How to Deal with Rejection [tips on handling it in a healthy way]

So you’ve labored over a story, be it a six hundred page novel or a six hundred word flash fiction.

Hours upon hours (upon hours) of thinking and revising and thinking and editing and more thinking have been poured into this story. It’s been critiqued and fiddled with, and you’ve gone through all the phases of loving it, hating it, not quite hating it as much, almost liking it, hating it again, actually liking it, and you’ve at last come to terms with the story.

It’s never going to be perfect, but my goodness, it almost is. And my goodness it better be almost perfect after all that. You might even say you’re happy with it.

Off it goes to The Publisher (or the agent or the magazine or the website).

After days and weeks of angsty waiting, an email pops into your inbox. From The Publisher (or agent or magazine or website).

Your heart seizes in your chest and your hands go clammy. You take a fortifying breath and open the email.

“Unfortunately, we are unable to acquire your story…”

Your little heart crunches like a tin can, and the wind whooshes out of your sails, probably for forever, you think to yourself.

All that, and your story’s been rejected.

I’ve been there, done that, and it’s never fun. In the last year, I have submitted nine different pieces for publication, and seven of those nine have been rejected. Today we’re going to get into how it can be a little less awful; we’re going to talk about dealing with rejection in a healthy way (and yes, there is a playlist in here somewhere).

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Recalibrate your view of rejection.

So often we view rejection as a bad thing, which is our natural instinct when something is painful, but rejection actually isn’t a bad thing. I promise (and I’m quite serious and quite sane).

Rejection is not failure. Rejection does not mean your story wasn’t good. Maybe it was. Maybe it wasn’t. But rejection does not mean you’re a no-good writer and you don’t know what you’re doing. Maybe you are and maybe you don’t. But not necessarily.

Just to be clear: rejection does not equal bad. Pain does not equal bad. Frustration and disappoint do not equal bad.

Rejection is actually very, very good for you (and me, especially me).

  • Rejection grows you as a person and as a writer. If you’ve been around Penprints for any length of time, you know that I am a firm believer in anything compels personal growth. Suffering through rejection can help you mature far more than publication.
  • Rejection thickens your skin. All art is painfully subjective, and thus there will always be differing opinions about your story. Hypersensitivity to anything resembling criticism reveals a shallowness of character. But rejection, which isn’t outright criticism but can feel like it, can deepen and grow you so that you don’t take things personally (because when people take things personally, they become angry, bitter, and they lash out).
  • Rejection teaches you humility. Nothing helps you maintain a realistic view of your writing skills as much as rejection. Humility isn’t having a low view of yourself; humility is having a realistic view of yourself. It’s so easy to forget how much we all still have to learn about writing, and sometimes we start to think we deserve it. We deserve publication. We deserve to sign with an agent. We’ve worked hard. We’ve put in the hours. By this time, for sure, we deserve. Rejection is a reminder that, no, you and I won’t get just even if we might “deserve” it. No matter how fast we’re rising in the industry, we are not entitled to anything.
  • Rejection means that God has a better home for your story. Now, better does not mean bigger. Better means better, be it the drawer of your desk for you to revisit and enjoy alone (an art that is quickly being lost in a world that wants everything experienced together) or the little publishing house you meet at your next writer’s conference or a really huge home ten or twenty years down the road.

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Reckon on rejection.

Your stories will get rejected. That’s just the way this industry goes, the way life goes. Don’t fall into the mindset of thinking you’re the exception to the rule what, no, I’ve never done that I don’t know what you’re talking about.

Expect rejection. Anticipate it. This isn’t to psych yourself out but to set yourself up for a shorter fall if/when your stories get rejected. If you submit something with the mindset that it could get published but is more likely to be rejected, you’re just being realistic.

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Return to why you write.

When the rejection is smarting, take some time to remember why you tell stories in the first place.

(Note: If your deepest motivation is publication, well, that’s not going to be much help. Publication is a great goal and dream to work toward, but it isn’t big enough. It won’t help you much in the long run; it isn’t rich enough fuel. Dream bigger, want bigger, and write bigger for bigger, better reasons, and remember those reasons.)

