When the Judges Say No: Dealing with Creative Rejection

This year was the final year for Rooglewood Press’s fairy tale retelling contests. For the second time out of four contests, I submitted a story. This year, there was a Facebook party to announce the honorable mentions, perfect scores, finalists, and, of course, winners.

So I logged on Saturday night and waited with all the other wonderful, kind, creative people I met through this contest. Together, we shared in the anxiety and excitement as names were called. I was thrilled and given a ray of hope when this image popped up:

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My story was selected as a finalist! But excitement and hope gave way to disappointment yet again. While my story was a finalist, just like the last time I entered, it ultimately wasn’t chosen for the collection.

Let me tell you something. Being rejected sucks. And when it’s a creative work, it is so easy for the rejection to feel personal. Our work is close to us, sometimes so close that it feels like a part of us. So what do we do when our work is rejected?

  1. First and foremost, feel your feelings. Rejection hurts. Let yourself be sad. Let yourself be disappointed. Eat that cake. Break that plate. Then move forward. One of my favorite Disney movies, simply for its message, is Meet the Robinsons: “Keep moving forward.”
  2. Remind yourself that your work isn’t you. A rejection of a work is not a reflection of you as a person. Remind yourself that it isn’t personal.
  3. Understand that a rejection of your work has no reflection on your writing. Typically, if an agent, publisher, or contest judge rejects your work (or simply doesn’t select it for publication or as a winner), it more than likely reflects the needs of the person, not your skill and ability as a writer. You may have written something absolutely wonderful, groundbreaking, and amazing, but if it doesn’t fit with the idea of the collection you submitted to or the types of stories the agent is looking for, then it is going to be rejected. It just means you need to keep looking for that story’s home. You haven’t found it yet.
  4. Think about what you can do to improve your work. Even if you don’t plan on doing anything with the failed piece (which, by the way, didn’t really fail), think about ways you could work on improving it. You could hire an editor or find a critique partner. You could go through it again on your own. Take any critiques of your work seriously. Evaluate them and choose what comments you want to use and what comments are contrary to your vision for your story. But don’t be afraid to look at it with a critical eye… just don’t be too hard on yourself. Take the steps to make it the best it can be.
  5. Don’t let it keep you down. You can take your work and submit it elsewhere. you could publish it on your own. Or you could abandon it altogether and move onto a new project. But regardless, don’t let one rejection shut you down forever. Rejection is such a huge part of this industry. It never gets easier, but you learn how to cope with it and try despite it.

Rejection is a normal part of writing. It will happen to everyone. That said, it really does suck. And that’s okay. You’re allowed to feel that pain. What you can’t do is let it get to you.

Never give up.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have plans to make and stories to write.

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