Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Believe in Yourself

This post was first published here on April 18, 2009.


Are there any among us who haven't had self-doubts? Is there anyone who is elated to get rejection after rejection? Haven't most of us, at one time or another, questioned this career of writing?

Self-doubt and even depression are normal. Some of us get down after finishing a novel. It may take a while to get started on the next one. We may have periods when we think, "Why in the world am I doing this?" And, certainly, we can have ambivalent feelings about querying. If you're querying agents or editors, it means you've accomplished something and you're ready to move onto the next step. You anticipate replies as you walk to the mail box. And you feel that knot in your stomach as you read the rejection. (And sometimes the elation of the acceptance or check.)

Writers have to handle more than just rejection, though. We have critique partners who disassemble our work, readers who complain about errors or research mistakes, editors who insist on inane changes, bookstores that forget to stock our book or just won't. We tend to work alone at our computers or typewriters. Sometimes our progress seems so slow, we wonder if there's any forward movement at all.

But every time you get "down" or suspect that you must be a second-rate hack or you would be published (or be a best-selling author or at the top of your editor's list or whatever), remember that these feelings will pass. Do something to soothe your spirit.

But do NOT beat yourself up. There are plenty of people out there willing to do that for you. Some of them even enjoy doing it. (Try to cut those people out of your life, or at least limit your contact with them.)

I repeat, don't beat yourself up. We're in a business where we have to live with bad news. But, very rarely, are those rejections directed at you personally. Your article didn't fit that magazine -- but that's not a dig at you as a person. The agent thought your synopsis was a pile of warm spit. Yeah, it hurts. But it's not the end of the world. And in the scheme of your life, it's not a major event -- unless you let it be.

If you take a cat-o-nine-tails and start beating yourself up, you weaken your resolve, you put dents into your armor of confidence, you hurt your inner spirit. Sure, after a rejection, you can take a little down time to recover, but use that time to learn, grow, do something enjoyable, focus on some neglected aspect of your life. Okay, so you're a little down. But if you start kicking yourself while you're down, it'll only be harder to get back up.

And if you’re one of my clients, give me a call. Heck, even if you’re not one of my editing clients, gimme a call. We’ll talk. Or if you live close by, we’ll meet to talk over a mocha coffee. What the heck, we’ll even order it with whip cream.
Helen Ginger is a freelance editor and book consultant, with an informational and interactive blog for writers and a free weekly e-newsletter that has gone out to subscribers around the globe for ten years. She coaches writers on the publishing industry, finding an agent, and polishing their work for publication. You can also follow her on Twitter.
Bookmark and Share


  1. Thank you Helen, and really timely.
    I haven't yet sent anything to editors, even agents but I presented myself to a literary contest and it hurts not to win.
    I know, only one can win but...

  2. Thank you for the post. It is a lonely place to live when one is a writer. And you're right. Why add to the pain of rejection or not winning a contest by beating ourselves up? That's the time to seek friends, share revelry, and reconnect with nature. Then we can press on.

    Anna--sorry about the contest. I know that pain all too well. (((Hugs)))

  3. Thank you Helen, I really needed to read this today!

  4. Excellent advice, Helen. Rejection is a universal experience ... even more so for writers!

    One of the most popular posts on my blog is What I Learned from Rejection. It seems people are looking for positive ways to respond to rejection. You've shared helpful advice to do this.

  5. I welcome objective criticism of my work. The down side is I have to use my brain to get it right. Still, it's worth the effort.

    As one of your clients, I have to say 99% of your comments about Killer Career I agree on. I'll have a much better book after completing the edit process.

    Morgan Mandel

  6. This is a fantastic post, Helen. It is absolutely essential for writers to realize that it is not a personal attack when they get rejected. I think if more writers knew that, more would succeed because they wouldn't take "no" for an answer. They'd package up those stories or articles the same day and send them straight on to the next editor. On to the next... those are words to live by.


  7. This is one nice thing about the Internet and blogging. Even lonely writers toiling away at their computers can find friends to talk to and fellow writers to commiserate with online.

  8. Helen great advice. I wonder if anyone has ever done research on the number of writers that just stop after the first rejection. I would think they are many, which is sad.

    I think the best medicine for rejection is to have many things out there- contests, short stories, queries to agents, publishers- it helps when you get a rejection, then you can just say okay and move on to plan b.

  9. One thing I try to remind myself is that I can't expect self-belief to be a straight line on the graph. It's going to have its spikes and dips. The trick is finding ways to make the dips last for shorter amounts of time.

    I've found that reading articles like this one, and banding together in the spirit of fellow writers (even if only in cyberspace, such as sharing our comments on a helpful blog post), are two great ways to do that.

    Thanks, Helen! Your kindness and empathy came across in spades.

  10. Great post. Wish I'd have had bloggy connections when I was early on in my writing career. Sometimes you do wonder if you're really good or not. Especially when you get rejection letters back from your queries.

