Things I wish I knew about Dealing With Rejection when I started writing

Dealing with rejectionRejection’s never fun, and although I’ve copped a fair amount of it I still suffer from that moment of disbelief whenever another story gets returned.

Either something didn’t resonate (which is rarely the writers fault – you can’t please everyone), or the story in your head got lost in translation – which is your fault. You’re the translator, after all.

You’d be surprised at how frequently people see something you didn’t intend, or more likely, how rarely they do.

Regardless of the reason, rejection gets easier, but I doubt anyone would ever say it’s a ‘woohoo’ moment (even if you’re involved in some sort of competition to get you submitting – the more rejections, the more proactive you’re being as a writer, after all).

It’s hard not to be precious about our writing, but you can reduce the angst by writing more stories and sending out. That way you’re not pinning your hopes on one – you’ll have dozens out there carrying your dreams of publication.

Don’t consider trunking a story until it’s had at least fifteen or twenty rejections either, and probably not even then. You cared enough to write it, so there’s always going to be something magic there.

Put the story away for a while if you need to – you’ll see it with fresh eyes when you return to it.

In the mean time, write more stories and keep sending them out. Sooner or later, you’ll hit a mark. Lots of marks, hopefully.

Here’s some more great advice on Dealing with Rejection:

“Expect rejection, and when the rejection letter comes, put on your thick skin and send your story out again. Then sit down and feel the pain, and because your baby has been sent out again, feel the hope. Keep writing.” Cora Foerstner

“Rejection is part of the process and your work will not be right for everyone, no matter how good it is. Keep multiple queries or submissions going out, so you don’t have all your eggs (and hopes) in one basket.” Maer Wilson

“When I experience rejection, I consider that all the big authors have five star and one star reviews, so we should expect it too. And, when it’s your baby…remember, it will be a big and strapping young thing one day that can handle itself.” James Steven Clark

“That first rejection might hurt. Even the second. But by the thirtieth, or one-hundredth, it’s like water off a duck’s back. Doesn’t bother you so much. Trust that this will happen and don’t let the fear of rejection stop you.” Vanessa MacLellan

“Before sending off a submission, always know where you’ll be sending that story next should it get rejected. Having a back-up plan before you receive a rejection will soften the blow.” Zena Shapter

“You most likely won’t win the book lottery. Margaret Mitchell, John Scalzi, and others who have managed the almost impossible, partially got lucky, but they had the book that made it possible for them to get lucky. So if you’re getting lots of rejection letters, look to reworking your book, or abandon it and move on.” Gerri Lynn Baxter

Check out some of the other posts in the “Things I Wish I Knew About” series: Author PromotionPoint Of View CritiquingEditing Your Own Work, Short Stories, Creating Characters, Story Development, Worldbuilding and Writing.

Guest blog on novel writing at Nicole Murphy’s site

I have a guest blog post on Nicole Murphy’s website!

Twilight Fever: and how to write it into your novel… Part 1.

Twilight Fever: and how to write it into your novel… Part 2.


Outlining a novel? What’s a pantser to do?

I’m a pantser – I like to start with an idea, concept, character, situation, whatever, and see where it leads.

Writing a novel for me is an exploration. Plotters do the opposite – they discover everything they can before they write, or at least enough to be happy to write.

Quite often I won’t have a clue what a story’s about or where its going until I’ve written it, which is fine in its way, but really makes it hard to edit without an ingrained knowledge of story structure.

The best solution I’ve found is that with a bit of pre-thinking, I can generate the key points I’d like to hit while writing, so my story comes out with all the right elements in the right place.

I won’t necessarily stick to whatever ‘pre-writing points’ I generate, but if I know them in advance I can change them as needed.

So, if you’re a pantser, study up on story structure. Even if you don’t sit down and prepare before writing something, it helps to know what your story’s going to need.

Check out my Story Structure Diagram for the basics.

How do you write?

Talk to any writer, and each will have a different process for writing – more so with longer works.

My preference is to do a complete pass and then give it a break – doesn’t matter whether I’m doing a first draft, final polish, character pass, or whatever. I find that if I start but stop halfway through, it’s hard to go back later on, and the longer I leave it, the harder it gets.

What’s more, I find the more I focus on the one story, the more I want to return to it, and that seems to translate into a bigger, better, and more effective effort.

For me, that’s when the magic starts. Ideas, thoughts, and story twists come almost unbidden. Problems resolve in directions I didn’t see coming. The story ‘flows’.

What’s your process? How does writing work for you?

What’s the worst thing that could happen next?

Ever hit the wall and have no idea what to write next? Maybe you’ve just reached that point where nothing exciting is happening and you’re losing interest. And of course, if you’re losing interest, forget about your readers.

