Strains of Woe

 “…so shall I taste

At first the very worst of fortune’s might,

And other strains of woe…”    (Sonnet 90, Shakespeare)

What beautiful words! But, to an unpublished author, they are no consolation when the lash of fortune’s might is another rejection letter (or e-mail) from a publisher.

I’ve been writing since 1997. That’s fourteen years and seven completed novels. That’s a lot of rejections I’ve had to learn to live with.  Rejection becomes easier when a new writer finally realises that rejection letters are all part of the process of becoming a professional story teller. Rejection letters can be worn like a badge of honour, but they can also bring the curse of self-doubt.  And self-doubt can become your greatest enemy, for it freezes your creativity and weighs your writing down with your most secret fears.

What can a fledgling author do to overcome the rejection blues? Here are five stepping stones that can help you find your way from rejection to publication:


Seek Emotional Detachment

·         Rejection isn’t personal. Really, it’s not. Even though it feels very personal when you all you receive for your efforts is a bland form letter. But you need to be able to separate yourself from your writing. No writer, no matter how brilliant or famous, is able to produce a mistake-free manuscript.  Not even you.

·         Be neither too critical nor too generous when you chip away at the tiny flaws in your manuscript. If you’re too critical, your inner critic will delight in freezing every future creative idea you have. If you’re too generous, your ego will never allow you to admit to yourself that your work still needs improvement. To gain an objective view of your manuscript you need to fuse your inner critic (which can’t see anything right in your work) with your ego (which can’t see anything wrong in your work). Recognise both the strengths and weaknesses inherent in your story. And then start again.
Take Positive Action 

·         Continue learning: Read a book on the craft of writing. Attend a live webinar on writing. You can learn something new about your craft every day.

·         Get active on Social Media: Start a blog or, if you have one, write a blog post. Visit other blogs. Submit your work to on-line communities (but check their credentials first.)

·         Join a writing group: Search your local papers, or the Internet, for writing groups in your area or on-line forums. Find one that suits your needs and your personality and join in. Be pro-active; participate in doing critiques of other’s works as well as in submitting your own work for critique.

·         Go to the movies: Or watch your favourite DVD. Follow the plot. Watch the characterisations. Listen to the dialogue. Then think about how you can do the same in your writing.

·         Read: Go back to your favourite authors’ books. Find their best book and their worst one. Every author, no matter how great or ordinary their creative talent, has that one book which is the pinnacle of their art…and they also have at least one book which just doesn’t “work”. Reading the first will keep you humble. Reading the second will inspire you. And being An Author will, once again, become a reachable dream.
Write, Write, Write:

·         Taking positive action can easily become non-action. Reading a book on “how-to-write” can seem to be very “writerly”.

·         But no matter how useful, there is no substitute for actually doing your own writing. Even if the story you create is half a page, the sheer act of writing again will start your creative juices flowing. All you’re trying to do here is unblock any inner resistance or fear of writing again.

·         Write what you want to write without worrying about what someone else will think. Just have fun!

Avoid Comparisons:

Only your unique voice counts. Maybe that voice isn’t as profound as some; maybe it’s not as humorous, but it’s yours. And your job as a writer is to strive for the best work you can produce at the current level of your skill and talent. It’s not your job to decide on how good or bad your writing is. Only the readers and, ultimately, history, will decide how your writing compares to others. All you have to do is let your voice soar across the page and fill the woods with your unique song.

Choose Another Path:

With the advent of eBooks, and the rapidly changing face of the publishing world, many new paths are opening for writers. You can traditionally publish or, like me, you can become The Fool and take the leap into independently publishing your own work. Whichever path you choose, make sure it is the right one for you.

Once these five steps become second nature, the next rejection letter (or the reader’s equivalent, a bad review) that you receive won’t feel like the worst of fortune’s might. Instead, you’ll continue writing and soon rejections will be nothing more than a conquered woe and you will be A Published Author.


