The only platitude I’ve heard repeated as often as “show don’t tell” is “you need a thicker skin.” Nonsense. You need a better rebound.
Whether we’re talking about publishers, agents, or readers, (or lovers!), rejection sucks. But you know what’s even worse? Trying to pretend it doesn’t suck.
If you tell yourself you don’t care, the only paths left for you include bitterness, delusion, blame, or apathy, all of which are Kryptonite to a creative person.
Let me give you just one quick example. I went to grad school with this exceptionally talented guy who had a fantastic comic novel. He queried a few agents who didn’t immediately snap it up. Not only did he give up on his agent pursuit, he immediately quit writing altogether and said, “Fuck them. It’s their loss.” Guess what? It’s not only his loss, it is their loss, it’s all of our loss. His book was good and now readers can’t enjoy it because he wasn’t willing to regroup and try again.
Now if you ask the really successful creative people you know - the ones who are actually fulfilled anyway - they may claim they have a thick skin. But I’d bet if you dig a little deeper, you’d find that bad reviews or failed projects do bother them. They just don’t let it bother them for long.
Here’s why, as a writer, you can’t afford a thick skin:
1. Steeling yourself against emotion is not conducive to good writing. To create any type of meaningful art, you’ve got to be vulnerable.
2. Saying you don’t care is lying to yourself, and to write something worth sharing with the world, you’ve got to be honest.
3. Apathy never leads to the Big Leagues, not for any career field. To get a book published, you’ve got to Want It Bad. This is your dream, and it’s okay to admit that. Instead of pretending it doesn’t matter, I want you to want it even harder.
4. Blaming others - i.e. Agents are idiots who wouldn’t know a good book if it bit them - is not conducive to building relationships, and as I’ve written about before, this business is about who you know.
5. Refusing to take criticism will stop you from improving your writing. Real writers want to keep improving for the rest of their lives.
6. Blocked emotion, self delusion, bitterness…it’s all bad for your health and your happiness. Please don’t live that way.
7. Lastly, and I’m sure you know this one already, pretending you don’t care won’t actually make rejection hurt any less when it happens.
How to Develop Your Rebound Instead
If you do get rejected, it’s okay to feel like crap. I still do. Thankfully, after so many years as a writer, instead of feeling bad for days or weeks, I now feel bad for minutes or hours. That’s because experience has proven to me that it’s never hopeless. I know I will always eventually find a solution or move on.
If it’s a really big one, like the time my agent didn’t like the new manuscript I’d spent years writing, I’ll need to sleep on it. Then inevitably, I’ll understand what I need to do to turn the situation around. That’s when I start getting excited again.
If you’re new at putting yourself out there, you’ll probably be bummed out for at least a couple of days. When that happens, go ahead and feel it. Eat some ice cream, indulge in some feel-good movies, cry on the shoulder of a supportive friend, or try one of these other writerly ways to get your mojo back.
Then get back to work.
Most importantly, do not take rejection as a sign that you’re not meant to be a writer. Getting rejected, feeling bad, and bouncing back…that is exactly what makes you a writer.