If your deepest motivation is to tell a good story, you can do that and still have your story rejected. But it doesn’t burn as badly because if you wrote a good story, you accomplished your goal.

If your deepest motivation is to have fun, you can do that and still have your story rejected. But it doesn’t burn as badly because if you had fun with the story, you accomplished your goal.

If your deepest motivation is to glorify God, you can do that and still have your story rejected. But it doesn’t burn as badly because if your story magnifies God in some way—be it in the excellence, themes, or characters—then you accomplished your goal.

So return to why you want to tell stories when the rejection email is sending your excitement and contentment up in flames. If you did what you set out to do, that’s enough.

So what the story isn’t published (yet!)?

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Final thoughts

  • It’s okay to be disappointed and disheartened. It’s okay to cry. You need to process.
  • Remember that your worth and your identity are not bound up in your writing—published or not. Your value and identity are in Jesus and Jesus alone.
  • Process your disappointment, but don’t wallow in it.
  • I listen to this little playlist when I submit stories and articles, and then I listen to it again after I get a rejection or acquisition notice. It’s about true wealth and worth and all that jazz.

Dealing with rejection in a healthy way begins long before you submit your story. It begins in the mindsets and habits you intentionally develop as you go along your little writer way.

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That’s all I’ve got for today!

What have been some ways you’ve dealt with rejection? I’m always looking for more tips since I get rejected most of the time, haha. Are there any stories/articles you’re prepping to submit somewhere? If so, tell me about them! If not, you should definitely give it a try!

With love,

Rosalie

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A Writer’s Guide to Receiving Critique

A couple of weeks ago I posted about giving critiques to fellow writers, and today we’re looking at the other side of the coin: receiving critique. Some of this may be some no brainer stuff, but it’s taken a few years of watching myself and other writers take critiques and different ways we do it well and some ways we do it very poorly for me to finally figure this out.

So let’s get this party started.

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Before you send out your story…

Evaluate why you’re getting a critique.

For a while, I sent my stories out for “critique” to get a pat on the back. Of course, I would never (ever, ever, ever, ever, EVER) have said that aloud, and I never actually thought it in so many words… but my reactions to criticism betrayed me. My heart wanted people to love everything about my stories—which is normal, but in my heart, I also expected people to love everything about my stories.

Spoiler alert: that is not what a critique is about. At least, that’s not what it should be about. So before you send out your story, check your heart and unspoken motives to make certain you actually want to make your story better.

Be choosy about who you ask for a critique.

There are a few things to watch out for when deciding who to send a story to. First, don’t pull from only your peer group. If your writing equals are the only ones reading your story, the only level of excellence you will achieve is that of your peer group. No matter how long you’ve been writing or how much success you’ve seen, there is still so much you don’t know. To get the most out of a critique, it’s best to get the opinions of people from as many different backgrounds as possible so that you can get the most varied and in-depth feedback as possible.

Second, be careful to send to primarily (if not exclusively) trusted people who truly know and care about you and want you to grow and succeed. These people will give some of the most encouraging feedback, and they will be willing to say hard things gently in order to help you get better.

If all you ever hear from a certain critique partner is negative and proves unhelpful, stop sending them your stories. On the other hand, if all you ever hear from a critique partner is positive, excited feedback that strokes your ego but doesn’t challenge you, stop sending them your stories because they aren’t actually helping you.

After you get your story back…

If you’re upset by a critique, wait for your emotions to cool before replying; you want to respond, not react.

Alas, not all feedback is going to make you go over the moon. If it were, you would never grow. So, if/when you receive a critique that’s very upsetting, resist the urge to hop on your computer and rage at the person who gave the critique. No matter what they said about you or your story, you should never reply in the heat of emotion. There is no legitimate license for that anywhere in the world. Wait a few hours, or even days, if that’s what it takes for you to graciously reply.

Resist the urge to debate them about the critique.

