Powering Through the Aftermath of Criticism and Rejection (as a Writer)

My journey and thought process from fear and denial to just completing the task.

No, don’t worry. This is not a how-to article. I am not telling you how to handle the feeling of rejection. Each of us has our own coping mechanism, but perhaps you might find value from my overthinking.

So here’s the story…

I have submitted an article with the hopes that I get it right the first time. My articles go through an editor and I receive feedback and comments for a while so hitting it on the first go would be the goal.

For the record, I don’t want to lose this client. And so like Anastasia, I aim to please.

One day, an email came through my mailbox saying that the work is unsatisfactory and not up to par with what they expect. I will not go into the details but for all the feedback I’ve been receiving, this time it’s different.

FYI, I am a freelancer so getting bad feedback means not only a scolding from a boss but actual income loss. It meant a lot. A LOT.

So yeah, reading the criticism is hard. As much as I want to “appreciate the feedback” and be so “okay”, the reality is that it’s not okay. I read the email over and over and created a reply for like three hours, contemplating the best way to respond.

So what was going through my head?

I felt like defending my work

I felt like defending my work, but not really. I went back and forth, thinking if I should push back because I don’t want to lose the client. But yeah I feel like I wanted to really answer back and retaliate to every point raised.

While I was drafting the email, there were times that I was really sounding too defensive. In my fear of actually sending drafts by accident, I quickly opened Notepad just to write there first. I needed to calm down and collect myself.

I need to get past the phase of anger, pride, and anxiety so I could respond with more finesse. And I’m glad I did. I did not hit send right away but instead read each line with scrutiny.

I just want to take a break

Now unto the actual editing. Gahd, I needed to take a break. That was a week’s worth of research and I don’t know. It just felt too early to work on it yet. Instead what I did was to send a copy to another writer that I trust to look into my work. I did not reveal the comments yet, I needed an uninfluenced opinion.

There were indeed some mistakes and I admit that. At this point, I was not really concerned about defending my work anymore but anxiety is now kicking in on how I could preserve the relationship with the client.

Will they hire me after this? Will this article be the last one?

Ugh, I need a break.

I lost confidence and I don’t want to touch the article out of fear

So the comments from my personal editor came back and I’m glad I could use something. A different perspective. That was really great for me. Problem is, I’m kind of stuck because of the crippling fear of making another mistake.

I procrastinated on the work because I lost the confidence in my ability to make it work. I experienced the complete opposite of what constructive criticism should do in a person.

I digressed. Learned to play Fur Elise instead. Filled my head with distractions on YouTube, the television, and just writing other unrelated stuff. Similar to my prior reaction, I hid it and removed it from my to-do tasks.

Out of sight, out of mind right?

I shared my story and gained clarity in return

Well, out of sight, out of mind would’ve been true until I saw another email asking for the revised version. What do I do? I was ready to let go, I thought they didn’t want anything to do with me anymore but here it is. A follow-up email.

I agree I did not follow up. But I was hurt. My fragile ego took a hit and I was a bit too “positive” to acknowledge that it was indeed a punch in the gut when I received the criticism. And like a bird with wet wings, I called my mom and just told her the story of my work getting rejected.

Long story short, that conversation provided me with the clarity that I needed. I was ready to give up but somehow sharing my story and hearing an outsider’s perspective is a refreshing way to spark another round in me. I just need to confront it, deal with it, so the agony can truly be over.

Powering through

So I just powered through. Turns out, it wasn’t so bad. Done editing in one and a half hour. It looked good for me. I submitted the work and after hitting “send”, I pondered through the misery I subjected myself in. I thought if the break was really necessary or just me being lazy. I don’t know. But what I do know is that the ball is in their court and they can decide to accept or not.

…I need to separate work failure as a personal failure.

So, what I can take away from all this is that I need to separate work failure as a personal failure. The criticism is for my work, not me and I just need to get over that. If I’m afraid of losing a client, I tell myself, “it’s okay” some things, I just can’t control. I just need to trust in myself more than ever. Create a plan B, C, D, and just get on with it.

Handling criticism and rejection are not easy tasks sometimes it is necessary. These sucky moments are necessary for growth. They are lessons for improvement. I just need to take it as it is, probably less with the overthinking, just move forward, and write again.

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