I’d love to tell you to just dust yourself off and try again, but that’s a load of something I can’t write on this blog since sometimes small children read it.
The first thing you have to do is deal with it. You just got rejected by an agent/publisher/your own agent!/your writing group/a random slush-pile intern. So yeah, feel sorry for yourself. Go ahead. You worked on something, you sent it out, and nobody understood it, so it’s only natural that you’d feel badly. Go have a drink, buy a new pair of shoes, scream into the abyss. Do it! Your neighbors might judge you but I won’t, I swear.
The next thing you have to do (and this is important): DON’T BLAME THE PUBLISHING INDUSTRY. Yes, it sucks, yes, it’s imperfect, but you’re trying to break into it, aren’t you? If it’s so bad, you’d be doing something else. And if you weren’t rejected, you’d probably be singing its praises or making burnt-manuscript offerings to its gods, so don’t go there. Don’t be that guy.
What comes next is pretty critical. Go find your friends, or your mom/husband/wife/significant other. They are there for you to complain to. Only they know you well enough to know that you’re pretty amazing, and they are going to give you some comfort. I happen to have a pretty stellar group of friends myself, all of whom I rely on pretty heavily when the you-know-what hits the fan. Your mom/husband/wife/significant other is probably also going to give you a nice speech about being strong and taking chances and keepin’ on keepin’ on. That’s good too if it gets you off your behind to do the next thing.
And that is, write something else. Like, immediately. Nothing gets you over that last breakup like the next relationship (at least that’s the way it worked when I was dating) and writing is a lot like that. The next story will heal what ails you from the last one. I gah. ran. tee.
Now if you’re like me (super competitive, extremely ambitious, and not wildly successful) all of this will get you to move on, but it won’t be enough to really get your self-esteem back on track. For that, you’re going to need to pull out the big guns: CRAFT PROJECT! I know. Bear with me. You are going to have to dig out every last thing that anyone ever said or wrote or drew or sang about you and your writing and put it up on a bulletin board and put that whole thing over the spot where you write. If you move around, get a small bulletin board and move that thing around with you. If you like to write in coffee shops, take a picture of it and make it your wallpaper. You need to remind yourself why you’re doing this and surround yourself with the encouragement of those who believe you can.
Look, self-doubt comes with the territory. Every artist is plagued with it, but when you’re just starting out and there isn’t a lot of support for your work, you need to generate it for yourself. So go find that 5th grade paper that Mrs. Kellerman thought was better than Proust, and go find that margin of one page in your manuscript where someone in your writing group wrote, “this line made me cry.” Get them all together and make the best damn bulletin board EVAH! Because if it keeps you out of the dumps, it will keep you writing, and the more you write, the better you will get, and the better you get, the more marketable your writing will be, and the more marketable it is, the more likely someone will pick it up and say, “where has this story been all my life?” and then you will have yet another thing to put on that awesome board for the next time publishing rubs your face in the dirt. Because honey, it’ll probably happen again, even if you do become wildly successful.