Writing Wednesday: Does Rejection Always Require Redirection?

Dance accessories

The result of the weekend's glue gunning: sequin hair accessories for my one of my tap classes

When I’m not busy stressing about boys, sequined booty shorts, photo shoots and whether or not my students will ever learn that they cannot wear socks with their tap shoes whilst performing (three offenders in the last week!), I stress about academics.


Well, because I like to borrow trouble, so even though I’m not even going to school right now, I’m stressing about going back to school.  I’ve got to figure out when, and where, and how to pay for it and oh yeah—which useless subject to get my PhD in?  But now, thanks to my most recent rejection letter, I’ve got another worry to add to the list: who will even take me?  My GRE scores aren’t exactly stunning so my CV has got to be kick*ss (and something tells me “Serial Dater, Philadelphia, August 2010-present” isn’t exactly going to cut it).

Rejection letters suck and even though I do occasionally manage to take a step back and remind myself that it’s nothing personal, I put a lot of stock in what other people think of me, especially when it concerns my writing.  For this reason, whenever I get a rejection letter from an agent or a magazine editor, I think “Oh no!  It’s a sign!  I’m not meant to be a writer after all!  I should just go back to school and bury myself in some archive somewhere and forget about ever publishing a book…”

(Healthy, right?)

By the same token, whenever I get a rejection letter from a conference chair, a scholarship selection committee or the editor of a scholarly journal, I find myself thinking, “It’s hopeless!  I’ll never get my PhD, in fact maybe I’m not even meant to get my PhD.  Maybe I should just forget about academia all together and stick to broadcasting my pseudo-anthropological endeavors on the internet.  I should just give up and clear out my bookshelves and use the space to store shoes instead.”

(Okay, admittedly I’ve never actually thought about the storage bit until now.  Usually I’m too depressed to think about shoes or the fact that a rejection letter might be telling me something other than “Kat Richter, you suck at life and will never amount to anything.”  Something along the lines of, “You’re almost there,” for instance, “and if you take the time to actually read the suggestions we’ve taken the time to compile, you might actually make it.”)

I don’t mind getting upset by rejection letters; I’ve long since given up on the idea of trying to stop myself from crying because it never works and I’d rather just get it over with so I can move on.  What I do mind is the soul-crushing questioning that comes with every single letter—the internal dialogue that always begins with “Maybe it’s time to find a new dream…” or some variation thereof and always ends with an emphatic “NO!  These are your only dreams!  These things are the things you are meant to do so get a grip, pull yourself together and keep going.”

Keep going.


Except it’s so damn hard sometimes, and even when I feel like I’ve hit rock bottom I know that I’ve just barely scratched the surface when it comes to real suffering.  I can still count my rejection letters on my fingers—two hands, granted, but this (or so I tell myself) is better than nothing.

So my question today is this: to my fellow writers (and/or artists/academics/aspiring academics) out there, how do you deal?  Do you let each and every rejection rock you to your core?  Because to be honest, I could really do without the existential crisis every time I check my email.

PS: The aforementioned rejection letter arrived over the weekend so I’m better now (thanks to the support of several friends who either cursed The Academy on my behalf or told me to pull myself together and soldier on).  But I do need some better coping strategies.  I’ve gone off chocolate (for the time being) but only because I’ve discovered glue gunning and one can only make so many sequined hair accessories for one’s students...

23 Responses to “Writing Wednesday: Does Rejection Always Require Redirection?”

  1. The Prof

    “Serial Dater, Philadelphia, August 2010-present” may not cut it, but write a blog with 107,353 hits sounds like something else!
    Rejections are always tough, at ALL stages of one’s career, so do not despair and yes you/we have to learn to read responses in more positive terms.
    I like your comments re shoes versus books on the shelves; this led me to another thought about ‘trouver chaussure à son pied’!…

    • Zak

      I was actually going to suggest something along the lines of what I think The Prof is saying:

      Why not put write a blog with 107,353 hits; broadcasting my pseudo-anthropological endeavors on the internet, talk about all your classes and teaching dance and your Fringe event and the various papers and topics you’ve written about.

      Perhaps I’m mistaken, but if I wanted to make my school look good, I’d want someone who will bring positive attention and lots of social-ness along, not some boring person who’s going to hole themselves up in a 8x8ft room shared with three others for two years working on some useless thing. Heck, I might even suggest selling them that line, but reworded in “Kat” and not “crap/Zak” speak.

  2. mairedubhtx

    I am a wimp when it comes to rejection, whether it’s from a school, job, or person. Right now, I’m going through a rejection from my daughter and it is the hardest thing in the world. Chocolate does help (it has chemicals in it that help). But I honestly can’t give you any advice except time will help.

  3. Kate Ferguson Writes

    Kat, this is my life!! I’m also wondering about PHDs and the other day I looked back at my newspaper clippings from college and genuinely thought “what am I thinking?? I SUCK!!” To be honest, from your writing, I’m surprised that you haven’t made it yet. Give yourself time. I’m also teaching to live and writing for fun 🙂

  4. Nick from Late Round

    Rejection sucks, but after a while you get used to it and learn to grow from it. I’m an Intelligence Analyst in the Army (who knew?!?) and after 10 years in, being awesome at my job despite no college degree, I deal with rejection daily on briefing’s, products, and just general analytic knowledge. I have since learned to take it with a grain of salt, and “drive-on”, take any applicable suggestions and refine, while taking the asinine suggestions and losing them.