You might call it writers block. You might call it all kinds of blue-coloured words. You might simply take a break in the hope that inspiration strikes.

Worst scenario: you might give up.

Don’t! If you give up, you could be losing a fantastic story.

Instead, try this exercise:

“What’s the worst thing that could happen at this point in the story?”

Write it. Now. I’ll wait.

Very possibly, I’ve led you astray a little. The worst thing that could happen is all your characters catch a rare form of the flu and die, or an asteroid strikes the planet and they all die, or the sun explodes and they all die… you get the drift.

Okay then, lets peg it back a bit.

Your character tells a white lie – he’s had a fight with his wife, so she’s left him alone to deal with the business of running their ice-skating rink (or maybe something as simple as organising a dinner with friends). He’s too embarrassed to admit it, so he tells everyone she’s sick – caught a chill, and is resting up in bed.

What’s the worst thing that can happen? Someone’s got some medical qualifications and insists on helping.

Of course he could admit to the lie, but…

He tries to cover his lie and convinces someone to ‘play sick’ (maybe an employee, perhaps a neighbour), which not only deepens the lie, but draws someone else into it – and now you can see the snowball effect. “Oh no, it’s VERY contagious…”

And the worst thing that could happen at that point is…?

Okay, lets get back on track. We’re not actually building a story.

However, that sort of thing works particularly well with comedy, but also translates quite well into most genres.

Genre, you say.


Imagine you’re writing an action story – two tough cops go into a den of drug lords to rescue a kidnapping victim.

It’s time sensitive, and they make the call to go in early. What’s the worst thing that can happen – maybe one gets wounded and has to be dragged out – and the mission fails.

And of course, there are consequences.

Because they went in early and without backup, the kidnapping victim gets killed – and they get the blame. Suddenly they’re off the force, leaving them with the only option available – prove they did the right thing. Yet one of them is in hospital recovering…

You see where I’m going?

More than likely you’ll want to discard the first option (or four) that comes to you, but if you ever get stuck, if things slow down, or you simply can’t figure a way out of the mess you’ve created, ask yourself: “What’s the worst thing that can happen next?”

When planning goes to… something starting with S.

I prefer writing to planning. I just want to get on with it. Sometimes, even stating what goes in the Beginning, Middle and End is too much effort.

However, to write something more complex than a single POV story I’ve got to plan out the storylines and how they fit together, otherwise I’ll stick with one or maybe two.

For the Welcome To Earth novel I’m in the middle of, I’ve got five Points Of View, and I developed them all pretty thoroughly.

The problem is, once I start writing a story, it almost always takes an entirely fresh turn from anything I’d planned. Sometimes lots of turns.

That can be good. I love finding out what happens as I write it.

But that doesn’t work with multiple storylines that need to interconnect.

Problem is, I never planned this story as a novel. I planned it as a pilot television script, and that’s how I originally wrote it.

And that’s why it all fell apart – it wasn’t suited to becoming a novel, but I thought it would be. I didn’t do any more planning to flesh it out.

And so there it was – forty-five pages of outline in script form, ready to be drawn from, and it wasn’t filled with enough detail.

The big divergence happened when I added an entirely new beginning, changing it from sets of two sequences to three (ie, three for the Beginning, Middle A, Middle B, and the End).

That means I now have to find and develop three entirely new sequences spread out over the entire novel – about 30-40,000 words.

Obviously, I got ‘writers block’. Or, in this case, ‘what the heck do I do with this mess now?’.

The only way I can see to fix it is to shift the main plot to a sub-plot and bring forward the story I’d intended for the sequel, and overlap them. Two storylines, one story. There simply isn’t enough happening in the original script to fill an entire novel.

If only I’d seen that before I began and reworked the outline/script.

The question now is, will it work? Is it even what I really want to do?

I guess I’ll find out.

If you liked this post, you might like my post on creating a writing/editing plan for your novel.

Create a writing/editing plan for your novel!

Here’s a few steps that might help you in drafting and editing your novel.

1. What’s it about? Write one sentence describing your story in 25 words or less.

Yes. 25 words or less.

Rework the story to reflect this sentence, or change the sentence to reflect the story.

I’ve seen several publishers asking for this sentence in their submission requirements.

2. What’s the theme?

This is the point of your novel, and arguably the most important aspect of it. It’s what you’re trying to say – one side of an argument.

Without a theme your story’s just explosions and pretty sunsets. Pointless.

The theme itself is a statement. For example: “Behind every good man is a greater women.” Your story is the argument supporting either the positive or the negative side of that statement.

Think of your story as one side of the debate.

