Dealing with discouragement…

Three years ago I read a message board question at a forum that I still frequent.

I have removed all identifying names to avoid possible embarassment but it read something like this.

“I just got another rejection notice. The editor said they liked the story. They said it was “highly engaging and wonderfully weird” but it lacked a punch at the end. This is the second time I’ve been told my endings stink. The first time on another story the editor raved about it and asked if I could change the ending. I didn’t know what to do, and I added some lame ending to it. That one didn’t work either. That one was also different from how I normally write. This writing stuff is so damn frustrating I want to give up. “

This fellow was a good friend of mine – one of those acquaintanceships you strike up over the internet. I’ve never met the dude in person – might not ever see him face to face – but it peeved me considerably to hear his discouragement. We have all felt this way and I have to and I wanted to reach out and give him a hand up.

So this is how I answered.

“I was talking to a local YA writer the other day – a fellow who has sold books right across Canada, a fellow who has been writing for years with dozens of books and stories and story collections sold – and he still gets manuscripts rejected at a regular rate.

Listen, I’m fifty, and I’ve been writing for about twenty years and I get rejections as often as not. The fact is, it’s only been these last few years that I’ve really felt like I was beginning to get the hang of this writing business – and I still expect many more rejections.

Don’t let it get you down. Keep writing. Get more stories out there. The best way, I’ve found, to deal with rejections is numbers. When I was actively marketing my short stories I made it a point to try and get at least two dozen to thirty stories out there, at any given time.

So, if (when) a story came back with a rejection slip – I wasn’t crushed. I’d just look at it and say – well what the hell I am really counting on those other two dozen stories – and then fire it off to somebody else.

Writing is fishing. You throw a line in, nothing bites, throw it back in. You sit there all day, casting and enjoying the process and maybe you catch something and maybe you don’t, but if you’re doing it properly you learn from your experience and enjoy a good day of fishing.

Send the story off to someone else. Write another story. Send that one out. Get as many goddamn lines into the water as you can manage, and then get a few more.

Writing is training. Like every fighter – you’ve got to work the speed bag, the heavy bag, the crazy bag – you’ve got to keep punching.

As for endings – well, like I always say – I don’t like to start a story until I know where I’m ending it. A story is a process that your protagonist must endure and enjoy. The ending must be inevitable, unexpected and satisfying. A proper beginning asks a question. A proper ending answers the question. Endings are as tricky as carving proper Santa feet. Endings are the feet that your story stand upon.

Endings are tricky. Practice will get you there. Take a look at some of your favorite stories, shit that other writers have written and you’ve enjoyed and returned to – novel, short story, poem – doesn’t matter. Draw yourself a story-map and figure out how that author got there.

Above all else, have fun. The rejection is part of the game. Learn from it, don’t let it get you down.

Read more stories. Write more. Submit more.

Nobody starts out good. Everybody can get better. Best is nothing more than a point you’re trying to make with your gods.

This shit takes time.”

Goddamn, I can be an articulate fellow at times. So can all of us. There will come a time in your life – if you feel strongly enough about anything – that you will put your feelings into words and just reel them out. The only difference between me and thee is that I have trained myself to write them down as I reel them out.

If you want to write something worth reading find something that your passionate about and let your feelings out in words. Try to express how you feel through the mouths of character – let your heart and your passion and your feelings articulate themselves into the framework of a story. One of the key ingredients to any piece of fictional writing – and even a lot of nonfiction – is passion, intense feeling and strongly built character. You write about something you care about and your passion and feeling will show.

But sometimes that isn’t enough to carry the day.

Sometimes an editor will take a dump upon your heart from a very great height.

They won’t mean it personally but it will hit you like they did.

You’ll want to lay down and cry a little, hold your knees and rock in a fetal position, bemoan your lack of talent and cry out to the gods of creativity – “Why me, Lord, why me?”

Take my advice and stop and think about all of those countless dayjobs that we as human beings must endure. Think about all of those folks in call centres and factories and sweat shops and restaurant kitchens who deal regularly with seniors and authority-figures and bosses of all shapes and sizes crapping upon their self-esteem.

Odds are these labourers, these tradesmen, these workers will shrug off the crap and the carping and get back to the job because hell, it’s just another day at work.

So when an editor takes a dump on your self esteem don’t let it get to you. It is just another day at work. Shrug it off, shake it off, laugh at the cat or yell at the dog and then get back to it. It’s just another day at work. Just another day stringing words across paper or a computer screen.

Don’t let rejection or poor sales or a bad track record get you down.

Remember – this shit takes time.

yours in storytelling,

Steve Vernon


13 responses to “Dealing with discouragement…

  1. I’d prefer to yell at the cat. They generally don’t care, and the dog will get all hurt and guilty and wonder what he/she did wrong.
    Off to edit my personal heap of steaming whatever…
    Great post.


    • Oh, lord protect us from guilty dogs. It’s true, there is nothing more sorrowful than a mournful-eyed pooch.

