Keep Calm and Carry On Writing

You probably know that feeling. You get an email back from a publisher and read something like, “This is a sweet story, but we already have contracted authors writing about this theme.” Or, “Thank you for your submission, but your story doesn’t meet out publishing needs at this time.”

Ah, rejection.

It happens to all of us. Pre-published, published, agented, and contracted writers alike. Even famous authors get bad reviews or not-so-hot sales (Ahem, The Cuckoo’s Calling before everyone knew J.K. Rowling had written it). We don’t really like to talk about this part of the writing journey, but I believe that often we need a little encouragement and equipping on how to deal with repeated rejections in the competitive children’s literature market. I know I do.

I’d like to offer a few (hopefully practical) ideas to keep looking ahead and thinking positively about writing goals.

1. Counteract negative self-talk.

I know that when I get a rejection of a story I’ve written it’s easy to spiral into negative thinking about my writing. Thoughts such as, “I’ll never get published,” or “My stories aren’t any good,” want to creep in.

The trick for me, in dealing with this kind of thinking, is to first recognize that it’s happening. My brain can sometimes be my worst enemy. Scientific studies have shown that habitual thought patterns create “pathways” in our brains. Just like sledding downhill presses down the snow in its path, when I think certain things over and over again, that becomes the default reaction.

So, the key is to create new pathways, new trails in my brain that will help me deal with rejection in healthier, more affirming ways. Instead of thinking, “My writing stinks. I’ll never be published,” I should try saying, “This opportunity didn’t work out, but that doesn’t mean I have nothing to say.”

This habit can be easier said than done, but learning to replace negative thoughts with better ones, may make the difference between persevering long enough to succeed, and stopping just before I reach my goal.

2. Change one thing.

When I get a rejection, it’s easy to feel powerless. One way to deal with these feelings and become more empowered is to change one thing in my life. Sometimes, I feel like I have a whole list of things I’d like to change about my life, but it’s better to pick just one small, simple thing.

For me, one small change I made recently was setting an alarm. Not an alarm to wake up in the morning, but an alarm to help me get to bed at night. This alarm helps me stick to a schedule where I get to bed, get to sleep and get to work the next morning in better time than I used to. The emotional benefit to this change has been significant and I feel more productive and less insecure about my performance at work.

3. Read what inspires you.

I find it helpful to remember what made me want to write children’s books in the first place. I like to revisit those stories and pieces of writing that I loved in my childhood. One of my favorite picture books is Puss in Boots by Charles Perrault, copyright 1990, illustrated by Fred Marcellino.

puss_in_boots
Re-read childhood favorites for re-inspiration. (PUSS IN BOOTS by Charles Perrault, illustrated by Fred Marcellino)

When I read this book as a kid it made me laugh, but looking at it now as a picture book writer I see different things. I appreciate the cleverness and humor in the writing, and how the beautiful illustrations marry so perfectly with the story. I like to come back to this story often because it inspires me to want to tell similar stories.

To close, I’d like to share a link to a recent article featured in the Publisher’s Weekly Children’s Newsletter:

10 Profound Children’s Book Quotes That Probably Changed Your Life

And for even more inspiration, try these related posts on Writers’ Rumpus:
Confidence Is the Key by Alison Potoma
Just Keep Swimming by Jen Malone

Thanks for reading! What helps you to stay inspired in your writing or illustrating journey? Share your tips below.

16 comments

  1. Nice post, Amy! I feel it’s important to always have something submitted, so that if a rejection arrives, there’s still hope out there. I don’t always follow my own advice, but I do believe that right when people are ready to give up, is often when they are about to reach their goal.

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  2. Amy, I loved the message in this blog and really appreciated the specific suggestion about developing alternative messages that help us move on. Rewiring the brain is something I’ve been reading a lot about this week (Super Brain by Rudy Tanzi and Deepak Chopra). You have just reinforced it! Thank you.

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  3. I celebrate every rejection — kind of — because it means I’ve been submitting! But I love the idea of re-reading favorite children’s books. I think I’ll go get a copy of Homer Price! Thanks for a nice post.

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  4. Hang in there, Amy. I found that rejection means it’s just not the right time for that manuscript or it’s not the correct publishing house. I was asked for a rewrite years ago by a small press and they ultimately rejected it. Whew! That press went out of business. When it was bought by another press a few years later, it affirmed that all works out in the end. Believe!

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  5. Love Puss in Boots! I like the idea of changing one thing, too. I’m querying through 12 x 12 and on my own. So yeah. I get rejection. I guess the thing that keeps me going is the fact that I have so many stories to tell and I want the kidlets to read them. I would love to inspire kids who don’t like to read, to find a love for reading, buried inside of them.

    Carrying on now.

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    1. That’s a great motivator, that you want to inspire kids who don’t like to read. When you feel discouraged, it’s good to keep that big goal in mind.

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  6. Love this post, Amy! Changing your neural pathways by replacing negative thoughts with positive ones is something that I do every time I work as a therapist 🙂 It’s a great way to deal with rejections as a writer. Thanks for the reminder!

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    1. Hi IllustratorNate! Thanks for the suggestion. I have considered self-publishing… I guess my main hesitation is the cost, and that I still believe in traditional publishing and the benefits of pursuing it.

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