Overcoming Your Fear of Rejection as a Writer With Thin Skin

Abi Wurdeman
April 20, 2023

You’ve probably heard that having a thick skin is the secret to overcoming your fear of rejection as a writer.

What weird advice to give to people who are good at what they do because they care about things.

I mean, the spirit of the advice is true. As writers, we must be resilient. We have to learn how to sustain a few emotional injuries without being broken by them.

But having a thick skin—reaching that state where the rejection arrows simply bounce off your hide—isn’t something you can just do on command. It takes time. And paradoxically, it requires you to embrace yourself for the thin-skinned writer you are today.

If all that advice to “not let it bother you” isn’t working, let me offer you some new options. You’re about to learn new tools for recognizing, managing, and overcoming your fear of rejection as a writer.

You’ll pick up new mindset tricks as well as actionable habits to help you build resilience over time.

Most importantly, none of this advice will ask you to be anything other than the deep-feeling soul you are. Because these tips are coming from one of your own. (And FYI, they worked for me.)

So let’s get into it.

Identifying Signs of Fear

A person covers their eyes with one hand and uses the other one to signal "stop."

Overcoming your fear of rejection as a writer begins with recognizing fear in the first place. It’s not always obvious.

A fear of rejection can keep you from clicking the “submit” button. But it can also look like:

  • Finding excuses to skip writing sessions
  • Submitting only to markets that don’t pay or publish low-quality work
  • Dismissing perfectly normal writing goals (like making a living off of your words) as too unrealistic to even attempt
  • Constantly scoffing at the opinions of agents, publishers, and reviewers
  • Constantly scoffing at the opinions of readers
  • Looking for reasons to criticize successful authors
  • Never getting around to building relationships with other writers
  • Not wanting to share or discuss your work until it’s objectively brilliant (not a thing) and you’ve crafted a universally compelling elevator pitch (also pure fantasy)

Fear doesn’t always manifest as a twisting in your gut. Sometimes it shows up in the absurd mental gymnastics we do to convince ourselves that it’s not worth it to try—that the effort is beyond us or beneath us or too impractical.

If you want to overcome this mental block, you’ve got to start by being honest with yourself. 

Is folding the laundry really more urgent than finishing that chapter? Are you sure you can’t get that fellowship without a connection?

Or are you just avoiding the steps that bring you closer to potential rejection?

Understanding Your Fear

Once you recognize your fear, the next step is figuring out why you feel it. What meaning do you assign to rejection? What do you think that “no” says about you, your potential, or your dreams?

Are you afraid a rejection will prove you were an idiot for thinking you were good enough to make the attempt in the first place? Or you’ll find out that literally no one wants what you’re selling and you’ll have to kill this lifelong dream?

Maybe you've gotten attached to the idea that literary success is the solution to all your problems. So now you’ve subconsciously adopted the belief that an agent rejecting your book is the same thing as finding out you’ll never be able to get out of debt.

As you may have noticed, there’s a lot of black-and-white thinking here. Our brains do that, because their job is to protect us. And it’s easier to protect us with clear-cut rules like “Rejection means you’re bad at this.”

So how do you get past this fear when it’s part of your natural wiring?

I’m glad you asked.

Mindset Tips for Overcoming Your Fear of Rejection as a Writer

A writer stares thoughtfully while balancing a laptop on their lap.

Accept the Fear

You will always fear rejection. Always. Success will not save you from it. If anything, success gives you bigger things to fear.

What if the one million readers who loved your first book hate your second, tweet about what a hack you are, and never read another thing you write?

I know this massive negativity dump might not seem helpful, but look at it this way:

When you know that this fear is part of the process, you can begin to accept it. You can stop putting off your future because you think that feeling of nausea means you’re not ready. 

You will always be nauseated. Embrace it. And as long as you’re doing that…

Embrace Rejection Itself

When my brother and I started writing together, he suggested we establish a rejection box.

This was not a box for wallowing. My brother—the most optimistic person I know—wanted the rejection box so that when we became successful, we could show young and struggling writers this massive pile of no-thank-yous and help them see that you build a career by showing up.

And that’s what the box became for me: a record of our effort. It helped me recognize that rejection was inevitable. Which meant I couldn’t avoid rejection without also avoiding success.

By celebrating those rejections as evidence of our effort, I accidentally assigned a new meaning to “thanks but no thanks.”

It meant I was taking my dream seriously.

Actively Build Self-Confidence

I don’t love “be more confident” as a solution for overcoming your fear of rejection as a writer. Confidence is not a switch you flip on. It’s something you cultivate over time, usually by doing the things that scare you.

You do the terrifying thing and survive. As a result, you believe in yourself more. So you take a slightly bigger leap. And on and on and on. Basically, facing your fear is how you overcome your fear.

Growth is also a big confidence booster. If you can turn rejection into an opportunity to learn from mistakes and improve your craft, your self-esteem will rise.

But these things only work if you take the time to actually notice your own courage and commitment. 

So don’t wait to celebrate acceptances. High five yourself for being bold in the process.

Actively Combat Your Fear of Rejection

A person rock climbing against a sunset sky.
Facing your fear is always the best way to overcome it.

Now that we’ve covered mindset, let’s talk about things you actually do to overcome your fear of rejection as a writer.

Set Rejection Goals

You may have heard about different rejection challenges, such as trying to accumulate 100 rejections in one year. Our rejection box served a similar function. My brother and I wanted to fill that thing to the brim. 

