In the "it's a small world department," my sister Barbara (who lives in Milwaukee) met Rochelle Melander at a July 4th picnic this past summer. After hearing Rochelle speak about her book, Mightier than The Sword (Beaming Books, 2021). Barbara told her that she should contact me because I love encouraging kids to write. (In case you didn't know, my second book was Teaching the Story: Fiction Writing in Grades 4-8.) After the picnic, Rochelle looked me up and realized that I was on her list of people to contact to be part of her blog tour!
I am proud to introduce you to Rochelle's inspirational and educational new book. Rochelle has so much to say about teaching writing to kids, that today I'm reviewing her book and interviewing her. Next week she will guest blog about, "Playing With Writing Types."
"If you want to change the world, pick up your pen and write." - Martin Luther
Martin Luther used repetition and rhythm so people would enjoy reading his words aloud. He used relatable images to explain complex topics: “A lie is like a snowball: the further you roll it, the bigger it becomes.” Keep a notebook to record juicy words, favorite phrases, and interesting snippets of conversation. p. 17
CAROL: How did persistence help you sell your book?
ROCHELLE: As an artist educator, I’ve longed for a book like Mightier Than the Sword. I believed the book would help me introduce young people to writing mentors from a variety of disciplines and support students in writing their stories. When I hit obstacles, connecting to this purpose kept me going.
Researchers call this grit. According to psychologist Angela Duckworth, “Grit is passion and perseverance for long-term goals. … Grit is about having what some researchers call an 'ultimate concern'—a goal you care about so much that it organizes and gives meaning to almost everything you do.”
When I first pitched the book in early 2018, an agent loved the idea and requested the proposal. But she rejected it—because she wanted more of a deep dive into history. I revised and submitted it to more agents—only to get a slew of rejections. Many of them said the book was too educational—and not right for the trade market! Then an agent requested a revise and resubmit—which I did. As I waited for their response, I sent it out to just a few more agents. When an agent I met at a conference offered representation, I sent a note to the agents who’d been sitting on the proposal for months. They all rejected it. I wasn’t keen on the representing agent, so I tried #PitMad. Surprise! I had four hearts from four different editors. One of those, Beaming Books, offered a contract. Woot!
For me, grit meant repeatedly reminding myself of my purpose—to help young people fall in love with writing. Once I got the contract, I still had hours of research and writing ahead of me—and that purpose helped me shape every single essay in the collection. If you’re stuck or struggling, consider your ultimate concern: why is this project important? Who will it serve?
CAROL: What were the lessons about writing that you learned while researching and writing this book?
ROCHELLE: I learn from every book I write, but Mightier Than the Sword brought so many more lessons—probably because I was researching and writing about people who used their writing to make a difference in their worlds. Here are three of them:
- It’s okay if you weren’t a successful student. Follow your passion. Many of the writers I featured did poorly in school. Charles Darwin skipped out on grade school lessons and dropped out of medical school. But when he discovered his passion for nature, he succeeded.
- Write about what matters to you. Passion drives persistence. When congresswoman Patsy Mink was in college, she started a letter campaign to protest segregated student housing. She succeeded—and the college changed their policy.
- Writing is difficult. Do it anyway. Because of social media, we see writers celebrating their wins, but we don’t see the sweat equity that went into their work. It took James Baldwin ten years to write his autobiographical novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain. During that time, he struggled to earn money and deal with self-doubt.