Misha, thanks so much for hosting me here. I really enjoyed my visit and, to say thanks, I’d like to ask you to draw the name of a random commentator, who will win a US$15 gift voucher (from their preferred choice of book store.)

If anyone would like me to do a guest post on their blog, please email me at to discuss a suitable topic and a mutually agreeable date.


Judy Croome lives and writes in Johannesburg, South Africa. Her short stories have been published in ITCH magazine and “Notes from Underground Anthology”.  She was recently shortlisted in the African Writing Flash Fiction 2011 competition. Her independently published novel, “Dancing in the Shadows of Love,” is available from Amazon and Smashwords.

Thanks so much Judy. I will be drawing the prize for the US$15 gift voucher on Wednesday, 29 July. To stand a chance to win, all you need to do is comment. You have until 1 pm GMT on Wednesday to enter.

So… How do you deal with rejection?


34 thoughts on “Strains of Woe

  1. Christine: ((((HUGS))))) Rejection letters – especially the first one – can be so painful! But remember that Elvis Presley (The King!)was told to be a truck driver, and the first agent who watched the Rolling Stones said, “They're not bad, but the one with the big mouth will have to go…!” in other words, it's one subjective opinion – take what you can from it, grow and write write write. (((HUGS again)))

    ANGELINE: Glad you found the post useful! (Sorry about the typos – you'll never believe I went over it three times before sending it to Misha!)

    Judy, South Africa

  2. I am in awe of all the authors out there who admit they've written several (or more) books that they've been able to set to the side. I've written 1.5 and I have such a hard time letting go, even when the rejections pile up…

    Good luck with the book, Judy. Christy and I are new owners of Kindles, so we'll have to check it out!

  3. ERICA & CHRISTY: Oh, you lucky things – new kindle owners!! Welcome to the tribe – in no time you'll be unable to let your Kindles out of your sight! And, I must confess, I take a long time to let go a story – I don't think it gets any easier no matter how many times one has to do it! 🙂
    Judy, South Africa

  4. Rejection is disheartening but I think I deal with it okay.

    Judy, I loved the post! It makes me want to watch a ton of movies and read all my favorite books again 😀

  5. TayLyee: So glad you liked the post TayLyee. It's amazing how much reading an (I'm sorry to sya it) awful book by a *great* author can make one feel better about a rejection letter. Reminds us that publication is about ordinary people doing extraordinary things…just like we can when we throw those dreaded “R” letters away!

    I'm now off to spend some time with husband and then it's bed for me on a freezing cold Highveld night! Will catch up with the conversation tomorrow (hope I don't miss too much!) 🙂

    Judy, South Africa

  6. Thanks for the encouragement, Judy. I'm about in the same place you are. Lots of years of writing and lots of books–lots of near misses with agents. So I'm jumping into e-pubbing pool too. I hope the water's warm.

  7. All really great tips. I've also been on this journey for a very long time. The best way to fight the rejection blues is just to get lost in another really great story and write it to the best of your ability. thanks for sharing!

  8. At first you have to realize you're on a learning curve, you're learning to get your writing tight, your grammar good. Once you learn how to put your story down, you have to realize that the rest is simply a matter of taste.

  9. CONNIE: The waters are *very* warm and exciting, so jump in and enjoy! Good luck!

    ELLE: Thanks for a great tip on fighting the rejection blues – getting lost in another story is also a great way to move forward, although it's not one that I can easily manage as I have to rebuild my confidence before starting anew.

    DEVIN: Hope you found the tips useful!

    AMY: Even more important than these tips is a writer's self-belief, so keep going!

    JOLENE: Good point – once a writer has learned the basics of the writing craft, the rest *is* all subjective…everyone has different reading tastes and the key is to fin *your* right reader.

    RACHNA: GOOD LUCK with sending your WIP out!! May the post only bring good news! 🙂

  10. Misha and Judy, what a great post and reminder to all of us about what it is and what it takes to be a writer. I especially like the not comparing part. It is to easy for me to fall into the trap of thinking I am not as good as [fill in the blank]. I like the idea of simply appreciating one's own voice. Very nice!

