We all know that rejection is part of writing life.
We’ve been told that even the most well-renowned authors suffered setbacks on their journey to publication, but whilst this knowledge might register in the head, it often doesn’t lessen the pain in the heart.
Why not? There’s a good reason.
When we experience writing rejection, we’re not just dealing with a rejection of our story – something we have lovingly crafted and made ourselves vulnerable to bring into being.
That would be bad enough.
We’re also grappling with the way our brains are wired.
In evolutionary terms, human beings have a fundamental need to belong to a group. In a hunter-gatherer society, being ostracized effectively meant death, so we developed an ‘early warning system’ to warn us when this was about to happen: rejection.
And that’s not all. To ensure that we took this threat seriously, rejection began to piggy-back on physical pain pathways in the brain.
fMRI studies show that rejection activates the same parts of the brain as when we experience physical pain.
And those who experienced rejection as the most painful (our ancestors) gained an evolutionary advantage and remained to pass on their genes.
Sorry, but it gets worse.
Our natural response to rejection is to damage our own self-esteem further. For writers, who may be working in isolation, and may not be surrounded with people who understand this kind of pain, this can lead to giving up or even to self-destructive behaviours.
So, how does this knowledge help with the pain of rejection?
We know that reasoning will only take us so far.
- Firstly, we need to recognise and acknowledge our emotional pain – and that it feels overwhelming because it is a primal one. When a baby cries, we know it is an evolutionary response – a need for care, comfort and protection, and not an expression of dissatisfaction with their caregiver. This understanding helps us to be patient and caring, even when we feel flooded with negative emotions.
- Secondly, we can identify punitive and self-critical behaviours and try to address these. It might not be easy, but awareness is key. We can choose to boost our self-worth by focusing on new projects – or different outlets for creativity altogether.
- Lastly, we can connect with others. Rejection destabilises our feeling of belonging and restoring this need is crucial.
We’re not really adrift. There are hordes of writers out there in the same boat, experiencing rejection every day.
Reach out to your network and others through social media (private groups) and start talking with others who are going through it too.
If you’re dealing with writing rejection at the moment, I hope this understanding helps in some small way.
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Photo by Elisa Ventur on Unsplash