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THE FIVE STAGES OF…REJECTION

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Rejection.

Three syllables of crass meanness bound up in a single noun. Is there anything worse for a writer? Basically, you are not welcome to the club, you do not belong, you simply are not good enough. Somebody, somewhere, has looked at your work and said, “Nope, not for us!”

Since boarding the writing train last year, I have received a huge amount of rejections. I have also received a good amount of acceptances… but the scales are definitely out of balance on this one. And I know this is part of the game, and it’s supposed to happen – but it still sucks when it does.

So, I thought I would write about it. The following is my rollercoaster ride with dealing with the: Five Stages of Rejection.


I press submit. The email containing my flash fiction piece gets whisked away to the publisher. Now, the website did say a wait of three months was the norm, but that doesn’t stop me from checking my account five times a day for the next week. What’s taking them so long? Don’t they recognise genius when they see it? Also, it’s under a thousand words… I mean, c’mon already!

But no answer comes and I berate myself for being silly. I remind myself that even if they wanted to (and at this stage I imagine that they really do), they simply can’t respond before the allotted time. No, that would set a precedent… and also would be quite rude to the other, less gifted, writers out there. I chuckle to myself at imagined scenes of internal strife in the magazines HQ. Editors at each others throats, receptionists leaving, interns quaking under tables – wow, the impact my work must be having! But yes, their hands are unfortunately tied. Rules are rules, I guess. I almost begin to feel sorry for them.    

Three months later the answer comes. It’s not good.

DENIAL: WHAT THE HELL IS THIS! A rejection! No, wait… this can’t be right. They must be confusing me with another writer. I check the email address. It’s mine alright. Maybe they mixed up my work with somebody else’s…no, that’s also the correct title. My eyes swim over the body of the mail, “Dear Shane, Thank you for considering XYZ. Although we greatly enjoyed reading, ZYX, we feel it is not right for us at this particular time…” Of course there are platitudes in the mail but I ignore them. It’s a rejection. A goddamn rejection. I still can’t believe it.

ANGER: My blood begins to boil. How dare they reject me! Don’t they understand good writing when they see it!? I should have known though – their so called “literary journal” reeks of pompous pretentiousness. Probably full of half-baked literary types that don’t even know their arse from their elbow. Actually, the more I think about it, why did I even send them my work? I never really wanted to be part of their stupid paper to begin with. Reject me will you? I reject you! Never again.

I unfollow them on Twitter.

BARGAINING: A few hours pass. Life goes on. But the rejection is, of course, still there in the back of my mind. By now, I have read and re-read the email a million times. I study the words. “Although we greatly enjoyed reading, ZYX, we feel it is not right for us at this particular time…” A sliver of hope appears. Maybe I can write to them to find out what happened. What does “not right for us at this particular time” actually mean? Can I resubmit it later? Would that work? Maybe they can tell me what they don’t like and I can fix it up for the next time. I have to do this!

I return to Twitter and follow them. 

DEPRESSION: But of course I don’t write. What’s the point? It’s not going to work. They’ve already moved on. And why shouldn’t they? The piece really wasn’t that great. I read it again. Oh my god, what was I thinking! It’s crap! It really is… and there was me thinking that it was good. Is it me? Am I a bad writer?

I reach out to #writerscommunity and ask them if they think I am a bad writer. Nobody responds.

ACCEPTANCE: It takes a while but I eventually get over it. So, I got one rejection. Big deal! It’s not the end of the world. By now I have already tweaked the story a half-dozen times and resubmitted it to several more publishers. One of them is bound to pick it up. After all, it is an amazing piece…

So there you have it! The five stages of rejection.

Of course, everything here is blown way out of proportion but there is some truth to it. Even though it’s hard not to take a rejection personally, always remember that just because your work was rejected, doesn’t mean that it’s bad – or that you are a bad writer. There could be a million reasons why it was turned down. The best approach is to accept it with grace, and move on.

Just like Homer. Be like Homer.


The above post references the ‘five stages of grief’, first proposed by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book On Death and Dying. Article written by Shane O’Halloran. Follow him on Twitter @SomeOddHat.

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