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It's late spring, 2010. Summer's heat is still a few weeks away, yet the uninsulated brick and black roof of my top floor apartment already have the place unpleasantly warm. I am lying on the floor of my living room, staring at the pockmarked ceiling and intensely aware of both the coarseness of the shabby carpet underneath me and the clacking of keys coming from the room at the end of the hall. Both are driving me insane, but I'm rooted to my spot, frustrated. I hate my job. I hate that the recession and the resulting lack of jobs means the job I hate is the only thing we have to pay the bills and not go hungry. I hate being broke while we finish grad school. I hate that we can't afford to live in a building with air conditioning, or at the very least even scrounge up enough to get one of those cheap floor models to stick in the bedroom. Something.

I especially hate the furious clicking that emanates from the back room every time a rejection letter arrives in the mail, the slumped shoulders, the dejected "what am I doing wrong?" Nothing, I say, you just haven't found the right person yet, but it falls on deaf ears as the fingers are already clacking, editing, refining, changing perspectives and narratives and plot in an attempt to find that magic formula that will make an agent finally say "yes." Today had brought two of those rejection letters; he was obsessing over what to change before he'd even gotten out of the elevator. That alone made me want to cry.

But at this moment, what I hate more than anything else, the reason I'm on the floor digging my nails in the cheap carpet and staring at the nubs in the ceiling while the eight-dollar window fan tries to suck some cool night air into the baking room, is the email that's still displayed on the ancient laptop above my head. Weeks before, I had written to a number of small publishers with a simple request: I was looking at making a move to publishing, and had some experience as a reader and editor already, but wanted to expand on those skills. My dream was to dually work with a publication like mental_floss (indeed, what little extra cash we do scrounge is spent on maintaining my subscription and collecting the books they release) and coach writers who had promise but weren't quite to the point of being ready to publish. I had the education, but the problem was showing the publication experience to make an editor even look at me. I was willing to work for free in exchange for the experience to help balance out my resume, and touted that in my pitch: whether it worked or didn't, it wouldn't cost the publishers anything except a recommendation if they liked my work. I just wanted the experience and the chance to help others out of those sweltering back rooms, blindly clacking away without any real idea of why their work didn't make the cut. I wanted to give feedback rather than form letters. I wanted to help them find that right person to see their work.

The few responses I had received had been mostly template "thanks but not interested" replies, but the message tonight had been a bit more detailed, a bit more terse. "I don't really get what you're trying to accomplish," it read. "Nobody in publishing coaches 'promising' writers; either they're ready, or they're not. In business, it would be a waste of resources to take something like that on, especially in today's economic climate. At any rate, I'm not interested, and advise you not to waste your time if you're serious about moving to this field."

Clack clack clackity clack clack...

The reason I'm lying on the floor is to get a literal different perspective of the world around me to help jog a figurative different perspective in my head. Sitting at the wobbly side table that served as a makeshift desk, doing research and sending out emails night after night, sketching out article ideas and dreaming of the day those finished pieces would be in print, it's easy to get lost in the fantasy that I can make the world a better place just by being kind and helpful. We all see the world the way we want to see it, and maybe my view is naive. Maybe it is weird to email complete strangers to say "Hi, my name is Jen. I really like your work, and I have this idea..."

But the longer I lay on the floor, the more aware I am of the heat and the carpet and the ceiling pocks and my own breathing and that never-ending racket of despair from the back room, the more furious I become. I've done enough of this work as an undergrad to understand how it works, and even to some extent the rationale why, but that doesn't mean I have to agree with it. Just because everyone else has historically done something one way certainly doesn't mean that no other way can ever work. And most importantly, I fail to see and violently reject the idea that helping someone reach their potential is ever a waste of time.

Ever.

The breeze from the fan is interrupted a split second before a tiny, sandpapery tongue starts licking the top of my forehead. It isn't long before a black face with big yellow eyes breaks my view of the ceiling, his soft body rumbling with comforting purrs. It's hard to stay focused on how angry you are under these kind of circumstances.

I know they're wrong, and I'm going to prove it. I just have to find the right person to listen.
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*****

So this past week wrapped up our first official run of the RCM summer writing program. As with all projects I do, there is a list of personal observations I made for things I could do better next time. But the team unanimously voted to keep the group running on Friday mornings and continue working on their stories and articles, bringing guests in to network and learn, and supporting one another. Just as The Second City served as a launchpad for a plethora of actors and comedians, my dream now is for RCM Writing to serve as a launch for the next wave of writers. Maybe I am a dreamer, but my world doesn't work the way everyone else's does, and already I'm seeing some incredible talent coming through my humble digital work forum. It may be a long shot, but that's kind of my forte.

The last few weeks in particular reminded me why I started this in the first place.When I did reader work in college, I never wanted to send form rejections- I felt, as I still do, that some sort of honest explanation is deserved. I get the whys behind it, but I was and am sure that there's a better way, even if it takes a little more effort. Years later, when I was offering to give the feedback writers were looking for only to be told I was wasting my time and it wasn't how things are done, the question that kept resonating in my mind that stuffy night - "Why the hell not?" - proved to be more important than I could have imagined at the time. It wasn't just about getting a program going, it was about showing the way things should be done. In our last few "official" weeks when we had guests join our meetings to talk about their experiences as professional writers, both David W. Brown and Leah Rhyne talked about how brutally mean the publishing world can be. What so many fail to see, like the editor who wrote me back all those years ago, is we absolutely have the means to change that. Lists for improvements aside, after talking with them and listening to their experiences, if nothing else I know I'm on the right track.

Bio and Killer would connect this story back to Jocko Willink's podcast (video for context is here) and say "good:" I didn't get what I was looking for at that time, so I had more time to plan and work out details. I didn't get to work for somebody else, so I got to figure out how to work for myself. And when you work for yourself, you get to do things the way you see fit. You are accountable to yourself and your team.

Have writer's block? Good. You can use that time to plan and research better articles.

Working on a shoestring budget? Good. That means you'll get more creative with resources and eliminate things you don't need.

Celebrity person you want to interview doesn't write back? Good. Don't hound after someone because they have a big name, hound after them because they have a story that needs to be shared in the world.

Nobody else in publishing does what I'm attempting to do?

Good. Because I'm about to show you how crazy my ideas are, and I'm going to watch those crazy ideas succeed.

I found my right people.
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