First Sunday Q&A: A Different Way to Move through Rejection and Discouragement
Answering your writing and publishing questions
Welcome to my “First Sunday” Q&A for paid subscribers, where we discuss your most gnarly writing and publishing questions. I plan to write this the first Sunday of each month for you, as long as you send me questions. I have a small store of questions from my years of teaching, which I’ll use as we get going. But please feel free to post questions in the comments or email them to me at mary[at]marycarrollmoore[dot]com, and I’ll spend time on them, sharing ideas, tips, and resources from my own experience. I’m happy to keep you anonymous.
My intention is to make this a safe, generous place to exchange ideas and talk about the deepest writing and publishing issues on your mind.
Q: I’ve been writing for years, I’ve been published too. But my ability to handle the more difficult aspects of writing and publishing isn’t getting stronger, as you’d expect. In fact, I find myself more sensitive to rejection than ever. I also have trouble with moving through stuck places in my writing. For instance, if I’m trying a new skill and I just hate what I’m coming up with.
What are some tips or ways you’ve used to move through slack periods and discouragement?
I’m reminded of years ago, early in my food career, when I was hired to open and run a new restaurant in Southern California. My work involved ridiculously long hours, I always smelled of garlic, and I had trouble sleeping because of the upside down schedule that a dinner-only restaurant requires. Friends thought I had the most romantic job in the world because I loved food and I worked with a team of talented cooks.
I had to laugh. Each time someone said to me, “I’ve always wanted to open a restaurant,” I wanted to bust their sentimental bubble with the real truth.
I feel the same way whenever someone says, “I’ve always wanted to write a book.”
It’s creative, yes. It can be a lovely experience when it’s going well. But most of you who are reading this also know it’s terrifically hard work. And rejection and discouragement are part and parcel.
If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. You’ve probably heard that one too. I sweated a lot in that restaurant kitchen, at a hot stove for hours, working as fast as I could to churn out the meals.
Same with the writing life. I metaphorically stand at a hot stove and the heat can feel unbearable at times.
So why do it?
Because we have to. Nothing beats the creative flight of making a piece of writing work. Rejection and discouragement are small compared to that.
In my recent workshop at the Loft Literary Center, “Writing and Risk: Aligning Your Writing with Your Life,” we discussed the levels of risk inherent in each stage of the writing process. Each stage develops a certain level of stamina for handling the heat of the writing life, the rejection and discouragement. One reason why I honor all the stages, why I feel strongly that we must spend enough time in each to strengthen our muscles.
It’s foolish to expect that we wouldn’t encounter rejection and disappointment, and also that—like my student with the very good question above—it can get harder as we go forward. A rejection from a small literary journal for an essay you submitted might be taken in stride, while a bad review from a respected trade pub when you’re promoting your book hurts more and longer. But the idea is that by the time you reach out to trade pubs for your soon-to-be-published book, you’ve strengthened your rejection muscles consciously, through writing practice and learning how to take feedback. You can handle more disappointments with balance and just move on to the next risk.
My three stages of writing and their risk are good markers. I’ll share them with you so you might be able to (1) see where you are in the continuum and (2) strengthen the appropriate “risk” muscle to better handle rejection.