On Disappointment

In this post, I wanted to announce that I had received my first grant, one that would bring not only money but notoriety, a higher profile, and the opportunity to begin teaching. In addition, financial support from this organization would strengthen my application to others. I hoped this award would be a tipping point in my career. But I did not receive the grant.

I have gotten used to rejection over the last few years since I started submitting my work for publication. I know it takes about twenty submissions for one acceptance, so I send each essay to multiple journals. When the rejection slip arrives, I take a break and let myself feel the sting. Then I get back to work and submit to another magazine. I often have the same essay out to five or ten journals so that one rejection does not derail me.

I tried this process after I received the grant letter. I allowed myself to feel disappointment over the weekend and returned to writing the following Monday. I felt fine for a few days, but the cloud returned and now seems more difficult to escape. I have realized that there are a few reasons, beyond the obvious issue of money, that I am struggling with this outcome. First, there are far fewer grants for which I am eligible than there are journals to which I can submit. If the 5% acceptance rate applies to grant applications, then it may be a few years and several more rejections before I receive a grant. However, I am willing to pay that price to reach my goals.

The other issue is that, unlike a completed essay of which I am confident and can send to another journal, the project for which I applied is in its beginning stages. I have yet to do the work, and it is easier to doubt an idea than a finished manuscript. The only way to overcome that doubt is to begin writing and rediscover the spark.

These conclusions can help me move forward, but I think it is also important to consider what I did receive from the grant application process. The most important achievement is a clear plan for my next project. Completing the application forced me to determine the scope and substance of my manuscript as well as a timeline for writing, editing, and submission. Having worked with the grant coordinator on my application, I better understand the specific requirements for this grant as well as how to prepare a competitive application for other funding. And honestly, I did enjoy those three months of anticipation, talking about my project and considering how it would feel to receive the grant. In that time, I realized that being funded would be exciting and invigorating but also raise the stakes of my work.

As a working writer, I will encounter many disappointments, each one a temporary stop along a much longer path. Onward to the next rejection and beyond.