Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Coping with Rejection

I've talked about Carolyn J. Rose, my instructor for "Novel Writing Bootcamp." The first time I took her class I had about 100 pages written on a book and when I got done with the class I'd had to edit out all but fourteen pages. It was all backstory, scene setting, worthless prose, etc. After I read a page aloud in class one evening, Carolyn's fists began to open and close, her pupils dilated and foam formed in the corners of her mouth. "Gee," she said, "I'd love to take a red pen to that."

I took that as a compliment.

Her book, Hemlock Lake is being released tomorrow and I asked her if she'd do a guest blog. She thinks it is because I'm being generous, but really, I'm way deep into an extensive revision on my book and this will save me from having to write a blog. I have read Hemlock Lake, and loved it. It was like spending the summer at a lake without having to pack my bags or fill the ice chest. The residents of Hemlock Lake are my kind of people...if you don't mind wondering if you might be murdered during the night. She brings the story to sizzling life so you feel the summer heat and smell the smoke even before you see the sinister flames across the lake.

Without further ado, I present "Coping with Rejection", by guest blogger, Carolyn J. Rose.


Coping with Rejection

By Carolyn J. Rose


It’s as much a part of my writing life as carpal tunnel syndrome, brain cramps, and a butt that looks best in a bathrobe.

Being rejected cuts as deep as not being asked to the prom or being stood up on your wedding day. (Although, for the record, I had a darn good time not going to the prom, and have been guilty once or twice—in the midst of a discussion that wasn’t going my way—of wishing there’d been nobody waiting at the end of that aisle.)

Just as there are stages of grief, there are also stages of rejection—in fact, the first few stages are almost identical.

Shock and Denial. Check. I find myself staring at a rejection notice confident that if I look long enough I’ll see someone else’s name at the top or that the “not” will disappear and I’ll see that an agent is “interested.”

Pain and Guilt. Check. I feel I failed my story by not saying the right things in that query letter, by not writing a better first sentence for the first chapter, or by not being worthy to tell the tale.

Anger and Bargaining. Been there, done that. I’m guilty of crumpling rejections and hurling them against walls, and guilty of promising to drive within the speed limit, be nicer to those with too many items in the express line, and eat more fruit and vegetables if only . . .

Depression and loneliness. Oh yeah. Writing can be a lonely experience at the best of times, and loneliness can be a slippery slope into the depths of What’s the Point? Canyon.

So, unless you’re one of those rare writers who lands a publisher with the first toss of the query net, you might want to have a coping strategy—or several coping strategies—to get you through these early stages of rejection. And you might want to be aware of the potential cost of each course of action.

Here are some of the strategies I’ve employed in the past and the benefits and drawbacks I’ve discovered:


Imagining that agents are the dirt beneath the beater bar, I charge around the house sucking them up. On the plus side, I discover the carpet has a pattern. On the minus side, I pinch a nerve in my shoulder and wear out the carpet attachment. Dirt returns and brings along its close friends, dust and pet dander. I put away the vacuum and start

Taking long walks

Going with the theory that a tired writer is a less angry writer, I set out to see my neighborhood. I raise my metabolic rate, strengthen my heart, and lose a few pounds. But I develop planters fasciitis, suffer excruciating pain in my heels, and have to fork out $400 for special orthotic devices that make it feel like I’m standing on a pipe. I give up walking in favor of

Water Aerobics

Telling myself that others will suffer more from the sight of me in a bathing suit than I do, I hit the pool six days a week, strap on a flotation belt, and start building something I never knew I had—core muscles. Within two weeks, I’m doing the cross-country ski maneuver and tuck jumping jacks with the best of them. Within three weeks I develop dry skin, split fingernails, and things on my neck that look a lot like gills. I cut back on water aerobics and substitute


Pretending that weeds are agents, I uproot them by the dozen and trim back shrubs with a vengeance. The lack of weeds and overhanging branches reveals numerous bare places. I spend a small fortune on bulbs and plantings to fill them. My dog eats several and digs up more. Others are attacked by grubs and bugs devour most of the rest. I retreat to the deck and the strategy of

Catching up on the TBR pile

I inhale some great literature and feel energized, then come across some not-so-great literature and contemplate unfairness of life. Feeling sorry for myself once more, I resort to

