The 5 Stages of Rejection

rejectionIn the last week I have received two emails rejecting my fiction. Adding insult to injury is that one of these stories was submitted for a Halloween contest and was just rejected on March 2. But this is the way it goes at times.

If you have ever submitted your writing to a publication or contest, then you know what a terrifying and exhilarating experience it is. Terrifying because someone will shortly be reading and judging your work. And you care. No matter how much you want to play cool, the fact is that you want to be accepted.

It’s exhilarating because your story is no longer sitting in a file on your computer; it’s sitting in a file on a magazine’s computer. It’s out there and so many things can happen. They could love it. You could get noticed. But the real excitement is that your writing will now be assessed by someone you don’t know. It’s no longer just you, your cat, and your friend Jack. You have put yourself out there.

But, as in all areas of life, putting yourself out there means the possibility of rejection. And when you enter the world of writing and publishing it means getting rejected. A lot.

So how do you deal with it? Well, I don’t know how everyone else deals with it, but here are the 5 stages of rejection that I tend to go through.


When I have a story at a magazine, I let my imagination run free. It’s a possible publishing credit, acceptance, notice, prestige. I imagine telling my friends and family about my success. It’s a fantasy they could never duplicate on the internet. (enter Rule 34)

So when I get rejected, I drop from fantastical elation to cold hard rejected reality. The disappointment is tangible. All the things I hoped for are gone and the reality that I’m back at square one is present. Also, I buy whiskey.

No, it’s cool…

“…you know what, the story had some problems with its character development. Now I can really rework to get it where I want it to be. It’s cool. I love this part. I am actually glad it wasn’t published.” Sigh.

OK, if you ever hear me utter something like this – and if you are a friend, you have – you should run away from me because I’m about to explode from bullshit overload. But it’s OK, this is a necessary stage in the healing process. This stage allows me to go from utter disappointment to sort of viewing it objectively.

NB: This stage might include a sour grapes fringe. “Wasn’t the right place for my story, anyway.” Run fast. Run hard. Bullshit explosion imminent.


Yeah, this stage is rough. The decline comes because no matter how we spin it, we have been rejected and it hurts. This is when I start researching grad schools and PhD programs. I talk about developing my teaching skills, and foresee myself as a crumpled old writing teacher with a flask of brown happiness in my cardigan.

This is when I ask dangerous questions like “Am I good enough?” or “Am I wasting my time?” These questions are dangerous because they are toxic.

But they happen to everyone, and you just have to get through them.

This stage is also marked by extreme judgments on any words I write. Everything is crap. No wonder I can’t get published. Try not to throw your computer out of your window, the neighbors will complain. Trust me.

The only good thing about this depression is that by experiencing it, we renew our membership in a big club. This brings us to our next stage.

Join the Club

While immersed in the depression stage I develop an acute hatred of successful, published writers. The fact that Snooki from Jersey Shore is a New York Times bestselling “writer” makes me choke on my tongue. The mere fact that the dog from Frasier has a book published makes me cast looks of wonder at my cat. Hm, maybe…

But some of those writers that I now hate are writers that I loved only seconds before receiving my rejection email. This is natural; they have gotten where I am not and I am jealous. But then it dawns on me that they didn’t start out getting published.

So, somewhere in my research on grad schools, I research famous failures. JK Rowling was rejected dozens of times. Ray Bradbury sent out stories for ten years before he was accepted. Rudyard Kipling was rejected with a note that informed him that he “didn’t know how to use the English language.” A publisher told Fitzgerald that his book would be good if he “got rid of that Gatsby character.”

So it’s a big club. A big club I joined by having the guts to send out a story. And so, by the way, have you.

I’m back, baby!

About a week after a rejection, I wake up feeling good. Energized. I skip to the coffee maker, switch it on, and put on a James Brown CD as quickly as possible. I make it to my computer, type up some notes. Ah, the high that comes after being down.


In the first place, we remember the most important point: we love writing. It’s why we get up in the morning, it’s why we go through all of this in the first place. And one of the best aspects of writing is that there’s always another idea. That story didn’t sell, but here comes another one. And then another. Even if they keep rejecting us, we’ll just keep writing.

The high is also due to going through a bad time and coming out the other side. Being on the other side of a publication rejection means that we tried and we followed through. It also means that we did something. And if there’s something a lot of people don’t do when it comes to writing it’s the verb do. How many times have you heard a friend say: “I’m thinking of writing a story for this contest,” or “I might send out an article to that magazine.” We have not talked; we have done.

I wrote a story.

I sent it out.

It got rejected.


It means I am one step closer to what I want. It means that though I have failed, I have at least tried.

And now it’s time to try again.

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