Process to Overcome the Fear of Writing Rejection

This post continues our series The Smart Scholar by Ramon Goings.

“I just don’t want to submit my work because I’m scared of rejection.”

When conducting doctoral and faculty writing support sessions, I consistently get some form of the above quote. Often, for dissertation writers, it stems from being afraid that their chair will give them harsh feedback. Those writing for peer-review publication often discuss a fear of critique from the infamous “reviewer number two” who often provides challenging and conflicting reviews of their work when compared to the other reviewers.

Based on my CV, folks may assume that I have figured out academic writing as I have been successful writing for publication. However, I too struggle and have certainly had my fair share of harsh critiques from “reviewer number two.” Additionally, when I started my career, I was scared of rejection.

Recently in a webinar I had a participant ask, “Well, how did you overcome fear of rejection?” This blog post is in response to this question as I share a three-step process I use to work through the fear of rejection.

Step 1: Address the Root of the Fear

From my work supporting academic writers I have found that a fear about rejection is never about the process of writing and submitting the work itself. In many instances the fear of rejection is a symptom of a deeper issue. Thus, in order to overcome the fear of rejection I have found that it is important to first address the root of the fear.

Early in my career there were three main reasons I had a fear of rejection:

  1. I did not believe in myself as a writer and that I had something unique to contribute to the scholarly conversation.
  2. I was intimidated that my work could be published and in conversation with the great authors that I was referencing in my paper.
  3. I internalized the rejection as it holding some value about who I was and the quality of my work.

As you can see from my experience the root causes of my fear of writing rejection had nothing to do with the process of writing, but had everything to do with my mindset. Once I got clearer about what was causing my fear it became easier to plan for and address the fear (see Step 2 below).

Step 2: Plan for the Rejection

The psychology of academic writers is rather interesting as we are motivated and plan for the success of our academic writing. However, why do we not plan for rejection as well? I have found it beneficial  to put a plan in place so that if a piece is rejected, I know what my next steps are with the paper.

In a doctoral seminar course I am teaching this semester titled “Seminar in Research Writing, Publication, and Communication in Education,” one of my assignments asks for students to write an Op-Ed. During our conversation, we discussed rejection, and I gave this advice on how to plan for it:

  • Before you write your piece, have three venues in mind that you want to submit to.
  • Submit to venue #1. If rejected, immediately submit to venue #2. If rejected from venue #2, submit immediately to venue #3.
  • If your piece does not get accepted at the first three venues, find three more outlets and repeat the process.

As I teach my students: there is always a venue for your work. Sometimes it is just exploring all of your options to find the right fit. As a result, by planning for rejection you are actually planning for the success of your writing project. Again, this is not about writing, but just shifting your thinking.

Step 3: Build Your Writing Community

Do you have a scholarly community who you can vent to and strategize with?

Having this scholarly cohort has been critical to my ability to overcome the fear of rejection of my academic writing. Whenever I have thoughts or fears about submitting my work, I go to my community and do the following:

  • Talk: I dialogue and vent about my apprehension on submitting my work.
  • Write: After my conversations with my community, I turn that fear into energy to write–even if only a little. This helps me to not let my fears of rejection paralyze me from writing.
  • Submit: I have adopted the mantra “You can’t score a basket if you don’t shoot.” In other words, I can never get a paper accepted if I never submit, so if I want an acceptance I must submit.

Based on your experiences, how have you overcome a fear of rejection of your academic writing? Connect with me on Twitter to discuss!

Any opinions, findings, and conclusion or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of Interfolio.