      Thanks for the feedback, Dorothy-Anne. I’m glad you enjoyed the post.


  2. Great post, Steve! I loved the idea of writing being like fishing! And I totally agree – the way to make a success of this industry is to keep writing. Don’t set your heart upon one work and hope that will make you a star. You need to write a story, edit a story, get a story out there, and then start a new one! And anyone who thinks being a writer is a hard job should really be doing something else. We say we’ve had a bad day because we get a rejection or a bad review, but it’s not like we’re doctors or firemen. No one died!


    • Thanks, Marissa. It’s a lesson we all learn. I still remember the first time I learned it – with my heart set on one story and waiting and waiting and then when it came back rejected I thought the world had come to an end. That was about a hundred years ago. These days I’m almost a little smarter than that.


  3. Wow, Steve,
    My only take on this is that some of those lofty, ivory towered editors may harbor a deep seated disdain for writers that have so much freakin’ (not a word, I know) creativity, so much more in fact than most editors will ever have. Anyone can edit and tear apart,and critic someone else’s work and mark up manuscripts with their little red pens; but I’d love to see those particular individuals write one creative paragraph…It’s like the old saying, “those who can’t do it teach it.” I might be paraphrasing a bit… My advice is before you get one more gray hair or heart palpatation, just self-publish your own books.Isn’t the whole point of all your writing to get it out to the public, to your loyal readers? I’m sure by now you must have some sort of fan base, so just continue to build your platform and the readers will find you. I compare writiing to the movie, ‘Field of Dreams’…If you build it, they will come. Well, I believe if you write a damn good novel, your readers will find it and devour it up and demand more from you! Not a bad position to be caught in, at least not in my book! I have had the priviledge of meeting a few big authors, and all of them gave me the same advice, and that is, just keep writing, and get your work out there. Your readership will take care of itself…The heck with those snooty editors (not all editors mind you) just the wanna be writers that dish out all the cruel and unusual punishment to the creative community that when it is all said and done, pays their salaries, bonuses, commisions, or whatever you want to call it! You have the whole world out there with the advent of the digital age…so my friend, just keep wriitng and forget about the naysayers…I’m sure I will get alot of flack on this posting! That’s ok, because they don’t sign any of my paychecks! Have they signed any of yours?


    • Hey Frank.

      I was mostly talking about dealing with those all-pervading feelings of discouragement and inadequacy that we all experience at one time or another in our lives. I was talking about dealing with rejection.


      (not that anybody really uses blue pencils anymore…)

      You see, Frank – you have to realize that I am a bi-congregational creator – in that I write for both the e-published indie market, primarily in the horror genre – and also for the traditional dead-tree publishing industry, primarily in the regional field. I am DAMN proud of all of my works that have been released from my regional publisher, Nimbus Press. My ghost story collections and children’s books have sold thousands of copies – way more than my e-books. I’ve reached readers all across the maritimes, Canada and even in the United States. I get invited to speak at schools, libraries, literary gatherings, and events all across the maritimes. Heck, I even get paid for some of them.

      So, yes – amen to the new wave of self-published writers of e-books and such. I am a part of them and want to continue to be a part of them. However I am not prepared to start complaining about my traditional publishers. I’ve had good experiences and bad experiences but on the whole it has all been a part of a career that has helped pay my bills for a writing career that has lasted nearly thirty years.

      I value my editors. They catch my mistakes. I do make mistakes. Hell, in the initial posting – after announcing that I had removed all names and identifying features I inadvertantly left a name in the second paragraph of my reply. My wife caught it an hour after it had gone online. She said something like “Hey, bonehead, how come you left that name in after you said you weren’t going to???”

      She said it lovingly, mind you, and she didn’t hit me while she was saying it…

      The point is – we all make mistakes. So editors perform a very important job. An awful lot of them aren’t necessarily talented writers – but they are wicked awesome at catching a fellow’s mistakes – and like I keep telling you I do make mistakes.

      Hell, we all do.

      Actually, even my e-books are run through an editing before they hit the market. That is why I publish my e-books through my publisher, Crossroad Press. They catch my goof-ups. One of the primary complaints against purchasing a self-published e-book is the amount of typos and goof-ups that all-too-often show up in self-published and self-edited works. The smart self-publisher will find himself a good professional editor who will wash all that crap out and clean up a writer’s goofs.

      I’m not saying that you do or don’t with your own work. I wouldn’t know. But I do know that I would tend to disagree with anyone who drew such a deep dark line between editors and writers. They aren’t all bad guys – nor does the fact that they often send out rejection slips mean that they are bad guys of any sort. They’re just workers of the words – same as you and me.

      I hope I haven’t pissed you off with my reply. I do not seek to start an argument. But I did wish to make myself clear on the matter. I have come to distrust anyone who says there is “ONE TRUE WAY” in anything. That principal has started more damn fool jihads and crusades across the centuries.

