How Do You Solve a Problem Like Rejection?

I like the tone of it
It rings sincere and pretty near succeeds
It's just the narrative
Is like a sieve and cloudy as a cataract
There's not a trace of honesty so face the fact
It needs ... work
We’ve all gotten a rejection like that. Well, not *exactly* like that, because those are lyrics from It Needs Work from the musical City of Angels, about a thriller writer struggling with rejection and writer's block. But, while our rejections don’t usually rhyme or get sung to us by a brassy blonde girl Friday, they still sting.
Computer's in the shop,
gotta go old school.
So how do you deal with that sting? When I get a rejection, I don’t turn to the classics, or the great poets, or one of literature’s giant intellects for solace, I turn to… musicals!
For instance, that immediate knife-to-the-heart I feel when a rejection comes my way brings me back to a scene from the movie Fame (original version, 1980). A hopeful girl auditions at NYC’s High School for the Performing Arts, bringing the more talented dancer Leroy along as her partner. Leroy gets accepted, she doesn’t, and on the way out of the school, she snarls, “I didn’t want to go to this [*profanity redacted*] school anyway.”
Boy do I know how she feels. Wounded, disappointed, but most of all frustrated. She has every right to be. She’d tried, hard. She’d practiced for-evah, made up her own dance steps, put it all out there and got shot down. Her rage is red hot, deeply felt, and ultimately cathartic.
So, when I get hit by rejection’s arrow, I do what the disappointed dancer does--let it flow, feel all the feels (though I don’t go yelling my frustrations at the HarperCollins building, because, seriously?), and get it out of my system. Then I move on. I accept that my manuscript or story just didn’t work for whomever had the audacity to reject it. There’s someone else out there it will work for.
To cite another well-known musical set in NYC, A Chorus Line, when the aspiring actress is repeatedly dissed by her acting teacher (in the song Nothing), she gets frustrated and mad, but then she does what she needs to do—she moves on, finds another acting class, and finally succeeds.  
Glinda: "Sorry, Miss Elphaba, your
book's not right for me at this time."
I guess what I’m trying to say (but not sing, despite musicals being my theme, because my singing could crack glass and deafen cats, and I wouldn’t inflict that on anyone), rejection is a part of a writer's life and can actually be a catalyst for us to grow stronger.
Just look at Elphaba from Wicked. Rejection from everyone around her—including her own sister—strengthened her backbone and her resolve to the point she was eventually able to defy gravity. Just ignore that part about Elphaba getting so obsessed about a pair of shoes she goes postal on a sweet young Kansas girl, and her little dog too.
Back to our angry dancer from Fame, I like to think after she got out into the NYC sunshine and (semi-) fresh air, the negative waves dissipated and she not only moved on, she persisted. She was a talented, confident girl, and if the High School for Performing Arts wasn’t the place for her, she had the determination to follow every rainbow, until she found her dream.
As we all will, eventually, if we take a cue from another great musical, Damn Yankees. You’ve got to have heart, and not only that, you’ve got to have hope--mustn’t sit around and mope. So get out there and try again.
There's no singing in baseball!
And that’s how I’ve learned to deal with rejection—through Broadway musicals. Tune in next month when I’ll explore how Buffy the Vampire Slayer taught me everything I needed to know about sentence fragments (but was afraid to ask). Happy spring and write on!
Janet Raye Stevens is a dedicated genre-hopper, writing YA, SFR, mystery, and contemporary romance. Her first novel was rejected an impressive 150 times, nevertheless she persists. Janet is a 2018 RWA Golden Heart finalist. She lives in Massachusetts where she indulges in her hobbies of drinking copious amounts of tea (Earl Gray, hot) plotting revenge (best served cold), and creating fictional worlds populated with cool chicks and hot guys.


  1. Thank you, my friend, for the timely post. Never thought of musicals as medicine. Might have to revisit some old faves. Besides, Oklahoma or Seven Brides for Seven Brothers are always fun to watch.

    1. LOL, you know it, Fenley! *Love* Seven Brides, Oklahoma not so much, but I'll sing along anyway.

  2. I love most of these musicals, I suppose they do offer some consolation for facing rejection. I'm looking forward to your post about Buffy.

    1. LOL, thanks, Tizzy! I'm thinking my Buffy post will be heavy on puns about "putting the stake into the heart of bad grammar."

  3. Okay, now you KNOW I'm going to hear "...all you really need is HEART!" every time I get a "no."


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