Rejection and the Avoidance of Grudges

I’m going to change the nature of this blog very slightly this year, as there probably won’t be so many of the breathless “Look at me I won something” and “Look at me I’ve had something published” posts. This is mainly because I’m intending to focus a bit more on writing longer stuff – but do note the use of the word “intending” there though. So I’m thinking of doing the odd review and interview from time to time as well as the occasional homily from my lofty position as a Nearly Published Author. Hope this works for you out there, although I’m guessing the Russian viagrabots probably won’t care one way or another (hi, by the way, and no thanks, but it was nice of you to offer).

When I was made redundant from my last proper job, back in the early nineties, I did something odd that I’ve only recently worked out the reason for. After I’d had my interview with my boss (which I really hadn’t seen coming and the nature of which I only realised when it became apparent that he was reading from a script) and he’d walked me up to my office to collect my things, we paused on the steps outside the building. Then before I turned to head off into an uncertain future with a mortgage and young family to support, I shook his hand.

For years afterwards, I wondered why I’d done this. It was entirely instinctive, but it seemed the right thing to do at the time. But surely I was letting the man off the hook? Shouldn’t I have sworn at him and spat in his face? He was, after all, potentially ruining my life; in the early nineties, there weren’t many opportunities going, I had serious commitments and my financial position was heading due South even before this happened.

What I eventually worked out was that the handshake wasn’t for his benefit at all. It was all for mine. Basically I was saying to myself that I was big enough to cope with this in a dignified manner and there was no point in bearing a grudge. It was all about (here comes that word) closure. It meant that I could put it all behind me and move on without dwelling on the past. Which is, pretty much, what I did. (Incidentally, it struck me at the same time as this revelation that the Christian principle of “loving thine enemy and praying for thy persecutors” works on exactly the same basis – it’s not for your enemies’ and persecutors’ benefit, but yours. Why did no one ever explain this to me? Or maybe I simply wasn’t listening. Pity. Me and Christianity might have got on better.)

The relevance of this to writing is of course that writing is all about rejection. It will seem at times as if the entire publishing world is up against you. But the more you dwell on this fact, the less time you’ll spend writing and – more importantly – getting better at writing. So here’s a tip: every time you get an e-mail from an agent or publisher saying that your work isn’t quite right for them (or whatever), get right back to them to thank them for letting you know. You’ll feel so much better for doing so and they will be ever so slightly confused (which will also make you feel good). Then move onwards and upwards. Whatever you do, don’t bear a grudge against them in particular or (worse) the entire industry. It will only hold you back.

A similar principle applies to having your work critiqued. But maybe that’s a slightly different subject for another time.

12 thoughts on “Rejection and the Avoidance of Grudges

  1. *puts hand to ear* What’s that? The sound of thousands of agents and editors wailing as their inboxes fill up with pointless, cluttery, misguided, time-wasting emails that say nothing but “thank you for saying no”? Children of the night, what music they make.

  2. Truer words, man. Love this post, it really highlights… just, how to survive. Getting angry doesn’t hurt anyone but us. Go for the handshake!

    (I get a lot of Russian viagra bots too. Can’t quite figure that one out, honestly…)

  3. Wise words (as ever), Jon, in this thought-provoking post. Looking back I can recognise several of those ‘handshake moments’ in my own life. Some of them did end in handshakes – literal or metaphorical (by that I mean internal to me) – and some in anger. The ones with the ‘handshake’ had by far the better outcome. Early on in my ‘old day job’, whilst still employed, I was head hunted by a friend to a job that paid unusually well. Predictably, the job’s duration proved short. I had entered with my eyes open and my fall-back position was to start my own business. The friend and I remained friends. As it turned out, the same guy later handed to me a job he was unable to handle. It turned out to be one of the most prestigious and profitable job of a business that lasted more than 40 years.

    Now I really must try to relate that experience to my writing rejections… Or perhaps an anger management course?

    😉 scar

  4. Jon,

    Tidy little learning moment. Very well written. Ahh, rejection. You know, as much as I’ve been rejected–writing wise–I’ve only felt truly disheartened about it once or twice. And it had to do once with high stakes and the other time with the tone of the rejection. Now, personal rejection, that’s a different story altogether. Hell hath no fury is no hyperbole, not for me, anyway. Hey, I’m going to put your blog on my blogroll of my new writing blog.

  5. @Oscar Same thing’s happened to me with work too. I actually ended up getting some quite lucrative work a few years later out of the company that fired me.

    @Simon As long as the anger inside doesn’t last for too long, of course 🙂

    @Gale Good luck with the new blog, and thanks!

  6. Submissions: I think the ‘thank you note’ route is good, and at least leaves the door open for other attempts. A strop over a rejection is likely to get your name taken off the possibly one day list! Great article, Jonathan, and one most can relate to.

    Regarding the unplanned exit from employment…a firm handshake and smile is often received by the ex-employer with many moments later of surprise that you didn’t collapse in tears or swing a left hook – thus rendering you as the winner. Positive people do not lose, they just collect challenges!

    Good luck with the new blog, I look forward to a good read.

  7. Excellent blog, more like this one definitely. It always feels better to confuse your enemies rather than confront them. And in positive thinking mode; in football you move towards the pass, don’t wait for it to come to you. It might never get there.

  8. Sometimes a bit of confrontation is necessary, of course. But to make it a general policy is not a good tactic 🙂 I like your footie analogy – no point in ending up as the one who’s always whinging that no-one passes to them.

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