7 (in-the-end) uplifting lessons from rejection


Has anything happened to you which unexpectedly helped you to grow, as a person?

For me, it wasn’t writing a book. That was fun, not therapy. It was what happened afterwards.


Nothing has toughened me up.

I held my little kernel of hope close to my heart, that people would instantly love my novel. They say there’s one born every minute, and that minute it was me. I got encouraging, wonderful feedback from friends, even strangers. “Arafura was so funny”, “I loved the messages in the novel”, “Where can I get an Adam for myself?”, “Please get on with the sequel, I can’t wait!” But that didn’t translate to comments/many sales on Amazon or publishers/movie producers knocking my door down. Hence –

My in-the-end uplifting lessons from rejection –

1. Rejection isn’t always personal. 

People are busy. They don’t get how I was a duffer and aligned my identity with my novel. Also, a couple of readers had issues with the male lead, see Arafura launch -women just ‘ovary’ acting . That didn’t mean they had issues with me.

2. I don’t like promoting myself. Marketing involves angst-ridden efforts on a rickety soapbox that I’d rather channel into more writing. Any day.

Marketing is hard, it’s up there with being the only doctor in an Antarctic research station and performing an appendectomy on yourself, or walking naked through a shopping mall (and no one noticing!)

As  Kal Barteski says, “Sharing art is asking the world to like your insides, but I love writing more than I’m scared about that.”

How seriously should I take rejection? The negative side of me thinks – Susan, you haven’t come to the attention of anyone influential so far, therefore your work is crap. Forget about writing. But I’m not writing for fame. Despite the encouragement of the inspiring, famous role models below,

3. I’m writing for me.

If you've never failed...

I’m slowly learning to stop looking for external appreciation, to stop treating other people as a mirror that reflects back to me whether I’m a ‘good writer’, even a ‘good person’.

4. When people tell you who they are, Maya Angelou famously advised, believe them. Just as importantly, however, when people try to tell you who you are, don’t believe them.

A friend remembers his father introducing him as ‘the shy one’. It took him years to realise it was his father’s opinion, not fact, that perhaps he wasn’t shy. (I actually thought he was a party animal.)

Life after self-publishing has caused me to explore the concept of identity. Am I my job, what house I own, the car I drive? Or how funny, kind, organised, educated, coloured, old, ethnic, eccentric or how wealthy I am? Am I the same person I was twenty years ago, in another part of my hormone cycle, or even this morning when I was less tired? How much belief should we put in our own negative chatter, or even others’ opinions? Other people’s assumptions about us may only reveal a great deal about them and absolutely nothing else.

5. I must rely on myself to define who I am, and I give myself permission to change the definitions.

Maya Angelou also said – ‘identity is something that you are constantly earning,  …. a process that you must be active in.’

It can take courage and insight to explore the ‘active’ bit. We are not just born passively with our identities. Sure nature and nurture play a part, but so do we.

Sometimes I even forget to be active when writing, and get my storyline in a pickle. Oh my goodness, I think, what that character said is harsh! (I think different characters are just different identities inside me talking to each other – like Jung’s sub-personalities. I definitely had to draw down on my inner commando when I visited the dentist yesterday.)  Or, I think, what can I do about the dead body/loaded gun/missing undies from two chapters ago? To my surprise, I realise I’m in charge of where my story will go. Same with my life. I wait passively for two weeks for the Urban Farmer to change a light-bulb, when it dawns on me that I can do it myself. I really am in charge.

light bulb

So that’s where I put it!
Photo credit: http://bit.ly/LzdeRB

6. We’re in charge of our lives and the choices we make. No blaming others or waiting games.

When I let go and enjoy writing with no attachment to what people think, I feel I have more control and power over my own voice. I’m off to Darwin next week to research the final touches to the setting of the sequel to Arafura. Again Kal’s words resonate for me,  “I feel scared and safe when I’m writing.” That’s an exciting enough journey for now.

7. Rejection isn’t forever. If it floats your boat and isn’t hurting anyone, keep going!

What lessons have you learnt when you didn’t expect to?

