Many professional writers are all too familiar with rejection. This is often especially true of fiction writers, who can grow accustomed to their stories and manuscripts being rejected time and time again — so much so that they often refer to “rejectomancy,” the art of analyzing and reflecting upon rejection.
But successful writers know that rejection is part of the process, and typically take a positive philosophical attitude toward it. They develop a thick skin and carry on, an attitude expressed beautifully by Samuel Beckett, who wrote “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
The following famous writers, like Beckett, had to take rejection in stride before ultimately becoming successful. While their advice often relates to rejected works of fiction, their wise words are just as applicable to rejection in all its forms. For these writers, rejection was a temporary set back that ultimately served as a great teacher, both in terms of their craft and their commitment to never lose sight of their dreams.
I love my rejection slips. They show me I try.
— Sylvia Plath
Sylvia Plath never abandoned her writing, despite initial rejections for both her poetry and prose. When her now-classic semi-autobiographical novel The Bell Jar was rejected, the editor wrote in a letter to Plath, “To be quite honest with you, we didn’t feel that you had managed to use your materials successfully in a novelistic way.” It was published the following year.
I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide.
— Harper Lee
Harper Lee’s original version of To Kill a Mockingbird was rejected by publishers. When it was finally accepted and purchased for $1,000, the editor who worked with Lee still wasn’t entirely happy, calling it “more a series of anecdotes than a fully conceived novel.” They worked together on the novel for two years and it was finally published in 1960, becoming an instant bestseller and one of the most beloved novels of all time.
Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.
— Neil Gaiman
Neil Gaiman is a writer that new writers love, in part because of his wonderful advice. He, too, has received a respectable pile of rejection letters, but it never made him stop trying. As he says, “The best reaction to a rejection slip is a sort of wild-eyed madness, an evil grin, and sitting yourself in front of the keyboard muttering ‘Okay, you bastards. Try rejecting this!’”
I discovered that rejections are not altogether a bad thing. They teach a writer to rely on his own judgment and to say in his heart of hearts, “To hell with you.”
— Saul Bellow
Saul Bellow won the Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize in literature, among other accolades. He was helped on his way by a certain stubbornness that refused to let rejection stand in his way.
You must keep sending work out; you must never let a manuscript do nothing but eat its head off in a drawer. You send that work out again and again, while you're working on another one. If you have talent, you will receive some measure of success — but only if you persist.
— Isaac Asimov
Isaac Asimov was one of the most prolific writers of all time, writing or editing more than 500 books and publishing a huge amount of short stories. His talent, combined with his persistence and output, led him to become one of the “Big Three” science fiction writers, alongside Robert A. Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke.
By the time I was fourteen the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and went on writing.
— Stephen King
Stephen King experienced a lot of rejection, most notably for his first published novel, Carrie. It was rejected by 30 publishers before Doubleday decided to buy it. When the paperback was released, it sold more than one million copies in its first year. Since then, King has sold more than 350 million copies of his books worldwide.
I encourage you to reject rejection. If someone says no, just say NEXT!
— Jack Canfield
Chicken Soup for the Soul was rejected by many major publishers in New York before eventually being accepted by a small self-help publisher in Florida. It went on to become a bestseller, launching an entire series and making author Jack Canfield a millionaire in the process.
For every accomplishment there were twenty rejections… In the end, though, only one attitude enabled me to move ahead. That attitude said, “Rejection can simply mean redirection.”
— Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou had to confront racism and sexism during her career, as well as rejection. And even after the publication of her most acclaimed work, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, she still had to confront those who tried — and still try — to censor her now-immortal autobiography.
Rejection has value. It teaches us when our work or our skillset is not good enough and must be made better… Rejection refines us. Those who fall prey to its enervating soul-sucking tentacles are doomed. Those who persist past it are survivors. Best ask yourself the question: what kind of writer are you? The kind who survives? Or the kind who gets asphyxiated by the tentacles of woe?
— Chuck Wendig
Chuck Wendig is well-known for his trilogy Aftermath, a trio of novels set in the Star Wars universe. He’s also known for his Terribleminds blog, in which he often tackles the subject of rejection with large doses of colorful language. For him, the mountain of rejections is quickly flattened by that one, final acceptance: 200 “no thank yous” are immediately invalidated by a single “yes.”
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