This principle rules out passive aggressively telling your critique partner they’re wrong. They may be; they may not be. Regardless, don’t critique their critique. Friends, little will make your critique partners want to never agree to read and give feedback for you ever again like a response that insists—either overtly or subtly—that they don’t know what they’re talking about or they’re the only person who thinks that way. Such replies reek of disrespect and arrogance which stir up unnecessary strife between you and your critique partner.

Usually, the best way to respectfully disagree is the silent way since writing is not something worth serious conflict.

Remember why you’re getting a critique.

If you’re having a hard time swallowing a critique, it’s time to revisit why you sent your story out to get critiqued in the first place.

This is your story.

Now, receiving a critique with grace and humility does not mean you take every suggestion and negative comment to heart. First, remember that feedback will often conflict, so it would be impossible to make every change. Second, your job as a storyteller is not to produce something that makes everyone happy. Your job as a storyteller is to craft the strongest story you can. Take the feedback that helps you do that and throw out the rest.

Value your critique partners, especially the ones who give constructive criticism.

My brother Caleb is one of my favorite critique people. He’s not a creative writer by trade, but he knows stories so much better than I do and always has good input. Buuuuuuut, I kind of have to brace myself whenever I’m reading his critiques, not because he’s mean or anything like that but because he’s very clinical in his comments. Reading his thoughts is like pouring alcohol on a cut—it stings, but I know it’s going to go a long way in strengthening my story.

It’s been some of his suggestions on The Necklace and Our Family that changed them the most for the better (he’s the one who helped me out of the deep, dark early drafts of Our Family). I know I can trust him because he loves me and is always pushing me to grow and change for the better.

So when it comes to your critique partners, value you them and make sure they know that you value them.

Thank them. A lot. Like, a lot, a lot. Don’t forget that it takes time to read, digest, and then give feedback on a story, so thank them for their time and their thoughts. I don’t thank my critique partners enough, and I don’t believe we can be too grateful.


That’s all I’ve got for today, kids!

Here’s a huge shout out to my go-to critique partners: Daddy (the first to lay eyes on any of my stories), Caleb (the super wise dude), and Katie (basically the epitome of the balanced critique partner). <3 Thank you guys so much for all the times you’ve read bits of flash fiction and gotten back to me when I frantically send it in to you in the eleventh hour. Without you, The Necklace and Our Family wouldn’t be out in the world today.

With love,

Rosalie

P.S. – Do you have anything to add to this post? Anything you disagree with? What’s up for you this fine Monday??

A Writer’s Guide to Giving Critique

Here’s a post to all my fellow writers who stop in at Penprints.

After giving and receiving many critiques, I’ve put together this small (and incomplete) guide to giving another writer a critique on their story.

Let’s get started.

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Basics guidelines for giving critiques.

Begin and end your critique with the things you like. This is called an encouragement sandwich (I can’t remember who first came up with this metaphor…)—keep your criticisms sandwiched between two slices of all the things you like.

Personally, I have found this to be one of the best ways to deliver a critique because the first flavor is yummy—some things that are good about the story—,the second taste is bit more difficult to swallow since it’s some things that need work, and the last thing that’s felt is some more things that were done well. This helps the writer not be discouraged by the criticisms and suggestions in the middle.

Be careful with your wording.

Much of writing is subjective, so try to communicate that in the phrasing you use. You don’t want to give commands or deliver edicts; suggestions and questions are much more palatable. Use words like “perhaps” and “maybe” because it helps communicate that there isn’t one right way to do it and keeps the writer’s mind open.

Also, think more along the lines of the story and you rather than things the writer did “wrong”.

Instead of saying something like: “You didn’t describe this very well”, say something like this: “I’m having a hard time visualizing this. Maybe add in a bit more description and see if it sounds good.” Or something like that. The reason for this is that it comes across less like you’re attacking the writer and his/her writing and more like you want the story to carry author’s vision into the mind of readers.

Specificity is our friend, and vague-ish-ness…ish is our nemesis. When you like something, share why you like it. When something rubs you wrong, try to pinpoint what it was about it that didn’t sit well/you didn’t like.

