do or don’t like the story. I honestly want to know so I can grow as a writer. Now that I’m about to launch my first series I am nervous as hell! Mainly because strangers will be reading my work and although I know I’ll get some negative feedback because hey, you can’t please everybody, these are strangers who will be critiquing my baby and I’m bracing for a day in the future when I’ll be rocking in a corner drinking a bottle of Riesling through a crazy straw 😉 You offer some great advice about rejection and I will definitely have to keep it in mind.

    • Shannon Thompson March 23, 2013 at 3:16 pm #

      I’m glad this post can bring some comfort! And good luck with your series :]

  4. Crissi Langwell March 23, 2013 at 9:00 am #

    I hate negative comments. I particularly get nervous about them when I’ve posted something extremely personal in my blog, nervous that someone will take the time to tell me that I suck as a mom, my kids are horrible, etc. Now that overwritten a book, I am just waiting for the feedback to reach me. And part of me is anxiously waiting to find out what everyone thinks. And the other part is petrified that I’m about to get ripped apart. I hope I remember to put weight on the good and learn from the bad. But experience has taught me that the comments that tell me I suck are so much louder than the ones that offer me praise.

  5. Crissi Langwell March 23, 2013 at 9:01 am #

    Sigh. Overwritten=I’ve written. Gotta love autocorrect.

  6. angelajardine March 23, 2013 at 9:45 am #

    I’m not as nice as you … the third negative comment would have cheered me up immensely with the writer’s inability to tell the difference between ‘you’re’ and ‘your’ at ‘feels like your trying’ instead of ‘feels like you’re trying’.

    • Shannon Thompson March 23, 2013 at 3:18 pm #

      I did have a moment of irony when I saw that myself (mainly when I was copying it to put it on here.)
      Funny when things happen that way.

  7. angelajardine March 23, 2013 at 9:47 am #

    P.S Is the link to In Memoriam working? I cannot get it to open …

    • Shannon Thompson March 23, 2013 at 3:21 pm #

      It is working, but it isn’t a link. I think documents work as a download. So if you’ve clicked on it, it should be in your internet downloads.

  8. sarahpotterwrites March 23, 2013 at 9:57 am #

    When working as a psychiatric nurse, it was always the rule in therapy sessions to start with a positive, then offer some constructive criticism, and end on a positive. The same goes for critiquing other writers’ work. I used to belong to an on-line writing colony. Some people understood that it was okay to critique but not so heavily that it destroyed the other person’s confidence. Others liked to demolish the work of others, partly to show off, but partly because they had no talent themselves. Beware of who does your critiquing, as there’s a lot of jealousy out there.

    I think you were very brave to post those comments.

    Is it possible to buy your YA novel in the UK, as I’d like to read it 🙂

    • Shannon Thompson March 23, 2013 at 3:23 pm #

      I think the positive first, negative last, is a great concept–both for critiquing and reading critiques about you. Great comparison.
      My account says it is, but I’ve had a couple people say it isn’t. Let me know if you attempt to buy if it works for you or not.

  9. christinehaggerty March 23, 2013 at 10:23 am #

    As a teacher, I did a lot of coaching in the way my students gave each other feedback so that it would have a productive effect on the writing/presenting student’s work. Constructive is a must, but so are positives. The I would coach my students on how to sift through the feedback so that I could make sure they heard the positives–because we all get so geared up that we miss those statements and tend to focus on the constructive. When I get feedback myself, I get more anxious when I know that the feedback is coming. I’m getting better with practice, but I’m glad to take a turn in my students’ shoes.

    You had a lot of guts to write about something so sensitive in a format in which you are not as familiar. I hope your class gets more to the point of memoirs for nonfiction–I think you would be good at mixing a more flexible writing form with a nonfiction topic.

    • Shannon Thompson March 23, 2013 at 3:26 pm #

      I think that’s a great practice you did (helping students go through their comments) because I think many students could gain from that. And I wish we would get into memoirs, but I don’t think it’s on the syllabus.

  10. Andrew J. Stillman March 23, 2013 at 11:04 am #

    This was such a beautiful post. Thank you for sharing it, it honestly uplifted me today and I needed that.

    “Try to remind yourself that one rejection doesn’t define all of your success.” It’s hard, but it’s true. Rejection from both the business and the personal level suck, and at first it’s really difficult to accept and swallow some information you didn’t want to hear. I’m glad you were able to step back and see why some of the negative comments flowed in, it’s always nice to go in with a smart head instead of thinking no one else has a right to get you down. (You don’t seem like that type of person, but you know what I mean.)

    Anyway, thanks again for sharing!