Stephen King nailed his to the wall and eventually had to swap the nail out for a bigger, stronger spike.

Whether you set a numerical goal or measure your efforts in spikes, you take back power over your fear by treating rejection like an important part of the process.

Always Have Something Out There

Query multiple agents at a time. If you submit to a publication that allows simultaneous submissions, submit to another one, too. If you have multiple works to shop around, shop them at the same time.

That way, when one “no thank you” rolls in, you still have another possibility out there. You’re not sitting in a dark, dingy room obsessing over that one door that just swung shut. You had the foresight to open five more windows in the meantime.

Keep Your Friends Close

As we’ve established, it’s not the word “no” that’s scary. It’s the possibility that this one “no” is telling us something about our true potential. 

That’s why it’s important to build a community that believes in you. You need writer friends who can commiserate with your losses, loved ones who support your boldest dreams, and peers who can help you put your rejections into perspective.

A screenshot of the Story Craft Cafe home page with a post reading, "I beleaf in you."
Psst. Dabble's Story Craft Café is a great place to find your community.

That’s not to say the ideal support network is exclusively emphatic cheerleaders who are certain you can do no wrong. You also need the people who know how to gently let you know when the entity rejecting you has a point. These are the folks who will help you embrace rejection as an opportunity to become a stronger writer.

Develop a Positive Mindset

Our brains are wired to cling to the negative. And to be fair, it’s completely reasonable that the mechanism designed to keep us safe is utterly obsessed with anything that threatens harm.

The good news is that we can build emotional resilience by finding positive meaning in our negative experiences.

Start by thinking about the benefits of your past experiences with rejection. Any rejection. Did you discover a new hobby when you weren’t cast in the seventh grade play? Did it take getting cut from the team to realize you weren’t taking practice seriously enough?

Every time a painful past memory of rejection resurfaces, take a moment to remember what you got out of it. You don’t have to feel good about the memory. Just choose to at least recognize the positive. Over time, this active choice will become a compulsive habit.

Keep a Validation File

Print out any positive feedback that makes you feel optimistic about your future as a writer. Encouraging words from a mentor, effusive fan mail, a super complimentary comment on your blog… whatever.

Keep these validating little blurbs together in one file and revisit them when a rejection gets you doubting your potential. 

Do not leave it to your brain to remind you about all the nice things people have said about your work. Print it out so you have every word of positivity right in front of you in black and white.

Practice Your Version of Rejection Self-Care

Finally, embrace self-care after a tough rejection.

What will help you recover faster so you can get back to the keyboard? Will it help to blow off steam by venting to a fellow writer? What about journaling about the rejection? Or do you just need an evening of feeling sad while you binge Ted Lasso?

You don’t have to be an emotionless robot to get through a rejection. Go ahead and feel crappy, give yourself a little comfort, then get back at it.

Moving Forward From Rejection

A tiny pug sits on a bed wrapped in a blanket and looking sad.

First, set a wallowing timer. 

Giving yourself space to feel rotten is good. Letting the rotten feelings determine when you’re ready to move forward is bad. Decide how long you’re going to let yourself wallow and keep it short. 

There will come a time when you need almost no time at all. But if you’re new to the sting, I’d say you can give yourself the rest of the day maximum. You can mope tonight, but you’d better be writing in the morning. If that means you have to write sad, write sad.

Then, analyze and learn. 

After you’ve felt your feelings, ask yourself if there’s anything to learn from this rejection. 

If multiple horror publishers reject your manuscript with notes like “not the kind of thing we’re looking for right now,” could it be that your novel isn’t in line with current genre expectations?

If the rejector gave you feedback, does that feedback have merit? Can you use their advice to improve the piece you submitted or become a better writer? 

These questions are especially important if you spent your wallowing time venting about how stupid they are. Now is the time to take a deep breath and wonder if there was some truth to what they said.

Finally, set new goals. 

Make a decision about what comes next for the manuscript that’s been rejected. You essentially have three options:

  1. Submit it elsewhere because you still believe in it as-is
  2. Make some revisions because this rejection revealed a legitimate problem you weren’t previously aware of
  3. Set it aside because it’s been rejected a billion times and you’ve workshopped it to death and something is wrong but you don’t know what and you can’t even see it clearly anymore and just need to focus on something else for a minute (*big, exhausted exhale*). It happens.

Pick one of the three and get to it. 

Need a Little Extra Support?

For as much as I’ve said in this article, the formula for overcoming your fear of rejection as a writer is actually pretty simple:

Keep walking into your fear and be kind to yourself whatever happens.

Do that repeatedly for long enough, and you’ll be surprised to discover how thick your skin becomes.

In the meantime, remember you’ve always got a supportive community here at Dabble to help you navigate the ups and downs. 

Share your struggles and successes with fellow writers in the Story Craft Café. Check out DabbleU for loads of writing tips as you sharpen your craft. And sign up for our newsletter to get advice and encouragement delivered to your inbox every week.

Abi Wurdeman

Abi Wurdeman is the author of Cross-Section of a Human Heart: A Memoir of Early Adulthood, as well as the novella, Holiday Gifts for Insufferable People. She also writes for film and television with her brother and writing partner, Phil Wurdeman. On occasion, Abi pretends to be a poet. One of her poems is (legally) stamped into a sidewalk in Santa Clarita, California. When she’s not writing, Abi is most likely hiking, reading, or texting her mother pictures of her houseplants to ask why they look like that.