Saying “I like this” is encouraging but uninspiring because the writer doesn’t know what about the description or the scene or the character grabbed the reader. And saying “I don’t like this” is discouraging and unhelpful because it tells the writer something is wrong but gives them no idea what about the scene or character isn’t shining for the reader.

Helpful mindsets for giving critiques.

Flattery is not helpful. Reserve your high praise for things you actually think are worthy of lavish high praise. If something is just all right, don’t say it’s amazing. If you don’t love something, don’t say you do to make the writer feel good. Don’t say what you think the other writer wants to hear.

As a critique partners, our job is not to make our writer friends feel good. Flattery—excessive, insincere compliments—only serves to give the writer false encouragement and cheapen the praise given by the flatterer.

I’m not saying don’t encourage because I’m a firm believer in giving encouragement like crazy; I’m saying don’t give encouragement where it isn’t due.

Be honest… even when it stings. Many times, I’ve gone over the moon for a story or a book by a friend and exploded with all my happy, excited thoughts and feelings, and it’s really easy to share what I think because I adore the story.

Spoiler alert: not every story is going to be easy like that.

Recently, being honest about my thoughts on a friend’s story was really, really hard because there were lots of things I didn’t like—way more things that I didn’t like than I did like. I dreaded writing out my final thoughts on the story for days because I knew she wouldn’t like what I had to say. I knew I wouldn’t like what I thought of it if it was my story. I wrestled with that critique—writing and rewriting it again and again because so much of it was negative. In the end, I was honest as gently as I could be. I still didn’t like it, and neither did she.

As far as being brutally honest goes, soften it as much as you can. Deliver the criticisms in the way that you would like someone to share their difficult/negative thoughts about your story with you. Treat them as you would like to be treated.

Remember that people won’t always like/agree with your opinion. Keep in mind that it is your opinion. It isn’t necessarily the right one, and you can be sure you mention that in your critique and do everything possible to soften—and even negate—the hard things you may say in your critique, and people might/will still get upset. That’s okay. It’s hard, but it’s okay.

A good friend says the hard things gently from a far purer heart than the flatterer who showers cheap praise.  

But also keep in mind that your criticisms could be wrong/baseless. You could be in the minority with your concerns and critiques. So don’t think too much of yourself and your thoughts that you can’t accept, not only that you might be wrong sometimes in the critiques you give, but that there will be times when you are flat out wrong in the critiques you give (because art is subjective and fun like that).

If your goal isn’t to enjoy the story and help the writer and the story grow, you’re doing it wrong. If your motives are off, your critique will be off. Never go into a critique with the mindset that you are going to teach this writer a thing or two or that they have so much to learn from your wisdom. Don’t try to inflict your style/voice onto the other writer. Conversely, critique isn’t about just patting the writer on the back.

Help and encourage out of a heart whose goal is to help and encourage.

Have you given a critique before? What did I miss in this small (and incomplete) guide to giving a critique?

With love,

Rosalie

P.S. – I kind of feel like this post was a lot of “don’t!”, but I currently lack the brainpower to spin this post into a more positive light.

P.P.S. – There will be a follow up post the week after next about receiving critiques.

When Something I Love Became Something It Shouldn’t

*insert witty post preface that makes you want to read this post*

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This past June and July were intense writing months for me. I reread Draft Three of Beasts, found a dysfunctional story, and decided that I could and would fix it. Because that’s what I do. I fix things. And if I can’t fix something, it drives me just a little bit crazy. And so help me, I was going to fix this story if it killed me.

A lot of June went into brainstorming how this fixing was going to happen and figuring out just how much of the 90,000 word Draft Three was going to be axed. As it turns out, 85k met the sword in my pursuit of a better fourth draft. I was on a deadline, one I couldn’t move again, so I dove into rewriting (fourth time’s a charm, right?).

I enjoyed very few (translation: zero) of the hours upon hours upon hours poured into the actual rewrites. Between hating the story itself and being drained spiritually, emotionally, and mentally by the other things going on in my personal life, the last thing I wanted to do was try and put what little I had left into fixing that stupid, broken story. As I wrote, I came to dislike it even more because the story was too warped to fix in one draft, but I had to do what I could because I’d postponed the Deadline too much already (the Deadline was an editorial review with an amazing freelance editor).

