Shelley Widhalm

Posts Tagged ‘Handling Rejection’

How to remain encouraged as a writer, despite rejection

In When Your Work Gets Rejected, Writing, Writing Processes on March 29, 2015 at 11:00 am

Every time I enter a short story, poetry or book contest or anything else having to do with writing, I wonder if I’m wasting my money.

Yet again.

And then I tell myself that’s not a good attitude and that you entered the contest for a reason: the hope that you will win or receive an honorable mention. There’s also the possibility of receiving feedback as is the case in some contests or if an editor likes something about the piece, though it wasn’t the winner.

The thing to remember is that rejection is part of the process.

When it occurs, grieve through it, talk about it with a friend, learn from it and don’t take it personally. Reframe it as not being about you or your writing but about the interests of the magazine, journal or contest.

There are some things to realize about rejection:

  • Getting rejected is part of the process of putting your work out there, because it’s virtually impossible to win everything all of the time. It’s never about you but about your work, which you can improve for the next contest.
  • When your story or novel is rejected, it may mean you may need to do some more work on your writing or the piece, such as improving how you employ the writing elements, how you set up the structure of the story or even how you understand grammar and the use of language.
  • Rejection teaches you about you as a writer and your work, what’s marketable and how the writing business operates.
  • Getting rejected is a mostly subjective process, falling to the opinions of the judge or judges, even if they are informed opinions.
  • You may have submitted a story that doesn’t fit what the contest or publication was looking for, including your style, the story you told, the voice you used or anything else about your writing.
  • If you submit the same story over and over and it continues to get rejected, look for a pattern and the reasons for your work being rejected. Work on those reasons.
  • Have another project underway and employ what you learn from your first piece as you work on the next piece.

Keep every rejection you receive, because they’ll come in handy someday, such as when you do get published and you can physically count how long and how many rejection letters, slips, checked off submission-forms and returned SASEs it took you to get there.

NCW Conference (after the fact)

In Rejection, Shelley Widhalm, Writing, Writing Conferences on April 6, 2014 at 11:00 am

The Northern Colorado Writers Conference March 28-29 crammed years of other people’s experiences into two days that, for me, burst into a kaleidoscope of emotions.

Held at the Fort Collins Hilton, the venue was fancy with colorful carpets, lots of brass, a Starbucks and many other details I can’t remember (though as a writer, that’s exactly what I’m supposed to do).

I didn’t know which sessions to pick from the three to four offered every couple of hours, particularly with the first set Friday morning: the discussion on character development presented by Victoria Hanley or the one on dialogue by Teresa Funke. But I knew I needed more help on creating beat sheets, or structuring story, from Sandi Ault. I tend to plunge into my writing even if I have an initial idea, requiring several revisions to get the arc to fit plot and character.

Very studiously, I took notes on everything I hadn’t learned about writing, such as the importance of cutting “that” and sentences beginning with “as” and what to expect when writing for literary versus commercial magazines. I got encouragement when writers talked about their own experiences with writing and their circuitous paths to getting published, such as Chuck Sambuchino, editor for Writer’s Digest Books, who got rejected for an article idea that, through several steps and chance meetings, ended in his publishing his humor book, “How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack.”

But all of this was background to why I really was there. I was determined to get an agent, sell my book and catapult my writing career in about 30 seconds. I attended one of the agent roundtables, bringing my perfected first page from my YA novel, “The Money Finder.”

I ignored the inner voice that tells you stuff you don’t want to hear when it said, “Your book is not ready. You’ve edited it twice. Cool it.”

My perfect first page wasn’t: Too much back story, and Grace, my POV character, complained about her neglectful parents in a way that was telling, not showing.

What I had needed to do was start with scene. Not weather, or sunshine. Not a dream, or just waking up.

Despite my mistakes, I continued to believe I would be selected for a one-on-one agent session the next day, because my book was great. After dinner, conference director Kerrie Flanagan called the names of a dozen people, excluding mine.


A big, dramatic pity session ensued, and I thought about why I had to add another rejection to my pile of personal, professional, life and writing rejections.

This poutiness lasted a day, because I had a choice: give up writing or get back up and write. Yep, the conference made me realize that whether or not I get published, I have to write. It’s in me. It’s who I am.

It’s my dream, and my story.