    Additionally, in the military you deal with rejection from job-related schools, Army-related schools, promotion boards, award recommendations, leadership opportunities/postions, and pretty much everything you try to do. I think the Army does this on purpose so that you not only learn to deal with rejection or changes, but you begin to expect them and learn to not let them phase you. After ten years (ten year anniversary is on 6 June) I have decided that they aren’t rejecting me, they are rejecting my “packet” or resume, and I just need to take their suggestions and beef it up.

    Just my two cents though..

  5. Landlord

    Okay, am I, “tough love” today or am I, “get a reality check” or do I even respond?

    (do I really need to list all of the publications you were PAID for this year????)
    (do I really need to list all of the academic publications you have presented with?)
    (do I really need to point out getting, “freshly pressed TWICE in one year?”)
    (do I really need to remind you of all of the POSITIVE comments you receive from friends, family and STRANGERS?)
    (do I really need to go on? )

    Of course I never really posted this, it is all in my head, while I bite my lips… 🙂 Reminding myself that this post was about, “how to cope”…oh, that’s right~LOL, go shopping!

    • Zak

      (do you need to remind Kat that she’s managed to go on more dates in a year than most people go on in a lifetime?)
      (do you need to remind Kat she has an awesome Landlord?)

  6. chauffeur

    OK Kat, landlord summed up all the positives to remember…. so I will take the other tack that you need to be reminded of.
    So many great writers did not publish or become acclaimed until later in life or after numerous rejection letters. Joseph Conrad was 37 when he was first published, Tom Clancy was 37 when he was first published, Mary Higgens Clark was first published qt 41 and was not popular until in her 50’s, Laura Ingalls Wilder was in her 60’s, all had other ways of paying their bills up until then.
    During your up until then…. you are touching young people, teaching them, making their lives much richer and much fuller. So…. you go girl, don’t be too hard on yourself , take pride in your present accomplishments, and it will all work out, it always does.

  7. mydatingprescription

    Kat, stop sniffing the glue in that gun, and go back to chocolate! You’re an awesome writer, and I think you should go back and read The Landlord’s comment ten more times.

    You could give up, go get a REAL job, and die a slow death like so many others before you, or you can pursue your dreams, continue to promote yourself, and your break will come. There’s a lot less regret in doing what your heart desires. Persevere, my dear.

  8. Dennis Hong

    Boy, can I tell you about rejection. The only reason I’m even in San Diego is because UCSD was the only grad school I got into.

    Man, was I one bitter dude when I made the move down here. Now, 14 years and one PhD later, I’m nothing but happy that I ended up down here.

    I guess the moral of the story is, yes, rejection sucks. But, maybe we just have to think of each rejection as an unexpected turn in our life that may still take us down an equally exciting and rewarding path….

    • Kat Richter

      Do you mean to tell me the great Dr. Hong only got into ONE grad school? If so, there’s hope for me yet 🙂

  9. cookiegeisha

    Three things:

    1. Thanks for the pics.
    2. I think your blogs and magazine article acceptances/jobs have a lot more to say about your skill than grad school. Also, all this may have more to do with the economy than you. Lastly, I don’t think you’re the only writer who deals with rejection in this way. In fact, I know you’re not.
    3. I use my heels as bookends on my floor to ceiling bookshelf, and it looks awesome.

  10. Ember

    Do you really want it? Some dreams are fun to think about, but not really fun to accomplish. Getting a PhD is one of those dreams for most who consider it. You can do it. You can get in somewhere and accomplish your dream.
    It won’t be easy or fun most of the time. You will likely have to make sacrifices, but you will learn so much about who you are and what you can accomplish from the experience. I am there right now, finishing my PhD and been doing my schooling while holding a full time job during the majority of it.
    What I do to cope when things get shitty is two fold:
    1) I remember that where I am and what I’m trying to accomplish is my choice. If this is where I want to be/go in life, then I have to take the bad as well as the good (and try to do so with a thankful heart).
    2) I remind myself of all the good things that I’ve done recently (see Landlord’s comments).
    Keep your head up. Learn from rejection. Use it as a stepping stone to achieving your dreams.

  11. cookingincambridge

    Sometimes I think the biggest fails have led me to my greatest successes. Can I TELL you how many schools didn’t accept me in my undergrad, only for me to get a fully-funded scholarship to Cambridge University? Or how many jobs have turned me down, only for me to be flown out to Doha to write for a lifestyle magazine?

    Life is hard, and in those hard times it’s easy to forget just how much good there is. The bad always has another side. So keep your chin up, lil lady. You’re pretty amazing from the looks of things 😉

  12. Debbie

    All I have to say is… You are off of chocolate??? ‘Nuf said…

    Timing is everything…It will all come out in the wash…You are SO much farther ahead than others at your age (I hadn’t even graduated from college!)…One day at a time…Pay your dues…All is well…Shoe shopping helps…


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