Brene Brown: The Daring Interview Series – Kal Barteski

Brain Pickings by Maria Popova: Maya Angelou on Freedom

The Ego Trick – Julian Baggini

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31 Responses to 7 (in-the-end) uplifting lessons from rejection

  1. Lee-Anne says:

    A good post Susan – raw and soul-searching, and very honest, real 🙂
    “Phooey to rejection!” I say.
    I’d keep going with the sequel. Publishers/directors may come knocking but essentially you are writing because it makes you happy and you have something to say. I do think all writers hanker after public recognition – some ‘expert’ to say they’re clever or “that’s great!” But in the end, if the ideas flow and work, keep it up!

  2. suzjones says:

    You know Ned Hickson wrote a post on rejection today as well. 🙂 It’s all good my friend.
    And thank you in particular for #4. I needed to hear that.

  3. Yes, I thought that was worth including. Maya Angelou had a lot of wise things to say.
    The writing journey is long and hopefully worthwhile, is it not? 🙂

  4. Beautiful and affirming…rejection is worth it because you would not want success that is not earned on your own terms 😉

  5. What a great post. I tend to think of 5 in terms of discovering one’s self v. defining one’s self, but in healthy people this is probably the same.

    Failure? What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. You are so right about liberating yourself from the unconscious fear of what others might think of you.

    • Just looked up the Boondocks episode, apparently poor Bill Cosby got kidnapped too?
      #5 particularly relates to people who, for one reason or another, haven’t had the opportunity to explore identity when young. You don’t need to go to India to find yourself!
      Yes, not always looking for external affirmation is a liberating journey. Is it failure anyway, when you learn and keep trying? One never know what’s around the corner.

  6. all great insights as to how we become who we are!

  7. Dave says:

    Such a challenge. Thank you for the tips on finding perseverance. Very well done.

  8. I also hate marketing. I hate knocking on people’s doors asking them to please buy my book. I’ve never been good at sales. I’ve always disliked bargaining and everything that’s around selling. Yet, self publishing requires that but I’m not so sure I have the personality for it. I would much rather go the traditional route and not have to deal with that area of publishing.
    That being said, good luck with your book and this is a great post.

  9. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Carol. Marketing, shmarketing!
    I’d rather the traditional route too, but publishers are struggling. I figured if I was noticed on Amazon through sales and comments………..
    People’s positive feedback has encouraged me to find my voice. Perhaps that, the things I’ve learnt along the way and the joy of writing is enough.:)
    Are you writing a book?

  10. Peekiequeen says:

    You are so brave to admit this Sue but its definitely something we all suffer from. It’s not easy to deal with the struggle of disentangling our identities from our craft/career and that is something I trudge through on a daily basis. Thank you for offering the hope of control being in our hands and the encouragement that we’re not really alone, when we sit at the computer on our own. 🙂 Cheers!

    • No braver than you (just read your post!). Identity is such an interesting concept. So many of us assume we’re set in concrete, but the light bulb has to want to change, if you know what I mean. I thank you for your interactions, which reassure me too! Why don’t you put up some of your writing as a post? 🙂 🙂

  11. Love this post. You beat me to it: I planned to flesh out no. 1 (it’s not personal) in the next post. We would do better to do all things with less attachmt, at least the angst-ridden kind. And very happy for you for getting the book out.

  12. Hi Diana. Do love your posts (go and visit if anyone is reading this!). Yes, less attachment, less existential angst about rejection. Thanks.

  13. Kim Saeed says:


    You’re right. Marketing is tough. I’ve read that in order to really get your name out there, it’s almost a requirement to hire a virtual assistant to do all of your marketing for you so you can do the important stuff, like write.

    I’ve also heard on a few webinars that if you really want to make it big as an author, the magic number seems to be 3. Meaning, most authors don’t start living the magic until they have 3 books under their belt.

    But, I’m still working on my first one, so who am I to say? 🙂

    • As usual, I can relate to what you have to say, Kim. It’s slowly sunk in about writing more than one book. A famous author here, Tim Winton, said no one paid attention to him until his 10th novel, Cloudstreet. Just as well writing has other payoffs. Please keep me up to date about your book. 🙂

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