How to Deal With Setbacks as a Writer


If you’re trying to get published, you’re coping with writing rejections all the time. These tips for dealing with setbacks as a writer will help you bounce back and query again. As a full-time freelance writer and blogger, I apply these tips almost every single day!

First, a writing quip from two successful writers and published authors: “We think writers should stop placing so much emphasis on ‘rejections’,” writes Linda Formichelli and Diana Burrell in The Renegade Writer. “They’re not rejections – they’re business decisions. What if your attorney or massage therapist moped around in their bathrobes like writers do whenever they lost a potential client?”

No more moping about those writing rejections, fellow scribes. Turn it around! To learn more about Formichelli and Burrell’s perspective on successful freelance writing, read The Renegade Writer: A Totally Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing Success. And, here are 10 tips for dealing with setbacks as a writer…

10 Tips for Dealing With Setbacks

1. Keep churning those article ideas out. As a freelance writer, I’m finally at the point where I’m writing more than I’m pitching article ideas – but trust me, it took 1 1/2 years of querying to get here. And even now, when I need an assignment, I still have to query my regular magazine editors and pitch my ideas (but they’re approaching me more and more with article assignments). For magazine writing, develop a weekly schedule and pitch a query or two a day. Or, pitch 10 on Tuesdays – that’s Pitch Day for me! Just keep sending those queries out, and you’ll sell an article or three sooner or later.

2. Pitch column ideas, too. Of the three column ideas I’ve pitched, one was just accepted the other day! I’m over the moon about it – it’s for a well-known national magazine – but I’m reluctant to announce it until my official debut. Or at least until I’ve submitted my first article, which will be soon. Maybe I’m scared of jinxing it, I dunno. But the point is: I pitched a column idea to alive magazine, and it was rejected. I pitched a column idea to our island newspaper, the Undercurrent, and it was rejected. There are definitely more setbacks than successes in magazine writing.

3. Look at those last two sentences. I belatedly realized that I wrote, “and it was rejected” both times (not I was rejected). That may be why I can pitch queries until the cows come home — and editors laugh at my persistence. I don’t take writing rebuffs personally. If my column or article ideas don’t suit them, then so be it.

4. Tweak or repurpose old article ideas. After you send an article query to a magazine editor or book proposal to a publishing house, move on to your next project. Successful writers stay busy by reworking the idea for another magazine or researching new book publishers. Also, continually mine your old queries for new ways to sell them. If you keep polishing and sending them out, they’ll eventually find a home. Read How to Sell Your Reprint Articles for more ideas on reworking old ideas.

5. Accept rejection letters as part of the process. J.K. Rowling, John Irving, Ursula Le Guin. Saul Bellow, and Alice Munro are all members of the Rejected Writers’ Club (oops I changed the name). For instance, Mark Victor Hansen and Jack Canfield’s Chicken Soup for the Soul received rejection letters from twenty major publishers. Their agent, Jeff Herman, says, “They instinctively understood that all those rejections were simply an uncomfortable part of a process that would eventually get them were they wanted to be.” This advice is solid for magazine writing, poetry, technical writing, and blogging jobs, too.

6. Recycle your writing. I wrote a long article for Flare Magazine in Canada, which was eventually nixed by the editors. Ouch, but I understood why. The Flare magazine editor explained it well, apologized, and offered me a 50% kill fee (which was still a healthy sum). I revamped the idea and sold it to Woman’s Day. As a freelancer, you need to keep recycling your writing. Use your past research and experts for fresh new ideas.

7. Remember the reasons for rejection. A great book or article idea can be unsuitable for the publisher’s or agent’s list. The editor could love the pitch, and put it aside for future issues and then forget all about it. A publisher could have too many great ideas, and not enough money, time, or resources to publish any more than what he or she’s committed to. Here’s my point: there are a gazillion reasons for a rejection in magazine writing and book publishing – and it’s possible that none reflect on your ability as a freelancer.

8. Face your fear of rejection. Dig around your own psyche a little: what bothers you so much when someone you’ve never even met – who has a different style, taste in writing, perspective, and agenda – can’t use your article or book? Maybe you’re a little insecure, or your self-esteem could use a boost, or you’re sensitive to rejection or criticism – we all struggle with those things, whether we’re freelance writers or tugboat operators (or both). Once you figure out why rejection makes you uncomfortable, you’re better able to deal with setbacks as a writer.



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9. Fail better. One of my all-time favorite quotations is from Samuel Beckett. “Ever tried? Ever failed? No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” And that’s the trick to dealing with writing rejection (or any rebuff in life, for that matter). Shrug it off, and move on. I love how matter-of-fact Beckett is: “No matter. Fail again.”

10. What’s your writing advice? I could come up with a 10th way to deal with rejection as a writer — but I’d rather hear from you! If you have any advice for magazine writing or book publishing rejections, please comment below.

Forge ahead and fail again, fellow scribes. Sooner or later, you’ll taste success – and it’ll be sweeeeeeeet!  🙂

If you have any thoughts or questions on dealing with writing setbacks or rejections, please comment below…

xo


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2 thoughts on “How to Deal With Setbacks as a Writer

  • Krista

    I really appreciate your motivational tips, and they’ve given me the boost I need to write those sample articles and keep pitching today. I am also going to try to focus on having fun writing the articles and finding the ideas, rather than the amount of times they are rejected–kind of like how I enjoyed school even though I was not getting paid.

  • Katherine

    Learning about rejection and how to learn from it, how to handle it, is one of those things that will make or break you. These are some really good tips!