I received an email from a friend yesterday. She had pitched a story to a magazine and received a ‘thanks, but no thanks’. It had knocked the wind out of her sails but she was, she wrote, beginning to feel ready to try again.
She wanted to know how to deal with rejection.
“Do you ever suffer from feeling over-sensitive about knockbacks?” she asked me.
My answer? Er, yes. But nowhere near as much as I used to do.
Someone asked me recently to write a post about how to develop a thicker skin as a freelancer. I started one a few times and then gave up. It’s not like there’s a secret cream you can use – “thicker skin in minutes, fight the seven signs of rejection”.
Unfortunately, as with most things, the rhinoceros hide is something that develops over time. With practice.
In other words, yes, I got better at being rejected the more often I was rejected.
Put like that I sound like a very sad individual indeed.
The fact is that writing is one of those jobs in which you put yourself out there every single day. You have to back yourself in on a regular basis. It’s a creative process, so there’s a little bit of you in every idea, every article, every assignment, every book. A little piece of you going ‘like me, like me’. And if someone doesn’t, that little piece of you retires hurt.
The key to dealing with rejection
The key is not to take it personally. I said it wasn’t easy. If someone rejects your idea or pitch, it might just be that it’s not right for them on that day. Perhaps you haven’t angled it quite right for that publication.
Perhaps it’s just, gulp, a crappy idea. We all have them. Even if we don’t like to admit it.
They’re not rejecting you as a person, just that particular idea, pitch, feature or proposal.
What to do after you’re rejected
If I get a ‘no’ on a pitch, I just rethink it. Can I send it to someone else? Are the case studies not strong enough? Has it been done elsewhere recently?
I have an ‘ideas’ file on my computer. It’s a place where bad ideas go to die, or to perhaps be reborn as good ideas in four months time when they become surprisingly relevant.
Freelance writers who get regular work are freelance writers who get knocked back and just bounce back with another idea, another angle, another attempt. There’s no hocus pocus in it. Just an ‘oh well, I’ll try something different’ approach, time and time again.
I’m not saying it isn’t exhausting sometimes. Even a bit depressing if you have a bad run. But the beautiful thing about writing, in any genre or style, is the idea that your next pitch/story/proposal/book/novel will be a winner. Hope is a wonderful cure. Resilience is the key.
But if anyone does come up with a formulation for Thick Skin In A Jar, please send me a sample. Express post.
Would you love more writing tips and advice? Check out my book So You Want To Be A Writer: How To Get Started (While You Still Have A Day Job), co-authored with Valerie Khoo and based on our top-rating podcast.