And how to find the motivation to keep going after rejection
We’ve all heard J.K. Rowling’s rags-to-riches story or Stephen King’s account of hanging all his rejection letters on a nail in his wall until the nail would no longer support the weight of the letters (then he hung them on a spike).
But did you know Herman Melville was turned down by multiple publishers and Peter J. Bentley even asked if his antagonist had to be a whale? He suggested something “with a more popular visage among young readers. For instance, could not the Captain be struggling with a depravity towards young, perhaps voluptuous, maidens?” Can you imagine? Melville eventually published Moby Dick, but he had to pay for the typesetting and plating himself.
Rejection is nothing new to authors, even the most well-known. Legendary authors have all been in your shoes, but a rejection letter is still a bitter pill to swallow. When you’ve spent months or even years intimately involved with a manuscript it can be terrifying to release it from your hands, even to a trusted friend or beta reader. When you receive negative feedback it feels like a crushing blow, hard enough to knock the wind out of you.
When the wind has left your sails, how do you find the motivation to keep going?
You’ll need to adopt a growth mindset. When you have a growth mindset, you’ll use your setbacks and rejections to propel you forward. You’ll learn from your mistakes and your writing will grow as you do.
What is a growth mindset?
“Individuals with a fixed mindset seek to validate themselves. Individuals with a growth mindset focus on developing themselves.”- Scott Jeffrey
Dr. Carol Dweck, Stanford psychologist and researcher shares her theories about mindset in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.
She explains that many people approach the world with one of two mindsets: a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. These mindsets determine how likely they are to learn new things and embrace challenges.
“In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort.”
“In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.” – Carol Dweck
These notions have gained popularity in educational circles and I’ve been actively trying to help my children develop growth mindsets. You can read more about that here.
However, the time has come to popularize this idea for writers. Writing can be a long and lonely process, but when we get excited by our growth and keep improving, we’ll be motivated to stick with it.
That’s why you need a growth mindset. We don’t want to miss out on your work.
Rejection is inevitable
“This is something I know for a fact: You have to work hardest for the things you love most.”― Carol S. Dweck, Mindset: How You Can Fulfill Your Potential
What if our favorite writers had given up after multiple rejection letters? Can you imagine the world without Harry Potter, Carrie, or even Moby Dick? Do a Google search for your favorite authors. I’m certain they experienced low points on their writing journey, too.
Rejection is inevitable, but don’t give up on the journey and return to port. Prepare your sails. The wind will come up again.
Face rejection and negative feedback with a growth mindset.
Use disappointment to grow
“Picture your brain forming new connections as you meet the challenge and learn. Keep on going.”― Carol Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success
When I completed the first draft of my novel, I sent it in to a literary consultant for feedback. I knew it needed some help, but I was hopeful she’d love the idea. What I got back was a lengthy report full of suggestions for how to improve my writing craft. I had too many points of view, my story evolved from realistic to fantasy, and my characters were too flat. You get the idea. I wanted to hide my head in shame and cry the rest of the day. I was humbled and embarrassed. Why did I believe I had what it took to write a novel?
After wallowing in self-pity for a few days, I reread the report and began to take notes. There was hope in there, too. I just hadn’t seen it in the face of glaring criticism. I read some of the books the consultant suggested and began to examine the work of my favorite authors as a writer rather than a reader. The literary consultant was right. But I had the power to do something about it.
When you experience rejection, feel your disappointment fully. Get it out of your system. Then, come back with a growth mindset. Reframe your inner dialogue to help you find the motivation to chart your next course.
Reframe your inner dialogue
“Mindset change is not about picking up a few pointers here and there. It’s about seeing things in a new way. When people…change to a growth mindset, they change from a judge-and-be-judged framework to a learn-and-help-learn framework. Their commitment is to growth, and growth take plenty of time, effort, and mutual support.”― Carol Dweck, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success
If someone doesn’t like your work – an agent, a beta reader, or even a friend – it can be hard to examine their opinions dispassionately. But we must. In this criticism we may find the seeds for new growth.
Editors or readers aren’t always right (look at Bentley’s suggestions for Moby Dick), but we do need to look for kernels of truth in the feedback. Writing is a never ending process and there are always opportunities to grow. Look for these. Learn from your mistakes. And start to think of mistakes as opportunities to grow.
If you have a fixed mindset you tend to think of abilities as natural gifts. If you keep dropping the sail in the water when learning how to windsurf, for example, you may give up and decide you’re not naturally good at the sport. However, if you tell yourself you just need more practice and you haven’t failed enough to grow, you’ll eventually get it. I can attest to this. I dropped the sail all day long the first time I tried windsurfing. But I stuck with it and eventually mastered the skill.
Be stubborn in your resolve, but flexible in your approach. Tell yourself you simply haven’t failed enough times to succeed and keep learning and growing. Reframe your inner dialogue. Approach writing with a growth mindset. If you do, you’ll know your new course will take you somewhere exciting. And, at some point, you’ll find the wind and sail again.
Be stubborn in your resolve, but flexible in your approach.
Throw your timeline out the window
If your goal is to write a best-selling novel this year, you’ll have to change it. If instead, you want to write the best book you can, give yourself 5 to 10 years. Allow time for growth. You can shelve your first manuscript and begin to work on a second. Many writers do this. Or, you can keep improving your original idea if you think it has merit.
Whatever you do, don’t give up. Give yourself time to grow.
J.R.R. Tolkien started writing The Lord of the Rings in 1937. He sent the final galley proofs to the publisher in 1954 or 1955. That’s seventeen years! Even after it was published he continued tinkering with it. Tolkien had a growth mindset and kept working to improve his saga. The book wouldn’t be the beloved classic it is today had he rushed the writing process.
So, throw your writing timeframe out the window and concentrate on creating the best book you can. Be open to improvement even after your share your work with others.
The wind may come and go, but you’ll arrive at your destination eventually. In the meantime, focus on your growth during the journey.
It’s scary to put your writing out into the world. But, if you want to grow, do it. Don’t get stuck. You’ll have to experience failure and disappointment to improve your craft. You’ll receive unwanted feedback and maybe even a few harsh words. Put your work out there anyway.
If you change your mindset to a learn and help-learn framework, you and the writers around you will grow. Use a growth mindset to keep motivated and learn through your setbacks. I can’t wait to see what you create.
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