Spiraling into Depression After Rejection Slip
July 30, 2018 6:23 AM   Subscribe

I submitted some work for publication and just got rejected. How do I stop myself from going into a depression spiral?

This is not my first rejection but I haven't sent stuff out for many, many years and I seem to have lost my formerly thick skin which I had when I was actively writing and publishing. I thought that this attempt would be a low pressure submission after not trying for many years because the publication in question isn't even prestigious or widely read. However, now that I have been actually been rejected, I am taking it harder emotionally than I have expected.

I have eaten all the dark chocolate in the house and bought a small luxury online ahead of time that I have been planning to buy next month when I have more money. I was in a pretty good mood despite being a generally gloomy person before this rejection came in but now I am feeling irrational anger at the editors and worry that I am going into a depression spiral. I feel personally humiliated and wonder if I will ever produce anything artistically that is good enough.

Other minor annoyances that happened today like inconvenience and noise caused by construction works near my residence are grating on my nerves. How do I cheer myself up in a way that doesn't cost money(I have already spent too much) and isn't self-destructive? I am in no mood to do anything remotely creative right now and I don't know how long this block will last.
posted by whitelotus to Media & Arts (16 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Did this happen today? You will probably feel better tomorrow morning.

Can you journal and talk yourself through this, remind yourself of your successes, etc?

Can you resubmit the same work elsewhere? Does it help to remember that most great writers receive pile sand piles of rejection letters?

Years ago I read that Isaac Asimov allegedly sent this response to a publisher or reviewer: "I read with great interest your opinion of my work. Fuck you very much." So if nothing else maybe you can take "fuck you very much" as your mantra for a while.
posted by bunderful at 6:36 AM on July 30, 2018 [4 favorites]

My writing has been rejected several times, so I started a blog. I struggle even to get attention on the blog, but at least it allows me to publish whatever I want, whenever I want. Would it help you to start a project you have more control over? It wouldn't mean having to give up on being published, but it could pass some time while you wait for that to happen.

I'm sorry you're dealing with rejection, and I wish you luck.
posted by Leafeon at 6:47 AM on July 30, 2018

If it's possible, instead of looking at eating the chocolate and buying the luxury as comforting yourself, look them as rewarding yourself for taking the big step of submitting your work. It might feel like you are just pretending when you first try it but it might become easier and more natural -- because it's true! You did something amazing. Imagine a trusted friend telling you "I'm proud of you!" You did great!
posted by mcduff at 6:50 AM on July 30, 2018 [19 favorites]

Best answer: Rejection is tough, but as you already know, it's totally normal to be rejected much more than accepted. I'm sure you already know this, but there are many, many reasons for your work to be rejected that have nothing to do with its quality. Maybe the editor has a headache and is in a bad mood. Maybe you sent a poem about turtles and they just finished their all-turtle issue. Maybe your piece reminded the editor of a mean kid in elementary school.

One woman I met at a writers' conference had a great take on it. She said that rejection is good because it means you're sending stuff out. She kept track of rejections and gave herself a reward when she hit 100.

I haven't sent anything out in a year, so in being rejected, you're way ahead of me. You're also way ahead of where you've been if you haven't sent stuff out in a while.

And, as noted above, you'll probably feel better tomorrow.
posted by FencingGal at 7:01 AM on July 30, 2018 [18 favorites]

I'm a photographer and years ago (pre-internet) I was actively submitting my work to galleries, mostly by mail. Rejection notices were the norm, of course. It was depressing. But after the first few, in order to stay motivated, I played a little mind trick on myself, based on the Wayne Gretzy quote "you miss 100% of the shots you don't take."

Instead of making it my goal to get my work accepted as soon as possible, I made it my goal to collect as many rejection notices as possible. Because that meant I was taking shots. I would actually get excited when I got another rejection letter to add to my binder, and it kept me motivated rather than depressed.

