Taking your medicine

Rejection. It’s supposed to be as much a part of being a writer as macaroni and cheese, or bacon and eggs, or Penn and Teller. No one likes it, but it’s much easier to be philosophical about it when it’s not you. I’ve always thought that people should have thicker skins when dealing with rejection.

And then I got rejected.

Yeah, it stings a little. And I was luckier than most. I entered a contest where the judge guaranteed that everyone who entered would get at least a critique on their cover letter. Free feedback is always a good thing. And even my rejection came with a couple pages of feedback. It was better than most can expect from a rejection.

But I still didn’t win. And in spite of my telling myself the odds were against me, I still was kinda hoping this would be my break. So yeah, rejection stinks. And sometimes feedback does, too.

Fortunately I resisted the urge to get defensive. There was valuable information in the feedback I got. Even the comments I initially dismissed as subjective–just their personal tastes–contained some useful truth. And on further consideration, some of the comments, while not directly addressing them, confirmed some of the suspicions I’d had about the story when I sent it in.

So how do we take apparently negative feedback and use it to improve? I’m sure many of you can answer this question better than I can, but here are a few ideas I have. If any of you have other suggestions, please share!

  1. Check your ego at the door. I admit my first instinct was to dismiss much of the feedback I received. The judge was trying to get me to rewrite the story they way they would have written it! It would have been easy to chalk it up to “you can’t please everyone” and walk away. But that would have defeated the whole point of the exercise: getting feedback.
  2. Look for what they mean, not just what they say. Not all editors know how to explain what’s wrong with your story. They can certainly tell something’s wrong, but you may actually have to read between the lines to identify the true issue. Some of the comments I initially wanted to dismiss as personal taste did in fact point to a larger problem–I tried to tackle too much in my story. It was really more like the first chapter of a novel, and included far more than was needed to tell the story.
  3. Try it. You might like it. If someone gives you advice on how to rework you story, don’t just discard it. After some consideration, I decided to take their suggestions on how to rework the story and try rewriting it as they suggest. Now, you don’t always want to gut your story and start over every time someone gives you negative feedback, but in this case I think it would be a good exercise for me to give it a try.
  4. Don’t be afraid to disregard feedback. In the end it still has to be your story, and you have to be pleased with it. Not all feedback is valid, and in the end you still have to write the story you would like to read. It’s probably not wise to discount everything they tell you, but it’s also not necessary to accept everything they say blindly, either.
  5. Plan your next steps right away. Don’t dwell on the negatives. Don’t think of it as rejection. Don’t give up writing just because someone wasn’t thrilled with your work. Consider the feedback carefully, then move on. Plan your next project. Get right back in there and keep writing. Unless their feedback was “give it up!” they were probably wanting to help and encourage you, not make you quit. They wouldn’t give feedback if they didn’t think it would help.
  6. Remember, negative feedback is better than no feedback at all. As depressing as negative feedback can be, at least you know why the editor rejected you. or why your alpha reader wasn’t impressed. With at least some feedback you can get an idea of where to start to fix things. With no feedback at all…well, what can you really do with that? Never look gift feedback in the mouth.

There’s a few ideas I have. What do you learn from feedback and rejection? What helps you get back on that horse and keep riding/writing? Drop us a comment!

Thom Stratton

About Thom Stratton

Thom is a Utah transplant, works for a regional bank, and spends his lunch hours working on his latest novel. His wife, three kids, and four pets find him amusing and somewhat useful, so they keep him around.