This Year, I’m Affirming My Value as a Marginalized Author
Confronting limiting stories about pursuing a writing career with a disability
Weeks ago, when I had the idea to write a monthlong series on limiting stories, I identified three areas of interest: my love life, my friendships, and my career. In my mind, this series was an opportunity to dig deep. What stories have I been telling myself, and how have those stories affected my ability to engage with the world?
If you’ve been reading my column for a while, you’ll know that stories are my life. I have always identified as a writer, even when I was getting my master’s degree in mental health counseling. There was no doubt in my mind that I was meant to tell stories, whether by writing books or planning yearslong Dungeons & Dragons campaigns for my friend group.
I graduated in 2020 with a whole lot of dreams. Convinced that I would be successful, I threw myself into the process of acquiring a literary agent without a second thought. I revised my first novel, “Waning Crescent,” for months on end, hoping beyond hope that my hard work would pay off.
The first blow
I’ve written previously about my decision to shelve — a fancy publishing term that essentially amounts to giving up on a written work — “Waning Crescent.” It was easier than I expected, maybe because I’d been subconsciously preparing myself for failure. My self-confidence didn’t negate the statistics.
Traditional publishing is a competitive industry and hard to break into, especially for marginalized authors.
I spent half a year in the querying trenches, submitting my manuscript to agents in the hopes that one of them would take a chance on me. Some were interested; most weren’t. By the time I put “Waning Crescent” to rest, I had learned a lot about writing long-form fiction. I quickly identified what was “wrong” with the book (a faulty plot, among other things), as if that would somehow soften the blow.
Of course, that didn’t stop me from jumping headfirst into a new project. I drafted “The Saint and the Spider” in a little over six months. By the time 2022 rolled around, I was gearing up for another round of revisions, with a goal of querying by early fall.
2022 was a year I never could’ve expected. From personal heartbreak to a professional crisis that sapped me of all motivation, I found myself incapable of everything.
I didn’t want to write.
I didn’t want to do anything.
I was stuck. And it was all because of a limiting story.
Doubt comes in
Part of it was shelving “Waning Crescent.” I wasn’t just burying something that had meant so much to me for so long; I was burying a part of myself, the part that had dreamed of publishing a trilogy about gods, girls, and the end of the world. But part of it — most of it — was the story I had started to tell myself over the years.
A story of hardship.
Of being overlooked.
Of being told “no” because people don’t want to read books about girls in wheelchairs, because crip lit doesn’t sell.
I didn’t mean to soak up this negativity. It just happened. But it was only a matter of time before it started to rub off on my creative life. What was the point of trying so hard?
For that matter, what was the point of trying at all?
Unraveling the falsehoods
The problem with limiting stories is the very act of labeling them can lead to gaslighting.
Many writers have criticized the publishing industry for marginalizing authors who write about their lived experiences. I stand in solidarity with each and every one of them. It is time for the industry — and the consumers who run the industry — to take a long, hard look at the stories they’ve deemed “worthy.”
But the fact remains that, to move beyond my self-fulfilling prophecies, I needed to confront them.
“I will encounter difficulties as a marginalized author” became “I will never get published” became “Because the publishing industry is hostile to me, my dreams are unlikely to come true.”
Of course I didn’t want to write. With that kind of voice in your head, who would?
I am blessed with a writing group that calls me out on my inertia. They believe in my ability to succeed, and in doing so, push me to keep trying. The obstacles remain, but I’ve found that it’s easier to ignore the voice in my head if I focus on the people around me.
This year, I’m letting the people I love drown out the voices that would keep me silent.
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