(Full disclosure, this story doesn't end with me being a famous and wealthy fine art photographer, but I did get some work accepted. Other life events curtailed my progress, but the rejections were no longer a factor.)
posted by The Deej at 7:09 AM on July 30, 2018 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Allow yourself to feel your hurt, anger, frustration and disappointment. You're fighting yourself at the moment and looking for quick, material fixes out of an uncomfortable situation. Try saying to yourself "Yes, I am angry, and that is ok". I have experienced that trying to block out or quickly eradicate negative emotions tends to a) make them crop up worse and inappropriately elsewhere and b) make me feel like I'm going mad (worrying about going into a depressive phase). It's reasonable to feel bad today. The bad feelings are not in themselves dangerous, and they won't last forever, nor do they mean you're going to be ill (become depressed). This is hard and uncomfortable, but it will pass on its own as all strong feelings do.

I recommend Pema Chodron's When Things Fall Apart for strategies and wisdom with regard to situations like these.
posted by mymbleth at 7:31 AM on July 30, 2018 [6 favorites]

I guess it’s a bit late for this time but I try to have stuff out to more than one place so there’s always something else to think about. A rejection means shrug, better submit to that other place I bookmarked before i get another rejection from the second place I submitted to! So go look for your next journal or review or whatever it is, go pick a new thing to try. This is just part of the process, keep it rolling.
posted by little cow make small moo at 8:08 AM on July 30, 2018 [3 favorites]

I think people get stuck in negative emotions for longer than we should (thus depression) because we don't believe we are supposed to or allowed to be feeling them (thus the "thick skin" mentality). Let yourself feel upset about this, because it really is upsetting and you're allowed to be upset. REALLY feel it and let it run its course rather then battling it and making yourself depressed. I wager you'll feel a lot better than trying to find ways not to feel it.

Or what mymbleth said.
posted by Young Kullervo at 8:40 AM on July 30, 2018 [3 favorites]

In my experience, it helps to recognize and refocus on what is truly within your control.
1. Within your control: whether you take the risk to submit your work, whether you do work that you think is good by your own standards
2. Outside of your control: whether your work is accepted or rejected by any given publisher

If you recognize this and move your focus mostly to #1, that might allow you to ...
- Acknowledge and sit with your disappointment about the rejection, which was out of your control. Enjoy that chocolate, get some exercise in the sunshine, let yourself move through those feelings with time.
- Give yourself a big high-five for taking the risk of submitting in the first place. It takes courage, especially after so many years! That's a huge, important step you took just to submit your work -- good on ya!
- Be proud of your work that you believe is good by your own standards; keep doing your best to improve your work where it doesn't meet your own standards (regardless of what others think of it).
posted by ourobouros at 9:24 AM on July 30, 2018 [3 favorites]

Can't offer much help with dealing with the short-term depression, but one way to pre-empt it in future is to send out one hell of a lot of queries. You'll get more rejections, for sure, but you'll also get used to getting rejections.

You'll also stop obsessing about this one commissioning editor who is going to change everything.

Also, assuming there is *nothing else* you can tweak or fix up when it comes to your writing or your pitch (and believe me, you will likely find things you're going to need to fine tune, and sending out multiple queries will speed up this optimization), the sheer volume of pitches means you are going to score some writing jobs. It will happen.

So, by sending more queries you'll inoculate yourself against rejection. Also, by sending out more queries you will have a greater chance at getting accepted -- it's a numbers game.

As well, the actual time and effort it takes to research multiple pubs and commissioning editors, combined with creating a tracking spreadsheet will also give you a sense of accomplishment and competency.

This will prevent future bouts of rejection-related depression.

It's a marathon. Be strategic. Be resilient. Believe in yourself. Always improve your writing and your pitches.
posted by JamesBay at 9:40 AM on July 30, 2018 [3 favorites]

Here is but one example of the many good sites that collect rejection letters. A little humor can sometimes help.
posted by KleenexMakesaVeryGoodHat at 10:45 AM on July 30, 2018

I don't have any advice specific to writing really, but when I notice a spiral like you describe coming on, I usually take a few minutes to rant at my cat about how unfair it is uncensored, just allowing myself feel whatever it is I'm feeling without judging whether it's rational or not. I then go out for a walk until I'm feeling more even-keeled. Only when I'm feeling better do I turn around and go back, and on the way back I decide what, if anything, needs to be done about whatever it was that caused the issue. This has led to a five-hour walk before.

