On the Thickness of Skin by Angela Slatter

I’ve dealt with a lot of rejected/dejected writers this week, for one reason and another. They’ve been dejected because of the rejections. It’s completely understandable. Rejection hurts.

It somehow says ‘You’re not good enough’, no matter how confident you are of yourself as a person or as a writer. Sometimes a writer’s week brings more than one rejection, which just feels like the Universe has given you a paper cut and rubbed lemon juice into it.

Everyone reacts differently to rejections: some of us cry; some shout ‘You wouldn’t know a good story if it bit you on the [insert relevant body part here]’;  some call their relative of choice/best friend and wail; others go for a good stiff drink; some will wilt on the eighteenth-century fainting couches all writer have in their dens; I personally immerse myself in an orgy of chocolate consumption until I never want to see a block of chocolately goodness ever again (until the next time).

What separates a professional from an amateur is how s/he behaves after the dance of melodrama we all do immediately after receiving said rejection. I know one writer who, after several years of writing, made his first ever submission of a story last year. It was rejected (politely and kindly) from the first – and only market – to which he submitted it. He put that story in a bottom drawer and hasn’t sent it out again. Skin as thin as paper.

Other writers I know are always prepared for a rejection – they have their list of markets and as soon as the story comes back, they post it out to the next market on the list the same day. It keeps the story moving, working for you, and psychologically, it is a positive thing to do. It’s determined. Keep in mind, if you get useful feedback from the rejecter, then maybe take a moment to do a quick edit of the story. But if it’s just a ‘This story isn’t for us’ type of rejection, then forge ahead.

You need to be able to pick yourself up, wipe off the melted chocolate stains, and start the process again.

I am at this very moment sitting slightly to the left of a poetry workshop given by the Arts Queensland poet-in-residence, emily xyz (punk poet – dude, she hung with The Ramones!). Listening to these new and wannabe poets, I’m wondering if it’s harder to be a poet … you use fewer words, you need to be so very precise in what you say, in the words you choose … maybe you’re more exposed to rejection because there are less words between you and it?

I have blogged previously on the different levels of rejections – here. The thing to remember is that your writing is not you – no matter how much it feels otherwise. Your story isn’t necessarily bad – it just hasn’t found the right home. Brisbane writer, Kim Wilkins, made a comment today to a mutual friend who’d just received a rejection that she’d ‘sent her work to “The editor who loves this manuscript” and had it returned with the words “Not at this address” scrawled across it.’ Kim is wise as well as talented. It doesn’t make the hurt less, but it provides a little bit of perspective: chances are your story has a home, you just need to find it.

Neil Gaiman’s advice on rejections bears quoting: “The best reaction to a rejection slip is a sort of wild-eyed madness, an evil grin, and sitting yourself in front of the keyboard muttering “Okay, you ********. Try rejecting this!” and then writing something so unbelievably brilliant that all other writers will disembowel themselves with their pens upon reading it, because there’s nothing left to write” (original here).

So, stand up. Shake your fists at the World and determine to go on. Write something that will make other writers disembowel themselves (which is different, note, from making editors poke their own eyes out). Of course, if you’re so easily discouraged, then that’s natural selection at work … :-).

8 comments on “On the Thickness of Skin by Angela Slatter

  1. emma says:

    I’m an academic, and from my experience the best way to get a thick skin for fiction rejections is to deal with academic rejections first. The worst a magazine editor will ever say is, “Sorry, this isn’t right for us.” But a journal editor or conference chair will send you a set of two or three of thorough, often brutal, critiques.

    I’m not really saying you should go get a PhD just to get a handle on rejections, but … it does make fiction rejections seem a lot less painful.

  2. Angela Slatter says:

    :-) I’m just in the last year of PhD in creative writing. :-) I feel your pain.

  3. Alan says:

    Excellent post. Now I realise that my study has been missing an eighteenth-century fainting couch all this time.

  4. danpowell says:

    Top post. I couldn’t agree more with sending rejected work straight back out. Recently had a few pieces accepted that have been turned down elsewhere – sometimes it really is just finding the right market for the piece.

  5. nigelpbird says:

    nice post.
    heard from one writer once that they didn’t feel they were working hard enough if they didn’t receive one rejection every day.
    thick skin grows like scar tissue – get out there, be criticized, let it hurt, take the bits from the crits you can agree with and move on.
    bless us all.

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