Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Overcoming the Fear of Rejection

I got an email recently from a young woman who told me she’s written a novel, but hasn’t shown it to anyone else because she’s afraid of having to deal with rejection.

Her instincts are correct -- she will experience rejection. And it’ll hurt. But it will also make the elation that comes with acceptance all the sweeter.

So, this is for all of you who have a book inside you somewhere. Maybe it’s just the nub of an idea that won’t go away; maybe all or part of it sits mouldering and neglected on your computer’s hard drive. But whatever the case, the fact that you’ve even thought about writing for publication should be a signal to pay attention to that inner nudge.

If the fear of rejection is holding you back, here are some suggestions on how to overcome it:

Expect to be Rejected: This, of course, is why you’re not letting anyone see your writing. But if you expect rejection, then you won’t be surprised when it happens. Every published author can tell you horror stories about having been rejected. In my case, 38 agents rejected the manuscript for “Fast Track,” my first novel, before I found Barbara Casey, my current agent – and she rejected the manuscript for “Bluff,” my second novel, twice before she deemed it publisher-ready. You know this instinctively and from experience: Rejection is part of life.

Identify What You’re Afraid of: Chances are you have in your mind a terrifying scenario in which someone will read your stuff and then dump on you mercilessly. Either they’ll puke and run away or they’ll be insulting. But let’s be realistic: How often has that ever happened to you? It’s more likely that you’ll experience polite indifference, which still hurts, but when you consider the range of possibilities, actual rejection could be much worse than it probably will be.

Cultivate Courage: It’s okay to be afraid. It’s a natural emotion we all experience. The question is what are you going to do with the fear? I’m always inspired by the guys who stormed the beaches of Normandy during World War II. Were they afraid? Of course, but they went forward anyway. Going forward is what differentiates cowardice from courage. Cowardice is letting fear paralyze you into inaction, but courage is fear in action. So, recognize your fear, embrace it, then move forward anyway. It produces confidence.

Learn From Rejection: Submitting your writing to someone else probably feels as daunting as facing enemy gunfire, but the good news is no one will be shooting bullets at you. Instead, if you’re lucky, you’ll get feedback that’s invaluable. Why invaluable? Because your goal as a writer is to connect with someone. Critical feedback is what you need in order to connect more effectively.

It’s Not About You: When you’re afraid of rejection, the focus is, understandably, on you. You have to start with yourself, but the goal is to get beyond this. Here’s why: Think of your writing as a gift that you’re giving to someone else. But tastes vary and your writing won’t resonate with everyone. People have the freedom to accept or reject your offering. Fine. The payoff comes when you realize that what you’ve written has touched someone else. That makes all the rejection worth it.

Here’s the saddest thing about rejection: If you give in to the paralyzing fear of being rejected, you will have succeeded in one major way – you will have succeeded in rejecting yourself.

John DeDakis is a Senior Copy Editor on CNN’s “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer” and the author of the mystery-suspense novel “Fast Track.” Visit his Web site at www.johndedakis.com

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