This doesn't always work the first time; the feelings come back, but usually less powerfully and in a way that's easier to deal with. Often this happens when I start doing whatever it was I decided to do about the issue in the first place. I put in some solid effort to doing The Thing, and if I just hit a total block I go out for a walk again.

Walking in parks/woods/other nature spaces is best, in my experience.
posted by Urban Winter at 10:52 AM on July 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: MeFi's maxsparber had a recent twitter thread about rejection beginning here:
I have developed a secret tactic that makes me be okay with rejections for my writing, which I get all the time. LET ME TELL YOU.
posted by Lexica at 12:05 PM on July 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Oh my God I was just coming in to offer my secret!

Let me talk about something else: This past year has been my first in which I have really committed to submitting my creative writing to stuff. I am a published short story writer and poet, but my publishing history was extremely sporadic, in part because I was easily discouraged by rejections.

A lot of it had to do with uncertainty about the quality of stuff I was writing. I'm quite confident as a journalist, as it is something I have been doing for a quarter century, but rejections just made me feel like maybe I didn't have a clue regarding this creative writing thing. Between 2001, when I got my first short story published, and the end of 2017, I had gotten nine short stories published, including two short stories that had been republished three times each. So -- five short stories total in that time, two of which had a sort of robust afterlife. My poetry experience is even weirder, since I published really nontraditional poetry in really odd venues, so I'll stick to short stories.

But I had one advantage this year, and it's that I spent years reading scripts for a theater conference. There was a profound arbitrariness to the process, one that excluded many scripts that I thought were superb and included many scripts that I thought were terrible. And I realized that this was extremely common. That rejection isn't a comment on quality, but instead a comment on -- well, on nothing. On a process that simply said no, for no clear reason, this one time. The rules of excellence aren't a fixed thing, but instead arbitrary and capricious.

Knowing this, I started thinking about submissions as less a test of quality and more an act of entering a casino. Now, I presume competence here, but I'm guessing whatever you wrote is good enough to be publishable. All that happened was you dropped a coin in a slot and didn't win this round. The machine will usually say no. It's nothing personal, it's just that the machine usually says no. But a certain percentage of the time it says yes.

So the trick to getting published isn't excellence, and you aren't judged on excellence. It's competence followed by persistence. If the machine pays out one of five times, you are going to need to submit five times to hear yes. Nothing personal, it's just the process.

I started from that philosophy in January. I still didn't like getting the rejections, but because my process now includes just kicking whatever I wrote right back out again the moment I get rejected, it's no longer about my feelings, but about doing the job, and the job is submitting.

As a result, as of today I have had nine offers of publication for my short stories this year. The same amount in one year that it previously took me 17 years to achieve, and all of them are new stories but for one story that was published and then almost immediately anthologized. So I have doubled the number of times I have been published and tripled the number of original stories published.

It hurts to get rejected, no doubt. But it hurts less when you start interpreting it not so much as "no," but instead, as my girlfriend puts it, as "not now."

A lot of the stories that have been published this years are old stories that were previously rejected, by the way. Persistence works. In my experience, it's the only thing that works. And I am a lot more confident about my writing as a result. One acceptance email makes up for the previous five rejection emails.
posted by maxsparber at 2:31 PM on July 30, 2018 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Oh, and I'll just note that I have been rejected 101 times this year, not just from short stories but from everything I submit, which is a lot of different stuff. My acceptance rate is somewhere between 15 and 20 percent of submissions, although I submit enough eventually everything gets published.

At least the rejections are usually pretty nice, just "thanks for submitted but pass." I once had a woman call and yell at me about submitting something many years ago, which will put you off the process for a while.
posted by maxsparber at 2:41 PM on July 30, 2018 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you everyone for your advice. I feel calmer now that the heat of the moment has passed though I am still experiencing doubts about my artistic ability.

I have not been very productive these past two days but I hope to get over the hump.

Thank you maxsparber for popping in! It's awesome to see a fellow Mefite being published. Your system is wonderful, shall see if I can implement it for myself.
posted by whitelotus at 8:59 PM on July 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

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