3. Separate the Threat from the Conflict.

Conflict is immediate, while the threat is the potential. Work out the difference in your story.

4. Need Vs Want.

What does your character(s) want? What are they actively pursuing? This is an external goal.

What does your character need? This will be something internal, something they aren’t likely to be aware of – a lesson to be learned, perhaps. The moral of the story.

For example, a high school student wants to be part of the ‘in’ crowd, when what they really need is to be happy with themself first.

Getting what they need will affect how they see what they want, while getting what they want before getting what they need won’t fulfill them.

What they want drives them. What they need completes them.

Getting what they need may make what they want even more worthwhile or it may render it totally obsolete. They may even have to sacrifice what they want entirely if it gives them what they need.

When they get what they need they can finally see what they want in its true light.

5. Identify the main plot points and transitions – beginning, middle, end, inciting incident, midpoint, etc.

If you don’t know what these are, and there’s lots more that I haven’t listed, I’ll be writing another post (or several) in the future covering them. For the moment though, I’ve drawn a diagram.

  • Do they work to best effect?
  • Can they be made to work better?

6. Chapter outline – write a brief sentence describing each chapter.

This will help you identify weak chapters or chapters that do nothing for the story.

You need to justify each chapter’s existence. Each sentence should:

  • State what the chapter’s trying to convey
  • Show how the chapter moves the story along.

7. Write a Cause and Effect. “Because of this, this happens. Because this happens…”

Start big, Ie:

  1. Beginning: Bella moves to Forks – meets Edward.
  2. Middle A: She’s attracted to him – discovers he’s a vampire which is part of the attraction.
  3. Middle B: They hook up – she becomes involved in the ‘vampire world’.
  4. End: Bad vampires come after Bella – Edward and family try to protect her.

Each cause has an effect, which leads to the next cause. It’s a logical progression. If you can’t find the logical progresssion, your story has a problem.

Once you’ve got the big steps down, break them into smaller steps.

Your breakdown for the beginning might be two or three pages long (although it can be much less or more). And like the big steps, it needs a logical progression. Find it.

Everything outside the cause and effect must be essential to moving the story forward in some other way.

8. Identify the big structural changes you need to make.

For example: ‘the ending isn’t satisfying enough – must rewrite to ensure the main character struggles more to achieve their goals’.

Like the example, write a list of big points that need fixing. Make these changes before going on. There’s no point in polishing text if big swathes of it might be cut or largely altered.

9. Identify the smaller but important changes you need to make.

For example:

  • Make outer space/ocean/sword/city/weather more of an influential ‘player’ in the story
  • Make the main character more sympathetic
  • Make the antagonist appear nice at first [misdirection].

Write a list of things that need to be done, and make the changes before going on.

10. Edit the words.

Only after you’re happy with the overall structure should you start playing with words, sentences and paragraphs.

Do a complete pass from beginning to end, and once you move onto the next chapter, don’t go back until the next full pass. It’s too easy to get bogged down in the process of polishing something to imperfection. Set some sort of goal and stick to it.

11. Finally, figure out when its ‘good enough’ and get it out into the world.

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On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction

On Writing Well: William ZinsserI first came across this book just after I became interested in writing fiction, and it’s one of the best books on writing I’ve ever found.

My first copy was the ‘Third Edition: Revised and Enlarged’ edition, and it’s somewhat dog-eared now from so many years of use and being leant out.

It even had a helpful section called ‘Writing – and rewriting – with a Word Processor’. Ahh, word pricessors, those new-fangled things on them fancy computers.

Yes, I’m almost embarrassed to say it was that long ago.

The book’s currently on its ’30th Anniversary Edition’, which suggests Zinsser’s doing something right.

The most valuable part about On Writing Well is that it strongly promotes simplicity and keeping things clear and concise. Zinsser argues there’s no room for wordiness – and he shows you how to achieve clear and accurate text with a range of examples.

Although designed with non-fiction in mind, the book is for anyone who wants to write, and any fiction writer will benefit from reading it.

The book is broken into four parts – Principles, Methods, Forms and Attitudes, but it’s Principles and Methods that give the book its value.

For example, the topic on Simplicity begins with: “Clutter is the Disease of American Writing.”

Of course, the problem isn’t limited to just America, but the entire English language.

The paragraph finishes with: “We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills and meaningless Jargon.”

What was true thirty-odd years ago holds true today.

If you want to get the basics right, On Writing Well is the book you need.

What’s it about? Know your story.

What’s your story about? Do you know?

If you don’t, you have a problem.

If you can’t explain what it’s about clearly and concisely, how can you expect your story be clear and concise, or even interesting?

