This is what we do: On gatekeepers, rejection, and resilience

Once again, a writer friend has inspired this week’s post. So indebted. Many thanks.


I’m using gatekeeper in the Campbellian/Hero’s Journey sense, here: the Threshold Guardian archetype. At the point where the hero/ine stands at the threshold, ready to cross and gain the object of her or his quest, someone or something pops up and prevents the hero/ine from passing.

These gatekeepers must be defeated or circumvented, removed or converted to allies.

Mel’s note: To find out more, please read Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey, Maureen Murdock’s The Heroine’s Journey, or all of them.

Every writer I know has at least one.

It might be a teacher who tried to shape either the young writer or her work in an inappropriate way. It might be the friend or friends who ridiculed the young writer out of jealousy. It might be the mentor who is not equipped to truly help the writer and rather than admitting his gap in knowledge or ability discourages the writer from pursuing his calling.

More insidious is the above mentioned variety of mentor who continues to encourage the writer, praises the writer’s work, but sympathetically explains that the writer’s work will never find a market. They do this as a kindness, to spare the hapless writer the agony of further rejection.

It could be an editor who likes nothing the writer submits for review. It could even be someone who sets herself up as an expert but only misguides the writer to justify the fee the writer has been charged.

This is not an exhaustive list. Explore your past and you will discover your gatekeepers.

If you’ve had to face them before you were truly prepared, you may have failed to pass the challenge and reach the threshold.

Don’t despair. You haven’t lost your chance. The door remains. The gatekeeper leaves. Another may take her place, but on the next attempt, armed with your experience, you have a better chance of succeeding.

I was turned away repeatedly as a young writer and because of my introverted nature, it took me a long time to understand the ultimate lesson of the gatekeeper.

Mel’s note: If you want to find out more about my struggles, you can read my posts under the category, My history as a so-called writer. If you go back to the earliest post, Three Blind Mice, and read forward, it will all make much more sense 😉

What is the ultimate lesson of the gatekeeper? I’m so glad you asked.

The gatekeeper only has the power we give to them. If you do as I did and internalize the lessons of the gatekeepers in your life, you become your own worst enemy, your own biggest, baddest gatekeeper.

Don’t let that happen.

Even if you retreat from the gatekeeper at the time of your confrontation, keep your eyes on your goal and the reasons it is important for you to achieve it. Yes, you’re allowed to hurt, to grieve, to lick your wounds if you need to, but don’t lose sight of your dream.

Find a true friend, you know, the kind of person who would tell you if you have spinach stuck between your teeth, or if the outfit you chose to wear was absolutely hideous? Find your person (and yes, that’s a Grey’s Anatomy reference). Tell them about your struggle and the reasons it hurts so much to have backed down.

Then, tell your person about your dream and the reasons why it’s so important to you.

Even if they just listen, you will feel so much better afterward, but you will have reminded yourself, in telling your true friend, exactly why you write in the first place and exactly why you can’t give up.

Then you pick up the pieces and try again. Because that’s what we do.

Rejection sucks

There’s no way around it. Rejection sucks.

Rejection, particularly when it arrives as a form letter, is just a specific example of a non-human form of gatekeeper. Yes, there’s a human on the other end of that letter, but you don’t know them, and they don’t know you (most of the time).

That rejection has kept you from being published or winning a contest.

And it hurts.

Another writer friend, Nina Munteanu, has just completed a two-part post on the subject of rejection. In part one, she discusses how to accept rejection, and in part two, she discusses how we can learn from rejection.

In fact, a lot of writers have posted about it. Just Google it. You’ll see. A number of them counsel the writer to develop thick skin.

I’d like to call shenanigans on that.

No offence.

Resilience, not rhino-hide

Suck it up, buttercup, they say. Really?

If it was that simple, we’d all just grow ourselves a fine second skin of rhino-hide and the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune would mean nothing. Less.

Telling someone, anyone, to toughen up after suffering a loss (no matter how insignificant it might seem to others) is telling that person to shut down their feelings. That’s not a good thing. As writers, we kind of need those. Hell, as human beings we need our emotions.

We have to learn to acknowledge our feelings, to accept them, and process them. We can’t deny them. That way lies madness. Literally. It’s called depression. I know what I’m talking about here.

We have to figure out why it hurts, what’s at the root of the problem. Once we understand that, we can work, through reason and by respecting our emotional well-being, to heal the wound.

Rejection, as many writers have pointed out, isn’t personal. It’s a matter of subjectivity and timing.

Usually a rejection means not right for the publisher, for the project, for the theme of the anthology or issue, for the other stories that have already been accepted. And it means not right now. It doesn’t mean never.

Timing and subjectivity.

It’s not personal.