  11. Diana Staresinic-Deane March 23, 2013 at 11:58 am #

    The tough thing about writing critiques in a class is that you’re forced to try to put words to how a piece makes you feel. Auden’s fabulous summary is about those gut reactions to pieces. The reality is that when you’re reading for yourself, if something doesn’t appeal to you, you usually just stop reading it and move on to something else. The piece just didn’t speak to you. When you’re in a critique class, you’re forced to try to explain why, and sometimes those explanations can be as clumsily written as the piece being written, because your classmates are learning the art of critique right along with you learning to write.

    It takes guts to put your work in front of others. Keep going!

    • Diana Staresinic-Deane March 23, 2013 at 12:04 pm #

      That should be…”as clumsily written as the piece being reviewed…”

    • Shannon Thompson March 23, 2013 at 3:27 pm #

      That is a great point. Wish I would’ve added that. Great point & addition!

  12. dlattanzi March 23, 2013 at 12:25 pm #

    I expect rejection (I mean, look at the odds…), but find helpful criticism a gift.

  13. P. C. Zick March 23, 2013 at 12:26 pm #

    Shannon – one thing these losses have brought to you is wisdom far beyond what I’ve managed in my fifty-eight years. I’m working on it. You are so insightful and brave to share such intimate feelings. This is an excellent in life as well as in writing.

  14. Positive Thought - Positive Word - For Life March 23, 2013 at 3:34 pm #

    As an evaluator in Toastmaster I have learned to evaluate the speech not the speaker, what I heard and understood from the speech, I don’t know if is the same learning process for writers evaluation. That way we don’t hurt nobody feelings. As it is I am an aspiring author, one day I will be (my dream), anyway, life has taught me to take rejection as a complement, to become stronger and to do my best. Is going to be positive and negative critics always, so it is up to us to learn how we are going to be affected by. Keep the good work, focus on the positive, learn and become stronger from the negative. BTW you were in Puerto Rico my homeland, my preicious Enchanting Caribbean Island, hope you have a great time there. Wish you my best.

    • Shannon Thompson March 23, 2013 at 3:35 pm #

      I had a lovely time in Puerto Rico. By far one of my favorite memories. And I met a lot of locals. So sweet! Would love to go back to Old San Juan.

  15. L. Marie March 23, 2013 at 3:37 pm #

    Criticism is often subjective. It sounds like you received some comments that weren’t very helpful. I was in an undergrad writing program and had to be critiqued. Some criticism was helpful; other remarks were simply to curry favor with the professor, who was the editor of the literary journal. You learn which remarks to take to heart and which to pitch in the trash. As others have said, consider the source.

  16. kkline922 March 23, 2013 at 4:33 pm #

    Thanks for sharing. I’ve always been pretty good at removing my ego from feedback and taking it as an oppurtunity for growth. Yet, lately I’ve really been down from feedback I’ve gotten on current projects. I don’t know why. It’s been hard, but your post is a reminder to stay focused and positive. So again, I offer my gratitude!

  17. joseph elon lillie March 23, 2013 at 9:27 pm #

    Thanks for this glimpse into how you handle the rejection. And thanks for the follow.

  18. typewriterpoet March 23, 2013 at 11:36 pm #

    Good to know TY

  19. ontyrepassages March 24, 2013 at 4:26 am #

    Excellent post. Consider, too, that there’s a huge difference between constructive criticism and personal attack. I noticed elements of personal attack in all the negative critiques. They could learn a lot from the balanced treatment you gave the subject in this post.

  20. ahamin March 24, 2013 at 2:46 pm #

    Don’t let what they have told you dampen your writing spirit. People were wrong about so many things before. Walt Disney got fired from his job at a newspaper because they thought he lacked imagination, Albert Einestein couldn’t talk until he was 4 and the teachers said he won’t amount to much and they demoted Opera saying that she wasn’t fit for TV.
    I got two negative reviews but one of them was shocking… A woman who gave my book only a star in goodreads… Saying that she didn’t like the fact that I made one of the good characters an American… She was racist. So be glad at least your negative reviews were presented in a professional way.
    You can never get too many advices so here’s one by me, from a writer to another writer. Criticize yourself, always find in your words what you can criticize, be hard on yourself before someone else does it for you.
    ~ A. H. Amin

  21. Josh Magill March 24, 2013 at 3:31 pm #

    I think it (your essay) was a good piece. I’ve never really been able to handle death, yet it has been so close to you and you use writing to “deal” with it as best you can. Writing truly is healing.

