5 Ways To Recover From A Knock-back

For the latest dose of pep-talking in our Fear & Failure series, WHQ Birmingham writing retreat rep Karen Miller offers up some gentle words of wisdom to those of you feeling the sting of rejection… 

So you’ve written your thing and now you’re trying to get it out there. But sometimes the results of trying to get your writing noticed can be a real fucker.

When you’ve been submitting for a while and you’ve been rejected too many times, sometimes another rejection feels like a knock-back too far. When you’re starting out or writing in a new genre, you may be having to bang on doors and ask for help. And what do you do when you’ve had too many doors slammed in your face?

You stop.

That’s what you do.

You stop and you wonder if it’s time to give up on your ‘frivolous’ writing dreams once and for all…

But it isn’t over, is it?

Because once your pride begins to recover, you realise you have to write. There’s still things you want to say, explore, create. But how do you start writing again when the idea of failure makes you want to puke?

Here are 5 things to try to help you recover from those knock-out knock-backs:

#1: A notebook

If you work on a laptop, going old skool and writing in a notebook could be the thing that gets you writing again. Writing in a notebook carries a whiff of drafting that somehow takes the pressure off. As your first few tentative words multiply, your work begins to look quite impressive because every attempt is recorded. You can scribble or cross it out but it still retains its space on the page(s). You can also feel what you’ve written in a notebook. There’s a lovely connection in running your fingers over the marks you’ve made. Using a notebook can truly make you feel better.

Ahem. Especially this one.

#2: Trainers

Most writers work in casual clothes. If this is you, then why not change up your writing wardrobe? Wearing a more powerful outfit is the perfect way to help you “fake it, til you make it.” You could go for an eighties power suit or just try a pair of trainers. A nice thick rubber sole will lift you up and turn your shuffle into a stride. When sitting in trainers, you might find yourself, feet flat on floor, sitting a little taller.  Proper footwear and clothing (i.e. not last Christmas’ slipper socks and onesie) can postpone lethargy and antipathy. Changing your writing attire might just give you the boost you need to crack on again.

#3: Change your location

Returning to write at the scene of the crime is not always easy, so go somewhere else! At home, try writing in a different place, or try rearranging the room you usually write in. A small change can really make it feel like you’re working in a new snazzy office. Or get out of the house completely! Find a friendly café or explore your local library.

#4: Newspaper blackout*

Newspaper blackout is a fun thing to do that might ease the cogs of your creativity back into motion again. And the best thing about it is, you don’t need to think of the words yourself: your job here is to obliterate them! Basically, you get a newspaper and a black marker. You pick an article. Box the words you like and blackout the words you don’t need to create something profound (if you’re lucky) or silly (that might make you laugh – remember that?). If you don’t feel ready to write yet, trying some newspaper blackout could make you feel like a bit of a creative genius again. Or it might remind you what a gift it is to be able to write your own words after all.

*Austin Kleon is the master of Newspaper Blackout. You can watch a video on how it works here and browse works here.

#5: Writing sprints*

Many writers sit down to write and stay there until their brain is frazzled and their bums are numb. Writing for hours at a time can occasionally be super productive but in most cases you’ll probably only manage a couple of hours and then you’ll be spent. Worse, if you’re reeling from a knock-back, you might not actually be writing but staring at a blank screen thinking increasingly dark thoughts. If you’re trying to write again, but don’t think you have any hours in you, why not try sprints? Use your phone, set it for 20, 30, 40 mins and have a go at a little writing. You might find that in that first 20 minutes, knowing that’s all you’ve committed to, you write quite a lot. You might then do another sprint or then another. Or you might discover you only manage one sprint and an opening paragraph but you’re back on the horse and you’ve started. From here, the only way is up!

*We use writing sprints in our Writing Retreats to maximise productivity. When you feel ready, why not join us to really get back into your writing groove?


Karen Miller writes for the stage but experiments with short stories and poetry on the side. Her writing is currently fuelled by red wine, tea, chocolate and 80’s pop music. She discovered WHQ whilst living in Brighton and taking part in New Writing South’s Advanced Dramatic Course. Now she’s back home in Brum, she’s spreading the gold-star-love to the Midlands. Say hi on Twitter @karenlizmiller.

useful resources

free courses

Free creative writing courses every month. Woo! 

the best community

The most word-writing, biscuit-slinging, tea-drinking, super-supportive community around.

writing opportunities

Competition and submission opportunities around the world, updated every week

popular series

Not just writing, but crafting

popular content

No time? No problem

Short haired woman writing in a cafe

writers' hq

Hundreds of hours of creative writing course

Exclusive member resources

The most excellent, supportive, and productive community


writers' retreats

Free online retreats throughout the week

Set goals, focus, write, get it done

Gold stars for progress!

Dark haired woman listening to music and writing in a journal

creative writing courses

A free creative writing course every month

Kickstart your writing and get your stories finished

Join our awesome community