Why does it hurt then?

Because of how we react to it. Because of the insecurities and doubts we harbour about our ability, our craft.

The good news is this: we can control the way we react to rejection. Not right away, but with time and practice, by understanding and honouring our emotional response to rejection, it gets easier to process.

More good news: if the reason we get rejected is because our craft and skills are not at the level they need to be, we can control that too. We keep practicing, we keep learning, we keep moving forward.

That’s the real danger of rejection: that you let it stop you.

You have to continually connect with who you are as a writer and the reasons you write. You have to, at the core, be completely okay with not getting published. It’s kind of Zen. Let go of your desire.

Write because you’re a writer. Commit to being the best writer you can be. And yes, the work is hard, but you can do it if you’re a writer. You can’t not do it.

So the key is to develop, not rhino-hide, but resilience, the ability to bounce back. It’s something you can learn to do.

This might help. Or not.

This is going to sound like cheese. Like some really old, smelly cheese, like Limburger, or Roquefort.

Writing is like falling in love.

See, the biggest risk of falling in love is that you open yourself up and you become vulnerable. You risk getting hurt. But that’s the only way to love is with your whole heart plastered on your sleeve. It’s the only way love becomes anything lasting or good or true.

Writing’s like that.

Writing is that.

So just like you know that any relationship requires work, and sacrifice, and time, know that the thing you love to do requires the same.

You’ll get your heart broken, sure, but breaks heal.

The other great thing is that every great protagonist is wounded. Pour your learned experience into your writing. It will be amazing.

“The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.” ~~Hemingway.

Weirdmaste (the weirdo in me recognizes the weirdo in you), writing geeks.

Now go hug your words. Get romantic with your words. Create beautiful bouncing baby words.

Because this is what we do.


9 thoughts on “This is what we do: On gatekeepers, rejection, and resilience

  1. What a fantastic post Melanie. So very encouraging. Resilience really is the key. Rejection is something every writer has to deal with. How you deal with it will determine if you go on to be successful or not.

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  2. Great post, Melanie. Very encouraging.

    When I say that writers need to suck it up when faced with rejection, I’m not telling them to turn off their feelings. I’m telling them that rejection is not a thing they should have feelings about. Rejection comes with the territory, it means virtually nothing, and writers should not expend their energy on it. Their emotions should be focused on their work, not on feeling sorry for themselves. Feeling sorry for yourself over a rejection saps your energy to create more art. It’s a luxury you can’t afford. It’s like Eleanor Roosevelt said: No one can make you feel inferior without your permission. Don’t give a rejection permission to make you feel anything. Treat a rejection like junk mail. Rip it in half, drop it into the recycle bin, and don’t give it a second thought. Because a second thought is more than it’s worth.

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    • Andrea, thanks for dropping by. And I agree with you in part. How does the inexperienced writer get to the place where they realize that rejection isn’t worth the tears, though? First, they have to feel it. Then, they have to learn to address those feelings and learn rejection’s rightful place in their creative lives. It’s through developing resilience that the inexperienced writer can get from point A to point B with clarity. I wrote this post for a friend who, at the beginning of her creative life, was dealing with a big time gatekeeper, and who was willing to give up because of it. There are those who might say that if a writer is willing to give up so easily, that they should reconsider their decision to write. I don’t begrudge the opinion, but I do begrudge anyone imposing their own standards on anyone else. We all find our own ways to the page, but if we’re meant to be there, we stay. We write. The soft-hearted and vulnerable want to write, too. I just want to give them a chance. It’s not a luxury to develop emotional resilience. For some, it’s a life’s work. Your approach to rejection is great, and it will work for many writers. It may not work for all writers, though. That’s all I’m saying 🙂


      • I agree that coming to terms with rejection is a process. A large part of that is the pain of having our illusions shattered. New writers could escape a lot of heartache if someone sat them down at the beginning of their careers and explained how rejection works for authors. I think the tears could be avoided altogether if expectations were more realistic, and authors were taught just as much about the business side of writing as the craft side. You basically have to be two people: the soft and sensitive artist, and the hard and determined businessperson. It’s difficult to get to the point where you can keep them separate, but that should be every author’s goal. Through our mindset, we give people the power to hurt us. Through our mindset, we can take that power away.

        I’m sorry your friend had this gatekeeper experience, Melanie, and I’m glad she had someone as wise as you to advise her about it. Gatekeepers are ALWAYS wrong, because every writer is different. The best advice in the world for one writer is the worst possible advice for another. If the advice makes you feel bad, then either it’s not for you, or you’re not ready to hear it. Whatever you do, KEEP WRITING. If the advice is right for you, it will click into place at some point. And if it’s wrong, it will help teach you the importance of listening to your heart.

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