Aim for under 25 words. Better yet, see if you can do it in 15.

Impossible, I hear you say!

Of course not – but we’re talking broad strokes, not detail. Any longer than 25 words, and your ‘audience’ is going to go to sleep. You need to interest them – not fill in the gaps. Overview stuff.

Example: “It’s about a girl from another universe who falls in love with a human boy despite herself.” Not very specific, but better than trying to dump all the details at once. A teaser, nothing more.

Still, its a little vague and not particularly informative. Too broad, perhaps.

How about: “A warrior princess from another universe falls for a human boy while hunting the shapechanger that murdered her parents.” Far more specific, yet still less than twenty words. If they’re interested – they’ll ask for more details.

It also gives a pretty solid impression of the genre and audience.

So, how do you go about it?

Break it into four parts:

  • Part 1 – Who the story’s about. Don’t name them, but describe them. ie, A Warrior Princess.
  • Part 2 – What they want. Ie, revenge – she’s hunting her parents’ killer.
  • Part 3 – What’s standing in their way. In this case, the shapechanger AND the love interest.
  • Part 4 – Show the irony in the situation (or the hook). Ie, While seeking revenge, she instead falls in love.

Those parts don’t necessarily have to be in order, but they do have to be there.

If you can do this for each story you write, you’ll not only produce a stronger, tighter story, you’ll also have a better shot at selling it.

Editing – I’ve finished writing. What next?

In my previous post on editing, I covered a rule I wish I’d come across a long time ago: Don’t start editing until you’ve finished writing. But where does that leave you?It leaves you with a finished manuscript! Any day, that’s better than a half-written toy that has some bits you’ve managed to get ‘right’ and a whole swath of chapters you’re unlikely to get to for months, years or even decades.

So, lets assume you took my advice, added new words every chance you got, and you’ve just typed those magical words: ‘The End’.

What now? Well, it’s pretty simple really. Don’t start editing.

‘Doh!’ I hear you say. ‘Why not?’

Because you’re not ready to edit yet. You’re too close.

Instead, make notes on things you didn’t act on because you were busy writing. Create a big list of them in bullet point form. Include all the things you’re desperate to add or remove, concepts you want to introduce or changes that need to be made.

Throw in all the ideas you had or couldn’t find a means to put in, add anything that need to be changed for consistency, or whatever else that comes to mind.

Now, unless you’ve got a pressing need to present a polished manuscript to a publisher (like maybe you’ve landed a contract), put the novel away along with your notes and begin another one.

Yes, start another novel (not a sequel! You can’t sell a sequel until you sell the original, and if that never happens you’re wasting your time!). So, write a second novel – something entirely new, and finish it.


Two reasons. Firstly and most importantly, by putting it away for a while you’ll get distance from your first novel. You’ll be able to spot the flaws, the inconsistencies, the mistakes. You’ll also be fresh and ready to tackle it again.

The second reason is a little different – but just as valid. You’ll be less precious about it. Your masterwork will no longer the be-all and end-all of your novel writing endeavours. There’ll be a second novel waiting for your attention. And if you’re smart, a third one on the way.

So, where do you go from there?

Like I just mentioned, start writing a third book, but don’t fall into the trap of just writing new books. You need to finish the first one now.

While you’re working on number three, begin editing the first. Set a time limit and aim to have a complete redraft finished by the time you’re done writing the third novel.

Editing – first things first

What’s the first thing you need to know about editing? Don’t start editing until you’re finished writing.


I spent a couple of years writing my first novel – only to realise I never got past the first few chapters because I kept going back to play with them.

Occasionally I’d move on a little, but I always found myself going back and reworking/changing/playing with the text in the first few chapters: ‘getting it right’.

It wasn’t until I made a decision to FINISH IT that I actually got the first draft done. What’s more, I’ve heard this same advice from dozens of successful, published authors.

Finish it, first and foremost. Edit it second.

If you get a brand new idea you’re busting to get into an earlier chapter – make a note of it and FIX IT LATER – after you’ve completed the first draft.

You want to change something? – make a note of it and fix it in the rewrite!

Anything more complicated than a global search and replace – fix it later!

In case I’m not clear:

  • Write the first draft.
  • Edit the first draft.
  • In that order.

Don’t start editing until you’ve finished writing or you’ll spend weeks, months, years and even decades getting no further than the first few chapters.

Novel Writing Group

The first Tuesday of every month I attend the CSFG Novel Writing Group. We had a good time discussing our current projects and where they were at, and then moved onto the subject of structure.

Following on from that we watched the Tim Minear DVD: Breaking the Story, which is all about how to develop a story based around the characters and the emotional impact you need to generate to keep people interested in your story.


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