Skip to main content

How to Write in the Face of Rejection

I wrote "unparagraphs", I aimed for imbalance, I stayed in the moment indefinitely, I realized my maximal self on the page. Most importantly, I wrote myself on to the page. And I learned, as all writers must, how to write in the face of rejection. I received a rejection from an editor I admired, and the next day I wrote. Guest column by Jay Ponteri, author of the 2013 memoir WEDLOCKED.

My book, Wedlocked, is a memoir about a rough patch (imagine Grand Canyon) in my marriage. It considers what it looks and feels like to be a lonely human inside a marriage, what it looks and feels like to push away the one who loves you, what it looks and feels like to fail as a husband, to say, You are not what I want. This book came to life out of two failures -- the failure of my marriage being the first and the second being the failure of my early writings.

For many years, I received more rejections than I was willing to count. Rejections from literary magazines. Rejections from small presses. Rejections from fellowship-granting organizations. I shelved a book. I shelved short stories. I worked at the power company as an administrative assistant. I felt very few people would ever read my work, that any additional work I made was for nobody but me.

(Writer's Digest asked literary agents for their best pieces of advice. Here are their responses.)

wedlocked-book-ponteri
jay-ponteri-writer-author

Guest column by Jay Ponteri, who directs the undergraduate creative
writing program at Marylhurst University and Show: Tell, The Workshop
for Teen Writers & Artists. He is the founding editor of both the online
literary magazine M Review and HABIT Books. His work has appeared
in Tin House, Puerto Del Sol and Seattle Review. Jay lives in Portland
with his wife and son. His 2013 memoir is WEDLOCKED (Hawthorne,
March 2013), the true story about his marriage, a human institution that
can so often fail, leaving its inhabitants lonely and adrift. Find Jay on Twitter.

I also realized I couldn't be alive and not write, which unbeknownst to me at the time meant my apprenticeship was done. So if I was writing prose only for me, then why not get rid of all the aspects I didn't enjoy, that felt like labor, that felt antithetical to revelation. I let go, for the most part, of the fiction writer's tool kit, e.g., the dramatic scene, made-up speech, naming characters, writing about cities in which I didn't live. It felt like a formula I was failing to follow. The fallow fields in frost. I began working in more meditative and lyrical modes, working with less conceit. The material that arose from the necessity of my being, the wonder of speaking into the unspoken, of conversing with me and with the OTHER, all of this guided decisions around technique.

I wrote Unparagraphs, I aimed for imbalance, I stayed in the moment indefinitely, I realized my maximal self on the page. Most importantly, I wrote myself on to the page. And I learned, as all writers must, how to write in the face of rejection. I received a rejection from an editor I admired, and the next day I wrote.

(Definitions of unusual literary terms & jargon you need to know.)

My reverence for writers who have come before me, who will come long after I die heightened. I am not entitled to anything. You will not hear me use the phrase "my editor" or "my agent," for I do not possess anybody but myself, and barely that. Success is an illusion, an overused thus emptied word. Our own personal and cultural histories imbue that word with distorted, contradictory meaning that matters very little to the Present Moment of Composition. What matters the most to me about my writing is the Present Moment of Composition. Now. Now. Writing the next word. John Cage: As we go along, (who knows?) an i-dea may occur in this talk. I have no idea whether one will or not. If one does, let it. Regard it as something seen momentarily, as though from a window while traveling.

My memoir Wedlocked is no longer mine, it is yours. I hope you read it and I hope it makes you feel less lonely. I hope that you speak with me into the frost of silence. If you are a writer, I wish for you not to receive any rejections, and I wish for you to achieve success in ways you come to define, but when you do receive that next rejection---via email, in an envelope you have addressed to yourself---take a close look at it, lick it or hold it to your heart, embrace the fact that an editor either read and / or touched with their bare hands your manuscript with your words, said editors are not rejecting you personally, are not at all saying something about the Big Picture of your writing, are not saying you cannot reach them with something other you make in the future, and that moment passes, is dead, so begin your new writing session that reveals, in that next present moment in time, your contradictory heart and mind.

2014-guide-to-literary-agents

The biggest literary agent database anywhere
is the Guide to Literary Agents. Pick up the
most recent updated edition online at a discount.

Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:

Image placeholder title

Want to build your visibility and sell more books?
Create Your Writer Platform shows you how to
promote yourself and your books through social
media, public speaking, article writing, branding,
and more.
Order the book from WD at a discount.

Jacquelyn Mitchard: On Forgiveness in Fiction

Jacquelyn Mitchard: On Forgiveness in Fiction

Award-winning novelist Jacquelyn Mitchard discusses the chance meeting that led to her new novel, The Good Son.

Sea Bound

Sea Bound

Every writer needs a little inspiration once in a while. For today's prompt, write about someone connected to the sea.

writersMarket_wd-ad_1000x300 (1)

Get Published With the Latest Market Books Editions

Get published and find more success with your writing by using the latest editions of the Market Books, including Writer's Market, Poet's Market, Guide to Literary Agents, and more!

Michigan Quarterly Review: Market Spotlight

Michigan Quarterly Review: Market Spotlight

For this week's market spotlight, we look at Michigan Quarterly Review, the flagship literary journal of the University of Michigan.

Desperate vs. Disparate (Grammar Rules)

Desperate vs. Disparate (Grammar Rules)

This post looks at the differences between desperate and disparate with Grammar Rules from the Writer's Digest editors, including a few examples of correct usages.

What Is Pastiche in Literature, and Why Is Sherlock Holmes Perfect for It?

What Is Pastiche in Literature, and Why Is Sherlock Holmes Perfect for It?

What has made Sherlock Holmes so adaptable and changeable throughout the character’s original inception? Author Timothy Miller explains.

How to Write Through Grief and Find Creativity

How to Write Through Grief and Find Creativity

When author Diana Giovinazzo found herself caught in the storm of grief, doing what she loved felt insurmountable. Here, she shares how she worked through her grief to find her creativity again.

writer's digest wd presents

WD Presents: Our Brand-New Digital Guide, 6 WDU Courses, and More!

This week, we’re excited to announce our new “Get Published in 2022” digital guide, six new WDU courses, and more!

5 Tips for Keeping Your Writing Rolling

5 Tips for Keeping Your Writing Rolling

The occasional bump in the writing process is normal, but it can be difficult to work through. Here, author Genevieve Essig shares five ways to keep your writing rolling.