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Nov 03

Rejecting Rejection with Jennifer Wolf Kam

We hope this Rejecting Rejection starts your morning off right. Rejection comes in all shapes and sizes and writers seem to get the biggest piece. So here is a little something to make the sting laughable and to help you through those moments where giving up feels like an option. Thanks Jennifer!

Grit and Chocolate

by Jennifer Wolf Kam

 

 

I’ve often said that writing can feel like digging a bottomless pit. You dig and dig and you don’t know if you’ll ever reach the bottom—let alone find treasure. How different from other professions. Lawyers can practice law once they’ve earned their degrees. Doctors leave medical school ready to practice medicine. Writers can dedicate their lives to writing, yet, there is no guarantee that writing will ever become a professional gig. There is no promise of treasure at the bottom of the pit. Of praise and validation. Nope, not one bit. We write knowing it’s possible that no one will ever appreciate our work, except maybe our pet cat (and only then because the manuscript pcoverrovides a sweet napping spot.)

I’ve been writing my whole life. Since I could hold a crayon, cut construction paper and use a stapler. I wrote through high school, through college, at my desk at work (shh…) I studied the craft, participated in critique groups, went to conferences, earned my MFA. I spent countless hours at my laptop writing and revising, creating and honing, imagining worlds of my own invention and frequently talking to myself as I tested out dialogue. I learned how to write a query letter and a synopsis and took my first tentative steps into the world of publishing.

I worked on my writing for years, I mean yeeeaarrrs…Initial responses to my queries held promise. I received compliments on my writing, and requests for more pages. Sometimes, I was even asked to work on a revision with an editor. In the end, none of my efforts led to a book contract. The industry changed, technology changed, the millennium changed. Rejection, a constant presence in my life, arrived first in the form of neatly-typed letters, occasionally with a handwritten note, and later on, as emails that filled my sagging inbox.

And let’s be honest—there’s rejection and there’s REJECTION. Rejection is, Sorry, concert’s sold out. You can’t go. Rejection is, Sorry, we don’t have any reservations for dinner until next Thursday. You can’t eat here. Then there’s REJECTION, where your novel is your actual heart, beating outside of your chest for the world to see.
Sorry, this just isn’t right for us
. Sorry, we’re going to pass on this. Sorry, we just don’t like a) your characters b) your plot c) your entire manuscript (All right—no one ever said that. It just felt that way.) REJECTION hurts. It aches. It gnaws.

I received plenty of REJECTION. Once, it even hopped a transcontinental flight with me, leaving me six hours to drown my sorrows in airplane ginger ale. Even though the feedback on my pieces grew more positive, and I’d gotten close several times, the closer I got to actual publication, the more REJECTION stung. The more it ached. The more it gnawed.

Well-meaning people in my life said things like, Why do you keep putting yourself in these situations? Why don’t you focus on other things? Maybe you should take a break from writing. Maybe you should just quit.

Chocolate

A necessary evil.

Why didn’t I? It was clearly easier to do almost anything than to write. Easier still to stop making myself so painfully vulnerable. There were dark moments. Moments where the “what ifs” and “never wills” moved in, set up house and bought window treatments. It’s hard to shake the bad thoughts. As the years went on, I engaged in my fair share of wallowing and excessive dark chocolate consumption.

But there was something else there, throughout it all. Something else that enabled me to get my butt back in the chair time and time again. REJECTION after REJECTION.

Renowned Psychologist and researcher, Angela Lee Duckworth, says (and I’m paraphrasing here) that one of the greatest key predictors of success is grit, or determination. GRIT. That’s right. Roll your sleeves up, howl at the moon, butt in the chair, never give up, proverbial sweat running down your neck, pure grit.

Whether we realize it or not, we writers have GRIT. We keep going. We keep writing. Just being productive is self-affirming.

GRIT is the antidote to REJECTION.

Because one thing is for certain: The only way to ensure never getting published, is to stop writing altogether. To give in to REJECTION. To give Up.

I was in the depths of writer-ly despair, when the call came in that I’d won the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) Book Award for my teen supernatural mystery, DEVIN RHODES IS DEAD. The wonderful Charlesbridge Publishing was going to publish my book. I was so shocked that I didn’t tell anyone—for a week. I convinced myself that if I said the words out loud-I have a book contract-it might not actually happen. But it was real. And it did happen and DEVIN RHODES IS DEAD entered the world on October 14th, 2014. And I am thrilled.

While it’s gratifying and humbling to be offered a book contract, and ultimately hold my book in my hand, that treasure that we seek, that praise, that validation still must come from within. Must. The thing is, REJECTION doesn’t ever totally go away. There can be negative reviews and some people just won’t like your book. It may take a long time to write and/or sell another book.

In the end, this writing, your writing, has to be truly and deeply for you.

And if you stick to it, keep digging, keep writing, use your grit, you’ll find things along the way—your story’s plot, your character’s voice, inner strength, a sense of accomplishment.

Treasures tenfold.

rr

 

 

 

Jennifer Wolf Kam began writing stories as soon as she could hold a crayon. Today she holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. DEVIN RHODES IS DEAD is her debut novel and the winner of the National Association of Elementary School Principals Children’s Book Award. Jennifer is a three-time finalist for the Katherine Paterson Prize for Young Adult and Children’s Writing, offered by the journal, Hunger Mountain. She lives in New York with her husband, two sons and a love of chocolate.

4 comments

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  1. Linden McNeilly

    Beautiful post, Jennifer! I have relied on that same grit. I buy it by the truckload and have it delivered in a huge heap outside my studio door.

    1. Jen Kam

      Thanks so much, Linden! I love the image of truckloads of grit. =)

  2. Jessica Dils

    Love your post, Jennifer….I, too, feel as though I must have been built more from GRIT than bones! Congratulations and thanks for the boost! Cheers….Now, off to find some chocolate and get back to the writing.

    1. Jen Kam

      Thank you , Jessica! Built more from Grit than bones–indeed! Enjoy your chocolate and your writing–best of luck!

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