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  • Writer's pictureNeema Komba

An ode to the beginner

Updated: Apr 2

Today, I got my first rejection as an academic writer. Some of you don't know this, but besides being a writer, I am also a doctoral student studying entrepreneurship in the context of corruption. Back in May, I submitted my very first paper to the Academy of Management Journal (one of the top journals in my field). At the time, I got what they call a desk edit because the paper was too long. I had to cut about 24 pages from it. I resubmitted sometime in August and waited as the paper went through the review process. After two months, I finally got a letter from the editor, saying sorry, the paper didn't make the cut. I have to say, it was kinder than I thought it would be. For one, it was my first ever paper, and I tried to aim really high. Three reviewers gave me their detailed analysis as to what needs to improve in my paper, and I truly feel that the comments I got made it worth it.

I have received this kind of warm and fuzzy rejection before in my literary pursuits ( my favorite is from one editor named Susie of Indigo press). I have to admit though, I have a lot of experience in "rejection" as a poet, who started writing short fiction, and creative non-fiction, and now branching into long-form writing, and academic writing. I don't mean to say getting rejected doesn't sting at all. 13 years ago, when I started submitting my work, rejections made me sad and made me question my value as a writer. These days, I have learned to not take it personally and accept rejection as part of the process. Sometimes, rejection only means it is not the right platform/home for my work. Sometimes, it means my work needs more work, and it is super valuable when the rejecting party tells you clearly.

But, of course, there is always hope that you will get some good news. Today just wasn't the day, and that is okay too.

I have been very busy lately with many projects to juggle, but I just wanted to take a moment and share this experience with you. Getting this rejection letter today reminded me that I am a beginner in academic life. Earlier in the year, I met one beginner that greatly inspired me to write the poem "An ode to the beginner". I hope it inspires you too, to never give up!

An ode to the beginner

In the forest where we all come to dream

There is a boy on a snowboard

turning the small hill next to the train tracks into his own Alps.

He tries to glide,

but tumbles to the bottom,

He runs back to the top,

placing his right heel onto the board decorated with fire.

He glides again, falls again,

but doesn’t stop

even when his face is red,

and his nose runs,

and his fingers numb from the icy wind.

He reminds me of days when we turned our impossible odds

into bite-size efforts –

spilling ink on paper, like blood,

every sentence, our own alpine slope,

a glacier of hope, that one day we’d master the craft we love;

when, we, too, learned by falling

and smiled when our bottoms hit the ice

knowing we were a step closer to genius.

I hope we never forget the joy of being amateurs,

when nothing could kill our wilful passion.

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