“Unfortunately, your project is not quite right for us.”
This was perhaps my fiftieth rejection from an agent for my first novel, which remains unpublished. I keep my favorite rejection slips in a file folder to show aspiring writers when I give a workshop. We’ve all received rejections and bad reviews. There’s no way around it, and every negative response to my work chips away a tiny piece of my heart.
But the key to a writer’s success, in my view, is to remain hopeful and productive and passionate about the craft, no matter what. Sometimes the task feels more formidable than climbing Mount Everest without an oxygen tank. Here are five ways to stay positive:
- Write and read inspirational words for encouragement. I keep a handwritten journal in a Decomposition Notebook, made of 100% recycled pages. I try to remember the bigger picture. Our writings contribute to society and enrich the lives of our readers. My journal reminds me of the value of creativity, that producing art will always come with necessary risk. But we writers are the adventurous ones willing to lay our hearts bare.
In addition to keeping a journal, I read excerpts from books that inspire me. Two titles spring to mind: Stephen King’s On Writing and Natalie Goldberg’s Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life. I also love to re-read Anton Ego’s monologue about the role of the critic, from the wonderful animated movie, Ratatouille. My favorite excerpt from his eloquent soliloquy: “In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment… But…in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so.” I would qualify that by saying, our writing is not junk (even if a reader might designate it so). You can find the full quote here. Scroll down to Anton Ego’s words beginning with, “In many ways…”
- Give back. Help others. Volunteer for a local writing conference or make a tax‑deductible donation–however small–to a nonprofit literary organization (or any organization working for a cause you support). When I give back, I am made whole again. Look up organizations in your county or state. In Washington state, we have many charities listed here.
A few more examples of national and international literary organizations (this list is by no means comprehensive):
- PEN America (https://pen.org/), with a mission to “unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.”
- The National Endowment for the Arts (https://www.arts.gov/), “an independent federal agency whose funding and support gives Americans the opportunity to participate in the arts, exercise their imaginations, and develop their creative capacities.”
- Litworld (http://www.litworld.org/) with a mission to “[strengthen] kids and communities through the power of their own stories.”
- The Community of Literary Magazines and Presses (http://www.clmp.org/), with a mission to ensure “a vibrant, diverse literary landscape by helping small literary publishers work better.”
- Association of Writers and Writing Programs (https://www.awpwriter.org/) with a mission to “foster literary achievement, advance the art of writing as essential to a good education, and serve the makers, teachers, students, and readers of contemporary writing.”
- Write a personal note of thanks to someone you love and admire – a favorite author, bookseller, librarian or friend (these categories often overlap). Not an email, not a Facebook post, not a Tweet. Pick up a pen and write. Remember the lost art of cursive handwriting? I keep a box of beautifully illustrated notecards for this purpose, and yesterday, I bought a tin of gorgeous, hand‑painted vintage postcards at a local boutique (shop small!), and I wrote two notes of praise and thanks and sent them off to friends. There’s something mysterious and exciting about receiving actual mail in the mailbox in an actual envelope with an actual stamp.
- Post a good review of a book you love. Just one five-star review, a few sentences, if this is all you can manage, will make someone else happy. We all have busy schedules, but it takes a few minutes at most. I’m currently reading galleys to endorse for five authors at five different publishing houses. Granted, this takes a lot of time, and I need to be careful to make room for my own life and writing, but I believe in the adage, pay it forward. I don’t do this because I want favors in return. Reading other authors’ novels educates and entertains me, helps them build their careers, and teaches me how to write well. The more we read, the better we get at our craft.
- Write another book – or essay or short story or whatever it is you write. Rejection defeats us only when we stop working. The best thing we can do to affirm our creativity is to keep creating new works. Never stop.
As a child, A. J. Banner loved reading everything from Nancy Drew to Tolkien to her parents’ spy novels, “borrowed” from their bookshelves and hidden beneath her pillow. She wrote her first thriller, Mystery at Crane Corner, at the age of 11. She drew her own cover art and bound the pages with staples. Born in India and raised in North America, A. J. graduated from high school in southern California and received degrees from the University of California, Berkeley. Her first novel of psychological suspense, THE GOOD NEIGHBOR, was a #1 Kindle bestseller for 34 days. Her second novel in the same genre, THE TWILIGHT WIFE, is avaulable now from Touchstone.