Whining to friends

On the first day I collect 10 “poor baby” responses. On day two, I rake in 6 “poor babies” and 4 “I’ve got a call on the other line.” On day three I get two “poor babies” and 8 message machines. On day 4, no one answers. With one foot sliding down that slippery slope I mentioned earlier, I sulk to the bottle-filled cabinet in the buffet and begin on my new strategy of

Indulging in chilled adult beverages

Determined to numb myself to the pain of rejection, I drink too fast and get a stabbing headache. After self-medicating to treat that headache, I wake up the next day experiencing hangover Armageddon. Furious at myself, I hit on a new strategy

Writing another novel

“I’ll show them,” I chortle. “They haven’t seen the last of me. I will learn more about plotting, characterization, scene structure, subtext, and backstory. I will never quit. I will never give up. They’ll have to pry this keyboard from my cold, dead fingers.” Finally, a strategy that combines time-consuming, distracting reaction to failure with time-consuming, distracting forward action.

To my surprise I found that, for the wrong reasons (spite and revenge), I did the right thing—burned off the negative energy and faced up to the realities of writing for publication. The next step was to accept those realities and the fact that I couldn’t change them. That enabled me to move on, to reconstruct myself, to practice discipline, to nurture others. Over the years, I published a number of mysteries through small presses and recently landed a contract with Five Star for Hemlock Lake.

Reviews so far have been positive and with each one I tell myself, “You wouldn’t be reading this if you hadn’t stopped arguing, avoiding, indulging, and whining.”

Like writing itself, I found coping with rejection was a journey during which I learned much about myself. I’m not the same person I was when I got my first rejection slip. I think that’s a good thing. I think my friends—who now take my calls again—would agree.


  1. Bathrobe good choice! My claim to fame is that I took boot camp with you. I must agree Carolyn's feedback was razor sharp which took the bite out of the huge chunk you normally had to surgically remove from the said manuscript. I love a good red pen and the Dead Bunny Club would be not without her. How do you rate that you get her to guest blog. You lucky devil! Now go edit your book!

  2. Jars,

    Yes, we took the class together, but it was your first time. For me, it was a remedial class. I got an enormous amount of information out of it, both times.

  3. Great post from your guest! I can apply it all to my rejection at not receiving an award for a recent painting, and not having a painting accepted into another exhibition. Very useful reminder. Back to the easel. :)

  4. Thank you Melanie, Thank you Carolyn.

    And yes, vacumming is high on my list to handling rejection. Not for sucking up the agents, but for smashing into my furniture.

    Rejection sucks but it does make us better writers, the "I'll show them" attitude is what has kept me going.

  5. Dale,

    Rejection for artists would be the same. Paint, paint, paint.


    HA. So I'm not alone. I decided for every rejection I received I'd send out two more queries, just to show 'em. Carolyn has hit the gas main with her pick on this one. I love the part about "I have a call on the other line." Yep. That happens.

  6. Hey Carolyn, great first line. It sucked me right in. I recently employed much of your boot camp course to explain to a new writer (like I'm an old hand?) that his 48 pages omniscient narrative throat-clearing probably wouldn't sell an agent. I could be wrong and said so.

    See you at WWC?


  7. Hey, I'm a book editor and Carolyn describes all of the steps I go through before committing to read, slash and slice through the precious creativity of another weeping human being and, in my evaluation, throw them a rope and thrust a first-aid kit of how-to-fix-it in their hands.

    Carolyn's wise and crack-wise blog should be enough to drive anyone to buy all of her novels.

  8. Norm,

    I hope Carolyn will be stopping by later to read the comments, although she may be at a book signing. She's great, isn't she?


    You are sweet. I had no idea you go through this process before slashing our manuscripts with red ink. But if it weren't for people like you, and Carolyn, we would never improve. Improving is what it is all about. Thanks.

  9. OH. MY. GOSH. We're supposed to vacuum? I think I'd rather get a rejection letter.

  10. Yes, Carol, you must vacuum.
    Norm, did that 48 pages include a flashback?
    Melanie, thanks for giving me space to vent.

  11. As a fledgling writer, I've avoided the pain of rejection thus far by never having actually submitted anything to a potential editor. :) No submission, no rejection! Now that I'm wrapping up my first novel and entering the revision zone I will be facing the firing squad at some point. Luckily, I now have some coping skills to count on. I'll keep my vac handy and the adult beverages chilled and at the ready. Thanks, Carolyn, for the insight, the laughs and the gracious sharing of your talent and support. Susan Skipwith


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