Sunday, January 14, 2018

Rejection 15

I took Rejection 14 really hard. It felt personal (it wasn’t) in a way that the others didn’t. I want to get published at that online publication so badly that the rejection stung.

Rejection 15 was a completely different experience. Two friends had sent me the criteria for this award. I talked myself out of applying on the first suggestion, and when the second friend sent it to me, I asked, what do I have to lose? It turns out nothing to lose, and so much to gain. Preparing this application was a tremendous experience and helpful for me to take stock of where I am with my craft at this point.
The application asked four things:

Who I am: Biography. Remember that the SAF’s unique trait is our focus on artists and writers who are also parents. If it’s relevant, we’d like to hear how your family life inspires or challenges your artistic career.
I am a midwesterner and mother-of-one who has the good fortune of having a day job where I am surrounded by words. I write acknowledgment letters for the dean of a School of Medicine. This, however, is not my real job. My real job is the writing I do outside office hours as a blogger, essayist, and first-time novelist. It is when I sit at the laptop working on a piece before work as my daughter sleeps, or tucked away in a corner of the public library while she searches for books, or late at night when I'm tired, but have things to say, that I find myself most alive and deeply satisfied.

This writer-as-real-work realization has been slow in coming, but I appreciate every twist and turn that  brought me to this place. Two years ago, a friend reminded me that 'writers write'. He challenged my 'talking about writing.' He persuaded me to squeeze a page-a-day into busy days of motherhood and full-time employment. I began writing, and within 11 days I felt new-found energy, grounding, joy. I was carving out a new path. In another 10 days, I took on a dare to write a novel. I didn't believe I could do it, but my friends did. I was so certain I would fail, but the page-a-day habit resulted in an 80,000 word rough draft seven months later.
During this time, I also celebrated my 40th birthday by creating a bucket list of 40 activities. I blogged about each activity as I crossed it off the list. The blogging and novel writing created a rhythm for my life during a vulnerable time as I filed for a divorce. These two writing projects and the discipline with which I devoted to them rearranged my internal infrastructure. I explored new levels of courage, tenacity, determination, and goal-setting. The writing was a balm to the anxiety that is embedded in the divorce process.

Of the many things I learned in this process, one of the stand-out lessons was that I am role-modeling for my daughter how to pursue a passion. Her elementary school's pledge includes four character traits: perseverance, responsibility, respect, and caring. As I showed up every day at my laptop, I exhibited these traits for her. At first I worried about a writing habit being selfish, but I quickly discovered that I gave my daughter a gift. I demonstrated to her that even mothers need to be occupied by something that is separate from their mothering. In time, we both learned that when this mama writes, she's a happier mama, and the household is happier too.
I let go of guilt that so easily seeps into the maternal experience. I did not apologize for the time I spent writing. In the process, my daughter learned about respecting someone's space and grew in her ability to meet some of her own needs, including how to occupy oneself. She also became my greatest cheerleader. “Mommy, have you written your page-a-day yet?” If my answer was no, she'd respond, “You'd better get going, Mommy.”

What I do: Artist Statement
concise description of your work and goals as an artist

Writing is the way I metabolize the ups and downs of life and the world around me. I know better how I feel or what I believe about something after I have spent time writing on the topic. My writer's statement is “to feast on words, explore their power, and serve up writings which inspire and encourage readers and myself.”

I created the blog 300 rejections to chronicle the trajectory of my writing pursuits. On the blog, I celebrate each rejection received as proof that I am writing rather than merely talking about writing. I know I cannot control what gets published, but I can control what I submit, and writing is the prerequisite to submissions. It has been a joy to transform the dreaded rejection into a celebration of the big picture: I am a writer, and I write. At 300 rejections, I also explore motherhood, my new single life, and whatever else crosses my mind. 

Writing has proved an invaluable tool for personal healing. For years I have felt the pressure to 'write what I know.' But what I know is a messy, complicated story ... At the advice of a counselor, I have spent the past six to eight months crafting painful stories into essays that have released the poison of difficult circumstances. My counselor has shared one particular essay with other clients who are navigating similar [circumstances]. While this essay has not been published, I feel gratified that it is making its way into the hands of people who can benefit from the experiences I wrote about.

What I've Done: Curriculum Vitae

It was helpful to remember that I have been published in numerous online and print publications over the past few years. I had dismissed them because they weren’t in the BIG publications that I deem worthy. This application knocked that notion out of my head. These publication credits are the stepping stones to bigger work and the whole point of 300 rejections: chronicling my writing life. Turns out, there IS a body of work to chronicle.

I included writing retreats and classes and remembered that when Cadence was five months old, I enrolled in an online writing course. More proof that I’ve been working on honing my craft for a long time.

I also chose to include my third place prize for short story I won as a high school in the Teresa Carpenter Writing Competition at Graceland College in 1993. Not a fiction writer, eh Julie? This contest begged to differ.

What I'd like to Do: How I would Use this award

The Sustainable Arts Foundation had 20 $5,000 unrestricted grants. Ten were dedicated to artists of color. These are the ways I structured how I would use the award:

Equipment: Purchase a printer/copier for my home office.

Travel: Plan a trip with my daughter to visit family friends in Colorado. Built into the trip would be time set aside for me to work on my novel alone while my daughter spends time reconnecting with friends. I would rejoin the group every day at lunch and spend the rest of the day together.

Fees: Cover the costs of submission entry fees.

Online Presence: Upgrade functionality and visual elements of my blog.

I also had to submit 15 pages of work. I chose an unpublished essay and work from my blog—pieces representative of the work I have crafted in the past year.

If a rejection email can be considered a work of art, this email surely was:

Dear Julie,

Thank you so much for your application to the Sustainable Arts Foundation.

As our program grows, it becomes even more competitive; in our 7th year, over 3,000 writers and artists submitted their portfolios. We continue to be humbled by the stories we read in the applications, impressed and inspired by the creativity of all our applicants.

As is our practice, past award winners served as our jurors, and each application was reviewed by at least two jurors who focused on the quality of the submitted portfolios. From a pool of applicants whose work was judged as excellent, we then narrowed the field, considering the many facets presented so thoughtfully in your applications.

Unfortunately, we are not able to fund your application, but we want you to know that we are moved both by your commitment to your craft and by the sacrifices you're making to pursue it.

Our jurors are invited to provide feedback about the applications they review; we want to share their comments:

Your spirit, humor, honesty, and courage is apparent in these pieces, and that spirit makes your writing engaging. Keep up the good work!
I like the approach you take: using letters to reveal the narrator. The letters become ever more revealing and are richly narrative.

We know that it is hard enough to create time for art while parenting, let alone to work on grant applications, and we do recognize and appreciate the effort you put into your submission.

We will announce our next application deadline early in 2018.

All applicants are eligible to re-apply, although we can't recommend strongly enough that reapplications be submitted with new work.

Thank you again for your application, and we wish you all the best, both with your work and with your family.
I was thrilled by the personalized feedback (in bold above). I cannot express how gratifying it was to know that there were people who had read my work and had these positive things to say about it. In another rejection, I’d been told that my work didn’t have enough narrative for the publication, so reading that that same piece was considered “richly narrative” helped me feel like I was on the right track.
I have new goals for my writing in 2018, so I absolutely plan to apply for the grant again. I’ll have new things to say and new work to showcase. It will be wonderful to receive feedback from a new set of jurors.
284 Rejections to go.

1 comment:

  1. Your courage to keep submitting is an encouragement for me to do the same.xo