      Hell, I even distrust myself some days.

      And I ought to.



    • There are some editors who are idiots: self-proclaimed small press publishers usually, but sometimes large press staffers who have given into the marketing department rather than going with their own tastes. But, you know, they don’t last very long. Good editors, like good authors, survive by putting out good product. If one editor says one’s submission is not good, well, might be wrong market or personal taste, so try again. If five reputable editors tell you manuscript is not ready, chances are, it’s not ready. I know half a dozen self-published authors who now deeply regret having published one or more of their early works prematurely, and realize that they have not only failed to achieved those manuscripts’ fullest potential but also seriously harmed their ‘brand’ by putting out product that wasn’t ready. Having grown as a writer, they can look back and see flaws that were not obvious to them at the time. The role of an editor is to see those flaws and help the writer address them. The editor is not your enemy: . I hang with a lot of editors, and I’ve never met one who had disdain for writers…One the contrary, they live for the opportunity to discover new talent, to coach new writers to greatness. We are always saddened when we encounter writers who are unwilling to listen, who would rather shoot the messenger than do the work required to get better, who would rather skip ahead to the gratification of seeing their work in print than do the work required to fulfill the potential of the manuscript. Most self-published books sell fewer than 100 copies; those that succeed are those that have been professionally edited (and I mean with a developmental editor, not just copy edited) and have professionally done covers. If you have had bad experiences with editors (it can happen — there are fake editors out there) try one of the ones on my list: Every name on that list has already published extensively to great reviews, so “try to write one creative paragraph” does not apply. If your short story is being rejected by some 16 yr old editing Horror Monthly in its second month, okay, good chance the editor is too inexperienced to know what is what or how to provide useful feedback. But if an established, critically acclaimed publication (e.g., Chizine) says your manuscript didn’t cut it, well, self-publishing it is not going to magically make it a better manuscript. Find an editor you trust and let them help you learn your trade.


      • Well said, Richard. I’ve met a couple of bad editors. One worked for a company that went belly-up in about five minutes flat. The other worked for a company that I eventually yanked my work from. It happens. In this lifetime you are going to meet a couple of bad plumbers, a couple of lousy painters, a couple of funny-smelling taxi drivers, and one or two hop-headed editors.

        (to all of those readers whose driver’s certificate does NOT read PREHISTORIC in the slot where it says AGE – go and Google hop-head)

        The majority of the editors I’ve worked with have been good ones. I’ve released six separate traditionally published books through Nimbus Publishing with a seventh coming out this fall (MARITIME MURDER) and I have worked with one or two different editors with each of the books – and all of those experiences have been very good. They have caught me in some real goof-ups and I have listened to their words and followed their advice.

        In each of the books there were many issues that I screwed the pooch on and – when pointed out by a careful editor – I quickly corrected.

        There were likewise one or two issues in which I disagreed with the editor. I explained my case and didn’t make certain changes.

        In only ONE instance did I actually have to arm-wrestle with the editor. I felt strongly enough not to want to change something – and the editorial department felt strong enough to argue with me. The issue in point was the use of a certain word/phrase that might or might not be politically prehistoric.

        In the end it went my way – and none of the several very positive reviews seemed to mention the word/phrase in question – so I am guessing that it wasn’t as big of an issue as EITHER of us thought it was – but who really knows?

        Editors are NOT the enemy. If a fellow deals with a bad plumber he doesn’t stop hiring plumbers – he just stops hiring the bad plumber.


  4. Great article. When I first started writing, I saved my rejection letters in a scrapbook, until my first article sold. It’s good to look at them as a reminder that all writers are rejected now and then. It’s part of the job. Keep trying to improve, and keep producing. Then you’ll be too worry to worry about rejection. But when it comes, try your best to learn from it. If an editor makes a suggestion on how to improve, try to follow it.


    • Amen, Tammy. I always tried to follow a rule that if I heard the same thing said by several editors – like, “You use the word purple way too much” – then I would figure that maybe I used the word “purple” way too much.

      Sometimes I can’t help it, is all.

      It’s such a fun word to say.

      Purple. Purple. Purple.


  5. I love fishing, I guess that’s why I just keeping tossing out my line…er story, hoping readers will enjoy them.

    I looked at each rejection letter as a step. You need many to get to where you’re going.


    • The funny thing is – back when I was younger and did enjoy going fishing – I got more actual pleasure from the soothing zen-like action of arching the rod back over my shoulder and then leaning that long lean forward. I never got tired of seeing that line snaking out over the water of the river. I was in love with the whizzzzzing sound that the line would make as it ran out of my reel.

      Life is a constant journey with only one real destination in sight. We might as well have fun along the way.

      And so, I write.


      • I still enjoy fishing. I could sit in a boat all day on ocean. I agree with the saying “a bad day fishing is better than a good day at work” except as a writer, I can ‘work’ on my story in my head at the same time I’m fishing. 🙂


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