So I wrote, and I hated it. Doing the writing. The words themselves. Coughing up thousands and thousands of brand new words. Feeling guilty on days I only wrote 1,000 words. Sick with stress that made my family question if it was worth it, if I should write when it so obviously drove me to further physical exhaustion, anxiety, and emotional distress. I was wound so tight that I was popping a couple times a week in one way or another.

But I’m a writer, and writers write.

So that’s what I did. I wrote. I lived and breathed that story for five whole weeks. My sun rose and fell on how much progress I’d made, how many words I’d put on the page, how many days spun between me and the Deadline, and if I thought I could make it. Because so help me, I was going to make it. My thoughts ran in a constant, dogged cycle of plot and characters and questions and cringing over how people would react. Oh, yes, I was always anxious about what people would think when they read it, a bit of black terror crunching my heart whenever I guessed what they’d say. Too dark. Too confusing. Too simple. Too choppy. Too weird. Underdeveloped. Not enough description. Trying too hard. Too many plot holes. Childish. And let’s not even get into that rushed excuse for an ending.

I finished it, though, and it came to just over 60,000 words with just one day to spare. So off it went to an editor, and I was finally freeeeeeeeeee.

Except I wasn’t.

The anxiety and fear hounded me, and the remnants of the story hung in my mind, saturating my thoughts still because the whole time I was writing, something was missing, something big. And the absence of this thing was what put me into such a frenetic state, and I knew it. I knew what was wrong, why I was so agitated and turbulent; it wasn’t just about stress or dedication or perseverance or getting too little sleep.

It came into sharp focus when I received my edits. My editor had so many good thoughts and critiques, but one thing she said, an offhand kind of comment, struck me: “I can’t wait to see what God will do with it once it’s even more polished.”

Ah, right. God. Him. You know, the One I’ve said up and down that my writing is for blah, blah, blah. Yeah, Him.

I knew I was writing without Him, knew I was driving a wedge between us by how everything else was mastering me. I did my devotions faithfully, and I sought Him… but not as hard as I sought to fix that story. It’s sadly ironic—I didn’t like even one aspect of writing and story at the time, yet it was the writing and story that dominated my thoughts, took hold of my emotions, and consumed my energy instead of devotion to my Christ.

What I loved became something it was never intended—by me or my Jesus—to be. Ever.

It was a twisted form of worship, not to God, but to myself and what I could accomplish, had to accomplish, devoid of my greatest Vision. And after writing with and for God as much as I have tried to, I was keenly aware of how hard it was to wrestle against Him and try and make Him bless my work while I carried and would not give up a double-heart. A heart that wanted Him but not enough to make me seek Him with everything like I used to. A heart that wanted His blessings and hand in my writing but not enough to live like it. A heart that took the story He gave me and made it into something less, much less.

And I’ve spent the last month lying to myself, telling myself that it was so hard because I procrastinated (though, that did happen), it was so hard because the story was too much to fix in one shot (though, it was to an extent), it was so hard because of all the other things going sideways in life, it was so hard because blah blah blah.

Well, no, it was so hard because I did it alone, because I did it hoping to create something incredible by myself. I was all at once terrified of what people would say and yearning for their praise and approval, wanting them to tell me I had made something great and powerful. And most laughably of all, I wanted people to say that they were moved spiritually, that they understood grace a little better, that God spoke through it yet I wasn’t involving God in the writing. (And don’t mistake me: God can involve Himself in whatever He sees fit to with or without anyone knowing or recognizing it. My point here is that my heart was impure.)

What then? Now that I’m being honest—with myself and God and everyone else too—how do I untangle this? How do I put writing back where it is meant to be and bow my heart again to God?

Well, thank goodness I’m not doing it by myself. It’s been a lot of thinking and praying and wrestling with the Holy Spirit and opening hands and remembering and relearning truth I’ve somehow forgotten and coming back to full, true worship and communion with Him for the first time in weeks.

