5 Stages of Recovery from a Rejection Letter

Every writer gets rejection letters. You’re supposed to take them in stride. They say that “only the persistent writers make it anywhere”. They also say, “maybe the story wasn’t a good fit with that publication”, “it’s hard to get published these days”, “no one reads anymore”, and “try not to take it personally.” But, I want to know if there is a person alive who can manage not to take it personally.

Actually, I don’t. If you are such a person, keep it to yourself.

I am willing to bet that most people go through something like this:

First Stage: SWEATING

You see the return address on the envelope or the email address in the Inbox and you get a little thrill. This could be pure elation. This could be the sign that you were looking for — the thing that would assure you, for a bit longer, that law school really was the wrong choice. You open it up. It begins so hopefully but, you don’t read it all. You scan the thin-lipped paragraphs for the key words, “unfortunately” or “pleased”.

In this case, they have “unfortunately” ruined your day.  You put the letter down. Breathe until your heartbeat resumes a healthy rhythm.

Second Stage: DENIAL

Maybe you didn’t read it right. Maybe they said “unfortunately, there isn’t enough money available to properly compensate you for your creative contribution to humanity”. You read it again and it’s still a rejection letter. You read it again.

Third Stage: YOU QUIT!

Your parents might think you’re a genius but they haven’t read anything you’ve written so they don’t actually know anything. Just because your buddies like to hear your self-deprecating anecdotes over dinner doesn’t mean that you were meant to be a writer. Just because you talk a lot doesn’t mean you have anything to say. Just because you have something to say doesn’t mean that anyone cares.

Maybe you were meant to live alone in the woods. Maybe you should move back to North Dakota. No one cares if you fade into oblivion there. Fading into oblivion sounds amazing – do that! You could get into baking.

You job hunt.

Fourth Stage: WHAT WENT WRONG?

Maybe it just wasn’t the right story for them. Maybe you didn’t do your research. Maybe you should get a subscription to every lit mag written in English, read them all for a couple of years, and then send things out.

Maybe you should have been more charming in your cover letter. Maybe you should have been less charming in your cover letter. Maybe your cover letter made you sound like a crazy person.

Maybe you shouldn’t have sent a story about the Northwest Territories to a publication in Florida. Maybe they don’t know where that is. Because they’re idiots.


You remind yourself that experiences are equal and neutral. The goal is to learn and find value in everything, to prefer neither the Nirvana nor the Samsara. You let yourself feel the risk you took and be grateful that you had that opportunity to feel out that part of your being. You remember that the goal is to experience your life, not to win it. Just when you think you’ve won, the game changes. If you see the Buddha on the road, kill the Buddha. In another life, those editors will be maggots.

(call your mom and make her listen while you brainstorm a couple of novels)


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