  11. SUSAN: I often fall into the trap of comparison and then I remind myself of this quote:

    “There is vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly… to keep the channel open.” Martha Graham, dancer

    When next you write, remember that all you have to do is to let *your* unique voice find its channel of expression! Happy writing!

    Judy, South Africa

  12. REBECCA: I promise you, the more rejections you get the thicker your skin grows until one day you realise that you can put multiple rejections into their proper perspective (but there is always that little pinprick at the first moment of reading the rejection letter; you do learn to live with it!)

    Judy, South Africa

  13. Wonderful post with some very good advice.

    It's important to realize that while a lot of us were busy honing our craft and collecting rejection slips, the publishing industry was undergoing huge changes. Big publishers no longer have much interest in debut writers or innovative ideas (especially in adult fiction) so innovation is going to have to come from small presses and self-publishers.

    Knocking on agents' doors may no longer be a useful pastime for writers whose work doesn't fit into the current blockbuster niche, although I think the fledgling novelist benefits from the query process.

    I've written about the new roles of agents on my blog today.

    Judy, you're a great role model for the author who's considering self-publishing. Misha–thanks so much for hosting her!

  14. Thanks, Misha, for having Judy as your guest.

    I love Judy's advice. It's great advice and all so very true. One thing I like about collaborating on a book is that sharing the rejection letters is a little easier (not much, though) when you have someone else to share the disappointment with, give each other a pep talk, and then move on.

  15. ANNE: Thanks so much for your kind words. Your posts on the independently published novel as the “new query” have resonated with me – as always, you're spot on with your analysis!

    LynNerd: LOL about sharing the pain of a rejection letter when you collaborate. Husband collaborated on one of his (non-fiction, tax law) books and sharing it definitely seemed to help ease the pain of their one and only bad review.

    Judy, South Africa

  16. Thanks for sharing this, Judy, great steps to take to move beyond rejection and onto success. I had a chuckle when you mentioned finding an author you love but one of their books that maybe wasn't so great. That's great advice.

  17. Judy, this is such helpful advice. I agree that you have to stay true to your writing voice. I like your recommendations about extending your writing into other venues. These are great tips. Thanks Judy. I'm going to keep this post handy.

  18. How very true. Definitely agree with avoiding comparisons. We should never measure our success using other people's yardsticks. Just because you're not selling books like Amanda Hocking or J.K. Rowling doesn't mean you're not successful!

  19. Hi Misha and Judy .. excellent post so many sensible viewpoints – and I'm sure they'll be so helpful to so many.

    It's keeping that rolling stock rolling isn't it? That never ending writing process, one done, one on the way, and one brewing, while submitting other articles, blog posts, etc ..

    Love the way you say just be totally involved, don't lock yourself away and write .. be a part of the whole … learning, writing and critiqueing as you go.

    Excellent – good read for us all .. cheers Hilary

  20. Good heavens! I leave the room for a moment or two and the conversation buzzes!

    CLAIRE: It seems almost sacrilege to suggest that the “greats” can have less than stellar writing, but it happens! I try not to feel meanly relieved, but it does making writing a more reachable dream when one realises that even genius writers have “bad writing days”!

    KIRU: My pleasure!

    COLD: As we grow and change as individuals, our voice changes too, so yes, finding The Voice and holding onto it is a big challenge.

    SEPTEMBERMOM: Glad you found the post useful!

    J.C.: Absolutely!! Success comes in many guises and each writer's success has to be measured on a very personal, individual basis.

    HILARY: I think it's very easy for writers to lock themselves away, especially when we've been wounded by another rejection letter. So staying active and making sure we participate in a writerly life is important.

    FREESPIRIT: I nearly did give up, but I'm glad I found another way instead.

    Judy, South Africa

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s