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Writers & Rejection

Psychotherapist and book inc writer Lou Storey shares how he copes with rejection, employing psychotherapy techniques to stay motivated and resilient.

By Lou Storey

June 06, 2024

Another email rejection letter. I save each in my Robert Castell file. He was the author of The Villas of the Ancients published in 1728 in London. Poor sales of his first publication landed Castell in debtor’s prison, a place of filth and disease, where he died of smallpox. This was a cruel twist of fate since Castell’s book went on to be very successful and is still available today.

As writers, how do we deal with rejection and not let it undermine our writing? Full disclosure, my first reaction to the unwelcome sentence that begins “Unfortunately … ” is an immediate mini-temper tantrum as spontaneous as a sneeze. Once recovered, I review my Rejection Statement, a long list where I have itemized everything I want and don’t want from rejection. For instance:

  • I don’t want the feeling surrounding a rejection to stop me from future submitting.
  • I don’t want rejection to dictate how I write.
  • I do want to learn from rejection.
  • I do want rejection to help me refine my writing and improve the choices I make in submitting my writing. 

Additionally, I put together a Writing Mission Statement. This provided a helpful emotional anchor for me, clarifying various reasons for writing and identifying what I expect from the writing as a writer. Every writer’s mission statement will be different, highly personal, and unique according to personality type and individual expectations. A quick read of my own is an encouraging reminder, “Hey, this is why you are doing this!”

Trained as a psychotherapist, I steal liberally from psychotherapy coping techniques designed to reduce, redirect, and alleviate the emotional fallout from rejection. Too numerous to list here, all of them offer exercises designed to help the writer step back enough to calm down, view a situation clearly and focus on realistic steps that can lead to wanted outcomes. A simple example is Viktor Frankl’s Three-Point Meaning Triangle: 

  1. Examine how your creative energies can be put to good use in this situation.
  2. Utilize past positive experience to put the event into a workable perspective.
  3.  Choose to act from an attitude (beyond what you may currently feel) that serves you best. 

There are so many ways to switch the lens on viewing rejection. Discovering and applying these various salves to our wounds is part of a writer’s survival. I’ve made Robert Castell my patron saint martyr for the cause, his pain, far worse than mine, keeps me humble, grateful, and ready to try again.

These practices have helped me get what I need to trust my writer’s path and establish writing support systems for continuance, such as being part of the community of writers at book inc.

Most importantly (and my absolute favorite), always reward success. Remember, every effort is a success. I like having a visual reminder so I print and tack them up on the wall in view of my desk. A friend of mine selects a new river stone with each accomplishment and is slowly filling up a glass urn. Whatever feels like a reward, give it to yourself at every step along the way, you’ve earned it!

Lou Storey

Lou Storey is an artist and retired psychotherapist who recently moved to Savannah, Georgia. His writing has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times’ Tiny Love Stories, Beyond Words Anthology, and various mental health journals.

Lou Storey is an artist and retired psychotherapist who recently moved to Savannah, Georgia. His writing has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times’ Tiny Love Stories, Beyond Words Anthology, and various mental health journals.