How to Deal With Writing Failure*

*Warning – the following article may contain clichés.


On Tuesday morning I found out that I hadn’t made the shortlist of a writing competition I had entered. By the afternoon that figure had doubled. Needless to say, I was gutted.

In all honesty I didn’t expect to win or to be shortlisted, but despite knowing that truth it didn’t soften the blow.

For the first competition I wrote a short story written especially for the occasion. It was also the first thing I had written in years. Of course it was doomed for failure.

For the second, I wrote a poem. Let’s just say poetry is not my strong point but it’s never stopped me from trying.

I know it’s the taking part that counts but that phrase never really helped anyone. Instead I felt deflated, untalented and slightly embarrassed. Why did I tell anyone I was entering a writing competition? Why?

Actually, there’s a very good reason why – I am a writer worthy of submitting my work.

It doesn’t matter if my writing isn’t good enough to win competitions, what matters is that I make sure I keep writing. After all, if you’re not writing for the joy of it then what’s the point?

As writer David Eddings once said: “Write a million words – the absolute best you can write – then throw it all away and bravely turn your back on what you have written. At that point, you’re ready to begin.”

In order to heal my broken heart I came up with a ten-point list of how to deal with rejection – whether it be from an agent, publisher or even in a competition.

Ten ways to deal with rejection:

  1. Cry, sulk or moan, whatever takes your fancy, but set a time limit on it. An hour, a day, a week – whatever it takes (although I suggest if it takes you longer than a week then you may need to have strong words with yourself). Then let it go. Get back on that horse, take a deep breath and make a cup of tea. Do not give up.
  2. Forget about the past and start something new. Remember the quote from Eddings? Keep writing. It’s all experience and you will learn new, valuable tools for your writer’s kit.
  3. Revise it – if you’re up to it. Rejection is hard but perhaps the judges, publisher or agent was right. Your work may need more work.
  4. Be realistic. It may not be that your piece wasn’t good enough, just someone else’s was better. It’s a shame that one-to-one feedback can’t always be offered but that doesn’t mean you should lose heart. If you believe in your story then someone else will.
  5. Send it elsewhere. There may be another competition more suitable, a journal it would suit perfectly or somewhere else that it can call home.
  6. Talk to your loved ones or the people who support your writing. A good power talk is always useful.
  7. Write about it. Turn all that upset into something worth reading! What are we writing for if we can’t turn our own experiences into something book-worthy?
  8. Remember why you’re doing this. Although it would be amazing to be published and win competitions, first and foremost you should love your craft.
  9. Do something different. Have a break if you think you need it. I recommend reading, but this may be a bit too close to writing for some people to enjoy it. Go on a walk, take up painting, do something for charity. Just something different to wipe away the negativity and to refocus.
  10. Make a writing calendar. This way you can set word count goals, add in competition deadlines, schedule in new projects. Make sure you always have a goal and something to aim for.

Thank you for reading my tips on dealing with rejection.

It is now Thursday evening and my week has completely changed. With those two rejections under my belt, it was third time lucky for me this morning when I found out I had gone through to the next round of the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction writing challenge.

So on that positive note, remember to hold on to the good things and the positives, but most of all remember to just keep writing.

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About Donna-Louise Bishop

I'm a writer, freelance reporter, creative writing tutor, and blogger, living in the beautiful county of Norfolk UK. In my spare time I am also a wife, a mother to three boys, and a human washing machine.
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5 Responses to How to Deal With Writing Failure*

  1. d3athlily says:

    Very well put! I had my little cry yesterday, but after an hour or so of deep contemplation, I reminded myself the point of the competition was to get feedback, and that I got. The experience is worth it just for that. Congratulations, again! I’m sure you’ll do great this round! 😀

    • Donna-Louise Bishop says:

      I actually wrote this article before we got our NYC results back and it really helped to bring me out of a negative place. I’m surprised but delighted to be going through to the next round. It was a great morale boost I have to admit. Gutted you won’t be joining us. Maybe you should just leap in anyway and have a go at one of the prompts? 🙂

      • d3athlily says:

        I have contemplated doing that! hehe Just to get my writing juices flowing. I’m still a bit surprised. I wonder a bit if I somehow disqualified myself.

        Nevertheless, the offer still stands if you need a beta, I’ll be just prepping for NaNo this weekend now, so feel free to send it my way. 😉

      • Donna-Louise Bishop says:

        That’s really kind of you – I will defo take you up on that offer. Why do you think you may have dq’ed yourself?
        Oooh yes, bring on NaNo!

      • d3athlily says:

        Not sure. I guess, in a way, to feel a bit better about not getting any score at all. I’ll know for sure the real reason next week, so it’s my way of dealing with the tragedy of it for the time being.

        Ohh so excited about NaNo! I’m feeling really really good about this year so far. 🙂

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