Why am I posting this on the blog? Because I’ve read that being honest and real (and ten other buzzwords like “authentic”) is important, and also because it hurts my pride more than just little to admit (on the freaking internet) that I struggled hard with things that this post and this post would have everyone believe I’m so far over.

There is always the danger that the things we love will become something they shouldn’t, will take on a role they aren’t meant to, and my prayer is that the Holy Spirit will help mightily, just like He helps me and is patient with me.

With love,

Rosalie <3

32 Things that Inspire Me [as a storyteller]

As I’ve been working through this latest draft of my novel, I’ve been hard pressed to stay filled up creatively and mine all avenues of inspiration. So, for this post, I wanted to share some of the things/people/sayings that inspire me as a storyteller (in no particular order).

So let’s get started.

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  1. Pretty books. As in, books that are just visually appealing.
  2. Fire. Give me all the candles. And also the matches. And also an adorable little oil lamp.
  3. Lovely words. I.E. – words that just sound or look lovely. Esperance. Immure. Anathema. Temerity. Duende. Equipoise. Tyro. Aeonian. Chimerical. Those are all English words, and they. are. beautiful.
  4. Isaiah 35. This chapter. Oh, goodness. I want to tell of these streams in the desert and waters in the wasteland and the God who put them there.
  5. Wonder Woman. That’s right. The movie Wonder Woman inspires me so much as a storyteller. Don’t even get me started.
  6. Basically any song by The Gray Havens.
  7. “We write down made-up stories to tell the truths we wish we could say out loud.” – Unknown.
  8. My brother, Caleb.
  9. Mara, Daughter of the Nile by Eloise Jarvis McGraw. *whispers* It’s just. so. good.
  10. Christopher Nolan. Caleb (the aforementioned brother who inspires me as a storyteller and also just as a person) pointed out to me that Christopher Nolan has directed a superhero trilogy, a movie on interstellar travel, and is now coming out with a World War II movie. And he’s done it all so well. I want tell stories like him.
  11. “You must write every single day of your life. You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads. May you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake the world.” – Ray Bradbury.
  12. The Lord of the Rings. It’s a morally beautiful story, it’s a masterfully built storyworld, and it’s timeless.
  13. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Now I need to go watch this movie again because it’s been a couple months.
  14. The Gospels. This is the story I want to tell over and over and over again, and I want a piece of it reflected in some way in all the stories I write.
  15. C.S. Lewis.
  16. Anything written by C.S. Lewis.
  17. The ocean. I’ve only seen the ocean once, but when I did, just sitting out by it at sunrise was incredible.
  18. Limitless (the tv show). Heroes who are good are not out of style.
  19. Ecclesiastes 9:10.
  20. Empty notebooks. I just want to smell their pages and fill them all.
  21. “You can make anything by writing.” – C.S. Lewis
  22. Nadine Brandes.
  23. Havah by Tosca Lee. The richness of this book, the poetry of the prose, the thought in the story. Agh. So good.
  24. Thunderstorms. Lightning is literally exploding through the air, and water is falling from the sky. People, this is inspiring.
  25. The Dark Knight Trilogy.
  26. The Out of Time Series by Nadine Brandes. Are any of us surprised?
  27. Mary Weber. The pieces of her heart I’ve seen through her writing are a-mazing.
  28. Arrival. So, this was kind of weird and not the best movie I’ve seen, but they tried to do something different and tell a story in a way that stretches the mind. Oh, and it’s all about the power of a language.
  29. Steve Laube. I had the pleasure of having an appointment with him at Realm Makers 2015, and then I got to sit in on one of his sessions. Oh. Goodness. He knows the power of stories and the responsibility of storytellers who are Christians.
  30. The Lion King. Don’t even get me started, kids.
  31. Isaiah 6:1-7. I will retell this in any way I can.
  32. My dad.

So that’s it, kids! Those are 32 things that inspire me as a storyteller!

What about you? What makes your passion come alive? What ideas and attitudes and examples do you strive for?

With love,

Rosalie <3

P.S. – there is no post script to this post…. or is there? All our minds = blown.