    I kept a file of rejection letters when I was trying to get my first book published. I pulled them out and would read them from time to time for motivation. I would show them - one day they would all be sorry.

  11. My guess is that rejection does stop a lot of writers from moving forward. A few, like Marvin, take motivation from rejections. Others look for support from friends, fellow writers, or as Millie said, sharing with others. It helps to have a support group.

  12. Whenever I get an icky rejection, I enjoy throwing a lavish personal pity party involving chocolate, wine, revelry, shopping, and friends (not always in that order). Usually this party lasts for a few days. I also call those cheerleaders in my life who believe in my dreams and goals for ongoing encouragement.

    And I celebrate every small victory, be it a finished MS, a dreaded synopsis, or YEAH great contest results (rare), THE SAME WAY....


  13. The more rejections you have, the more work you're getting "out there" and that's a great thing. Save those rejections and wallpaper your bathroom with them! Think of the future reading possibilities while you're... well. Just be creative with your rejection slips, and don't take them personally. Remember that the person on the other side of the submission is only human, and your rejection could mean nothing more than an editor having a bad day. It's true.

    Thanks, Helen. Another inspiring post from a great book coach.


  14. Okay, we're tossing the coffee with whip cream and heading to Christine's house for a Pity Party. Definitely sounds like more fun!

    Dani, you're so right. We have to remember there's a human being on the other side of the rejection.

  15. Helen,
    Excellent advice and like someone before me mentioned, timely. I have been trying for almost two years to complete a book project with members of my family, with little input on their part. I was starting to feel discouraged until your blog post reminded me “failure is just another door to success.” I sometimes find that the more discouraged I become, the more I accomplish. I know, what??? Well, when I get down or discouraged about anything, one of the first things I do is to write about how I am feeling so discouraged, ergo…writing.
    Thank you for the “kick,” however painless it was.

  16. Great advice, Helen. The best thing I ever did for myself was let the work be the work and any negatives that came from it did not affect me as a person. Whew! what a relief.

    But still, we could meet for that coffee someday. :-)

  17. I sure wish you lived nearby!

    Thanks for the great post.

    When I send my work off, I don't think of it seeking accpetance. I think of it as seeking feedback. The best feedback, of course, is acceptance, but many other forms of feedback is good as well. If someone says my words are as exciting as warm spit, I hope they tell me why they feel that way. When they do, read what they have to say, see what I can learn from it, and move on. Another thing I do - I always have plan B ready to go: the next envelope is addressed and ready to go except for a date on the letter. So when the rejection arrives, I get to put another package in the mail. And I always celebrate sending off work.

    Anna, I'm sorry about the contest. That's a tough one. I keep telling myself that I should only enter the contests that offer editorial feedback on every entry. That's what I tell myself, not what I do.

  18. AnnMarie, I love your way of handling rejection -- do more writing!

    Charlotte, that is so smart. Having the next query or submission ready to go. If you get rejected, you're taking a positive attitude. If you get accepted, you can celebrate. Either way, you're not letting yourself get down.

    Maryann, I checked the map and you and I are close enough to get together. 'Course, I'd have to get in the car, drive north, meet you for coffee, then head back home in order to make it a one day trip. But I also noticed you live fairly close (for Texas) to a good friend of mine and terrific author, Nancy Bell.

  19. Good points. I can grow a thick skin to block out the pain of external rejection, but if I give myself a hard time there's no defense...I'm already under my own skin. And I do sometimes get the Not Good Enough funk going. That's about when I need a break from the writing scene, followed by a swift kick in the rearmost.


  20. Lisa, so true! "Sayings" that endure through the years usually do so because they hold much truth, like:
    We are our own worst enemy.

  21. We writers are a sensitive bunch. In order to connect emotionally with our readers, we expose our hearts. Unfortunately, this vulnerablility often makes us hypersensitive to criticism. Hence, rejections hurt. Realizing and accepting that it's not a personal attack helps. This is a great post, Helen, and most deserving of today's second-time-around. :-)

  22. Mmm, mocha. I love that word and all it evokes.

    Everything else here makes so much sense, Helen. I keep myself going with this additional truth: If I keep writing and submitting, I will become better. And to extend the mocha metaphor: cream rises to the top!

  23. I'm glad this was re-posted. I remember feeling so much better about my writing after reading it the first time. Good advice, Helen.

  24. Looks like you hit a nerve with this post, Helen ... one good thing about having experience writing copy in the corporate world was that my stuff was beat on so often ... and by professionals ... that I had to thicken my skin or perish. The self-doubts are still there ... but they aren't as big an obstacle as procrastination.

  25. Good advice, Helen. What used to bother me as much as rejections themselves was the long delay between responses. It's one reason I went indie.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. If a glitch is preventing you from commenting, visit our Facebook page and drop your wise words there: Blood-Red Pencil on Facebook