Tag Archives: rejection

Becoming a productive writer workshop – UJ


Today I started the first of the workshops sponsored by the Carnegie African Diaspora Fellowship Program at the University of Johannesburg. The group was responsive and engaged and I could see that what I had to say resonated with them.  One of the topics covered was dealing with reviewer’s comments and how to cope with rejections from journals. In these discussions there is often the perception that the relationship is one way where the writer has little recourse or power.  Of course this is true.  But on my way home after the workshop I thought that perhaps if we saw the review process as one of dialogue, (rather than gate-keeping) then this might shift our perceptions and affect what we take from the review.

The dialogue is not only in what the reviewers say but in reading between the lines as well.  Why is the reviewer saying my research is too tightly focused?  What does he/she mean by this?  Where can I see that in my paper? What can I change? Staller (2013) argues that when two reviewers give different perhaps conflicting comments that this can be seen as a positive result because it leads the writer to reassess, to ask questions, to make meaning clearer and to ultimately write a better paper.

Staller (2013) suggests that in her field reviewers on the whole don’t like to reject papers.  They prefer to give the writer the opportunity to rework the paper and often ask for major revisions.  While editors would prefer a decision to reject because they want to get on with the job of publishing the journal.  She outlines a list of times a rejection is necessary:

  • When the paper is out side the scope of the journal
  • When it offers nothing new to existing conversations
  • When the underlying project is seriously flawed in its conceptualisation that it can’t be fixed
  • When it needs so many revisions that it will be an entirely new paper
  • When it is so muddled that even revisions won’t fix it.

While seeing these results as part of a dialogue may be difficult, it is helpful to focus on the dialogue rather than the rejection.

As I said several times today, publishing academic articles is like fishing.  You have to send off articles ( put your line in the water), get rejected (pull up an empty line), rewrite (put more bait on), and send it off again (drop the line in) – until you get published.  Paying attention to reviewer’s comments is one way to speed up this process.

There’s no doubt about it, it’s a painful process.  My way of dealing with negative reviewer comments is to rant and rave first, (there may even be some name-calling), I always reject everything they say, I often throw the comments in the bin, sometimes forcefully and I’m pretty grumpy for a while.  Then once the initial reaction is over, I take out the crumpled papers from the bin and see if I can make changes – this I do reluctantly.  Then when I start working through the changes, I start saying ‘Ok, maybe they have a point here’ and finally at the end, I’m thanking the reviewers for their wonderful insights.

I hope this provides you with something to think about the next time you recieve a negative reviewers letter…


Satller, K. (2013). Writing and reading peer reviews. Qualitative Social Work, 12, 715-721.

Writing, rejection and ‘procrastination’



Writing is an emotional activity.  We like to pretend, in academic contexts, that when we write formally, we also write with some objective distance.  Yet anyone who has received a rejection letter from a journal or feedback from a thesis supervisor will know how painful it can be.  Our reactions are not objective at all.  Things tend to get a bit mixed up in academic writing.  Our self-esteem, notions of intelligence, standing in the community, pride, and confidence all become intermingled in our writing.  So if our writing gets critiqued, so do all these other aspects of our selves – at least in our minds.  Rejection of our writing becomes equated with rejection of who we are, evidence of our lack of intelligence now exposed for the world to see, and proof that we are not really academic enough to belong in this world.  As you are reading this, you are aware of how ludicrous this all is but in the moment when you receive a rejection of your writing, all these thoughts pass through your head.


You only need to receive one set of negative feedback on your writing to experience painful emotions.  In a lifetime of writing at school and then university, we experience many, many negative emotions around writing.  It is not surprising, then, that your body, your entire being, will want to get up from your writing desk and find something comfortable to do rather than write.  Getting a doughnut (instead of writing) will make you feel satisfied and content.  Cleaning the floor/walls/etc (instead of writing) will make you feel in control, virtuous and worthy.


If the writing is high stakes – something we feel strongly about or if we write for an important audience – the more we anticipate the adverse response and negative emotions we feel we are likely to experience.  In these cases, it becomes much harder to get the writing done and much easier to find something else to do.


Sometimes we experience positive emotions when we receive a good review or our thesis supervisor is happy with our work.  But often we rationalise these positive emotions as ‘once off’ or ‘lucky’ and we put it down to the exception rather than the rule.  The more positive experiences we have, the more we are likely to persevere when we experience rejection.  That’s why more experienced academic writers get to a point where they don’t mind journal reviewers’ comments because they can see the value in them and feel the ultimate satisfaction when the paper is finally published.


The reason why I’m harping on about negative emotions and writing is because many people stop writing and move into non-writing careers after experiencing a painful rejection.  Others try to persevere but suffer from ‘procrastination’ or writer’s block.  Still others leave the rejected paper/chapter, no matter how important it is, and don’t re-write or resubmit.  They move onto safer topics.  This is the real danger of negative emotions from writing – that it shifts us away from what we want to write about in the way we want to write about it.


What can you do?  Write about your experiences of receiving a rejection.  Share your experiences with others.  There’s nothing like hearing someone else’s story to put yours into perspective especially if there is humour involved.  Think about critical incidences in your writing career. Have there been moments/incidents that caused you to shift from your original path? Draw (scribble) your emotions when it comes to writing.  Write ‘I feel…’ paragraphs about aspects of writing such as getting negative feedback.  The more you recognise what you are experiencing, the more you will be able to deal the urge to get up and do something else.