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Sometimes You Need to Hear No

Posted on Jul 8, 2015 by in The Scrawl |

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I posted something to Twitter this morning concerning this post:


So you know you’re in for a real treat. I was discussing something today at breakfast and I think it has broad application for writers. So here’s my thesis statement:

Our world refuses to be told no.

And at first glance that sounds empowering and inspirational. Like there should be a picture of someone sweating hard and the Nike logo right below it.


But there’s a problem with that thought. There are things we should absolutely be told “no” to. There are requests that must be denied. And I’m not going to give you a full exhaustive list of things, but I think you can probably think of some based purely on your own biases.

My point isn’t to give you a list of moral or ethical rules, but instead, to paint for you the more interesting point of why we should be told no. And I want to do it from the perspective of one who is chasing publication as a dream. I have been told no, repeatedly. I have been writing books and querying them for 16 years. No exaggeration, just 16 years of slogging away at it. I have been told no, per book, dozens of times. I have been told no on my short stories. I have been told no on jobs. I have been told no on credit applications.

And those times of being told  no were often exactly what I needed. And for different reasons.

But you, whoever you are, in whatever circumstance of life you’re in, you need to embrace being told no. If an agent rejects your work, it feels bad, but you are wasting your time trying to reject the no. I once used a food analogy to paint literary rejection and it worked pretty well so, being a writer, I am going to rip myself off and do it again.

Imagine you are cooking a stew. You have your base, your broth, your meat, your veggies, your herbs and spices. You have followed your recipe, tweaked here and there, made adjustments and substitutions as necessary. You seared your proteins, you layered your flavors, you bloomed your herbs, and then you simmered off to perfection. The spoon gently broke the surface and you brought a lovely bit to your mouth with velvety potato and a sliver of tender meat.

But it tastes horrible. Really bad. You can barely swallow it. You choke it down but it wasn’t easy.

Now imagine you pick the whole pot of stew up and dump it down the garbage disposal.

Why? Why would you do that? Why not try to season it better? Why didn’t you take a second bite, at least? This is what happens when you hear no and reject it. You can grow from no, or you can start over in more or less the same place you were when you began.

If you are a writer and you hear no, embrace it. Take the no you have gotten and work to extract and save everything you can from it. And remember that no almost never comes from a purely personal rejection. It can, yes, but no has reasons trailing along behind it. Your job as a human being, committed to growing and changing, is to discern those reasons in a way that deals honestly with them.