Even an elephant’s hide can be thin in places …

I know the wording of the email didn’t actually say what I felt it said, but that didn’t stop me feeling what I did anyway.

Recently I got a rejection on a manuscript I’ve just completed. The rejection was encouraging but still  politely declined the offer to work together on my novel. The email was more than a standard rejection letter, but the familiar waves of doubt started to lap at the shoreline of my confidence.

I’d gone into this submission thinking what I’d developed was more than solid. I liked the story – not in a “of course I like it, I wrote it” – but more in a “I can see the potential in others liking it as well.” But now I was starting to doubt my abilities to string two words together.

My guess is if you’re a writer then you’ve felt that too – from an agent or publisher, or even from readers who’ve felt your writing was not for them. Every writer would have at some stage.

I know part of a writer’s armour is to be able to handle rejection. I even thought I was close to mastering it after working for 25 years in a creative field. I’ve had a career full of clients who’ve told me they don’t like what I’ve written for them (even though they can’t articulate why). I thought I was a copywriter with an elephant’s hide that I’d developed over a working lifetime, where any rejection just bounced off me because I was used to it.

Then I got the email, and realized my hide was thin in places.

Perhaps that’s because when it’s your own story or your own world, you’re more invested in it than writing the Department of Whatever’s web site that you know, deep down, will only be visited by the Government Minister and his dog. Or the social media content you’ve written for your banking client will be washed away in the raging stream of a Facebook feed. When the words of your novel or poem have poured from your heart as well as your head, it’s different. Any knocks find their way to the chinks in your armour.

So how do you pick yourself up after getting a knockback on something you’ve written? There were a couple of things that helped me:

  1. People who understand the tough task of writing and share in the downs as much as the upside. I got a commiserating message from Ian Acheson with some very encouraging words. I got some encouraging texts from my offline critique group which helped me put the disappointment in perspective.
  2. Taking a deep breath and realizing this is such a subjective pursuit. I knew this already based on my career, where people love or hate your copy, design, video or advertisement based on their opinion, flawed as it may be. I’m now translating that to my fiction writing and realizing one rejection does not a bad fiction writer make. For example, I got feedback from two judges in the ACFW First Impression competition. One gave me a 93 and wanted to read the novel immediately. The other gave me 63 and said the story wouldn’t work. And they both read the same six pages.
  3. Lastly, but importantly, realizing God is in control. It was timely for me to read Jebraun Clifford’s Facebook post (see below) which she published as the sting of my rejection was still fresh. It was a reminder that God is faithful and, if I’m going to live up to this calling, I need to get a grip on that.  Her post, in part, stated: “Don’t lose heart. God is faithful. Whatever you are facing, He will intervene in your behalf. He will free you from your oppression. He has a strong arm and will rescue you.”


So it’s these things that have seen me brushing myself off and putting my head back down over the work that I believe I’m led to do. How about you? What do you do to handle the knocks you get as a writer?

5 Replies to “Even an elephant’s hide can be thin in places …”

  1. I had a similar experience with the First Impressions Contest, but the judge who gave me the middle score was the most encouraging. It’s all subjective. I glean what I can from things like that and move forward. Blessings on your writing.


    1. I think that’s the key to it Tracy – realising just how subjective it is. In one of my First Impressions entries (I submitted a few), two of the judges gave me 90 and 60. For the same five pages.

      That’s why writing is part talent, part hard work and part timing. My best for your writing as well.


  2. Hey David. Great blog.
    Writing is a member of the creative arts family and you are right- subjective IS the key word. Only you know the calling given you and you can trust the equipping given to fulfil the call. Be encouraged. It is a matter of time. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Gutted to hear about your rejection letter 😦 But good on you to continue! Keep going, keep writing, keeping asking, seeking, and knocking! Glad my post resonated with you as well. Sometimes we need to hear the obvious again and again (at least I do!) before it really takes root in our hearts ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve been a published writer for 21 years and I have a very sensitive nature. I just read a book on the topic where the doctor said it’s a trait you’re born with and you can’t really change it. I’m going to work through her workbook to pick up more advice.

    It hurts the most when a new book I’ve written is rejected by the publisher I’m already in a contract with. I guess only Virginia Wolfe gets to be married to her publisher and knew everything she wrote would go to print. But things didn’t work out so great for her either.

    I haven’t learned how to shake it off. I write nonfiction but I too wrote a novel and thought this is an original idea, not a me-too book and others will like it too. It’s back at the publisher’s desk to be evaluated again.

    Critics are another issue. My 4th book took me 12 years to write. But some person can come along and in 2-3 minutes destroy its reputation with a nasty review. Alexander Pope hated critics and got them back in a great poem.



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