  22. europasicewolf March 24, 2013 at 8:00 pm #

    You have a really good, strong insight into yourself, which takes bravery to step back and view in the heat of emotion. You also have a good insight into other people and I should think your attitude to criticism will take you a long way in your writing life. I also really value what you have said here. Criticism in any form is hard to take and personal writing even more so in some ways. People are mostly kind in their comments here on W/P but sometimes I do wonder what they really think if they weren’t being so considerate of my feelings! This was a very helpful post as rejection and criticism can so easily destroy any aspiring writer if they don’t know how to find balance in the way you describe. I would also suggest that because death is such an uncomfortable subject at the best of times for most people, that something as sensitive as the subject you wrote on and it being so personal too could possibly invoke a harsher than normal critique in some cases because it may well have brought up thoughts and feelings they normally avoid like the plague. Facing up to your own mortality in whatever form can be very disconcerting for some people…and what one fears one destroys…in your case by some very harsh attacks/criticisms of what you wrote. Not nice, but it shows what you wrote was powerful, hit home, and made people think…even if they didn’t want to! I’d also suggest that one of the reasons they didn’t speak up verbally was maybe because to do so would be validating their own fears about the subject and people don’t like to own those feelings.
    Wolfie hugs 🙂

    • Shannon Thompson March 24, 2013 at 8:03 pm #

      Thank you for your honest and encouraging response. I’ve found much comfort in my W/P followers as you all push me forward to do better and continue.
      Thank you.

  23. myliteraryleanings March 24, 2013 at 8:02 pm #

    I appreciate this post as I have been looking for something like this now that I am submitting my work to be published. I am finally getting my first story published so now I guess I will have to deal with negative comments from readers. The hardest part for me about being a writer is developing a thick skin as I have always been very sensitive. Thanks again.

    • Shannon Thompson March 24, 2013 at 8:04 pm #

      I’m excited for your future! I wish you the best of luck with publication. And, if I had any advice, I have to admit that confessing about my emotions with reader responses helps me develop a harder skin.
      Just a thought,

  24. bvedsted March 24, 2013 at 9:43 pm #

    I’ve nominated you for the Shine On Award! Enjoy! http://whenibecameanauthor.wordpress.com/2013/03/24/the-shine-on-award/

  25. hilarycustancegreen March 25, 2013 at 6:35 am #

    Shannon, I am very impressed with your balance and maturity. I read the In Memoriam piece and I think you are right to conclude that one reason you got some of the negative comment will be that many of your contemporaries will not have the life experiences to be able to follow your emotions. Raw feelings displayed simply and honestly can be embarrassing to those who have never experienced them. I find rejection, especially with specific reasons attached, incredibly useful in expanding self-understanding and writing skills, but difficult to handle wisely, so well done for working through it and giving us tips about how you did this. I love specific praise too, because then I can learn to major on the stronger points.
    I think, perhaps, that this is one of the great benefits of blogging. For writers, working alone, then throwing their efforts into the wind like confetti and to be read (or rejected) by total strangers, is an solitary business. Having such ravenous brains (see Daniel Bor’s The Ravenous Brain) we tend to make big (and often mistaken) constructs out of the snippets of feedback that we get. With blogs, like yours, we can share some of the feedback and take it less personally. Thanks.

  26. Cimmorene March 25, 2013 at 5:52 pm #

    I don’t generally get many comments on my work at all, either positive or negative. About the only person that comments regularly is my mother. I wish I could get more comments, either way. It would show that people were interested in my work, even if they thought it was trash. Getting few to no comments is hard. How do you deal with that?

    • Shannon Thompson March 25, 2013 at 7:42 pm #

      Well, I send my works to a lot of people. I have a group of anywhere to 10-30 that I really trust (mainly readers I’ve had since November Snow) and I go from there. My best piece of advice is to ask your close friends to start reading your works or readers you’ve had before in order to get analyzed pieces.

      • Cimmorene March 26, 2013 at 11:25 am #

        would you be interested in reading some of them? cimmorene.wordpress.com

      • Shannon Thompson March 26, 2013 at 1:00 pm #

        I wish I could, but I’m really busy w “Minutes Before Sunset” and finishing my degree. If I have extra time, I will stop by.

      • Cimmorene April 5, 2013 at 1:41 pm #

        That’s all any writer could ask. Thank you.

      • Shannon Thompson April 5, 2013 at 6:06 pm #

        Thank YOU for understanding, :]

      • Cimmorene April 7, 2013 at 12:32 pm #

        You’re welcome


  1. Best Moment Award | yawattahosby - March 26, 2013

    […] Shannon A. Thompson for Writing Tips: How I Handle Rejection […]

  2. Publishing Tips: Nonfiction | Shannon A Thompson - May 19, 2013

    […] personal essays from this class, so you all can see what I learned. (If you can recall, I wrote Writing Tips: How I Handle Rejection on March 23, 2013, and I included a first draft, which is now below, rewritten and […]

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