To Avoid Crushing Disappointment, You Need to Figure Out What Kind of Writer You Are • Jules Sherred - Author
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To Avoid Crushing Disappointment, You Need to Figure Out What Kind of Writer You Are

A sentence from the first paragraph of my current WIP. It reads, "The faintest of whispers crawls under my skin and scratches at my bones."

To Avoid Crushing Disappointment, You Need to Figure Out What Kind of Writer You Are

Disappointment. It comes with being in publishing or wanting to be in publishing. But there are several types of disappointment, some of which are easier to stave off than others. I’m going to talk about how to stave off the disappointment of a pass or rejection. It all begins with really knowing what kind of writer you want to be.

I’ve been in publishing, in one form or the other, for close to 20 years now. That’s a long time. I see a lot of publishing advice from agents, authors, and editors. I feel like each have touched on the following in one way or another but haven’t quite scratched what I’m going to explore. They talk about things like genre and publishing goals, but I feel they often miss a couple aspects about the “what.”

I work best with seeing examples, so I’m going to use my journey as a template for you to plop in your own details.

I Am a Literary Writer

This was a difficult one for me to accept. And not because I ever thought of myself as a commercial/genre writer but because typically, I don’t enjoy literary books. I cannot begin to tell you how happy I was when I no longer had to take English Lit in university. Imagine my shock when I couldn’t escape the fact, I am a literary writer. I write character-driven stories with beautiful prose. You may never know that because of the way I communicate information.

But then I came to also realise, I’m not a typical literary writer.  Because the way I communicate information compared to the way I communicate experiences in a prose setting is autistic. It will always be autistic. It is impossible for it to be typical. This distinction matters more than I realised when I first started on my journey towards traditional publishing.

This matters above everything. More on that in a bit.

Also, I don’t think I’ll ever be capable of writing a commercial/genre book because my brain doesn’t skim the surface in a way that is required for those types of books. One day, I may be able to pull off Upmarket Fiction, but even that feels like a bit of a stretch for me.

I Write Stories that Matter

All stories matter. Don’t get me wrong. I firmly believe there are degrees. We will go back to commercial vs literary stories. There are a lot of great allegorical stories in genre fiction. Bangers! But that story isn’t what drives the narrative. It’s all about the plot moving the story forward. My brain never thinks that way when it comes to storytelling.

The stories that come in my head are always about underrepresented stories driven by human rights injustices that get ignored. Or because of whose voices are chosen to tell those stories, which is still by and large the default cishet able-bodied allistic voice.

That is what drove CRIP UP THE KITCHEN. I was tired of reading about cooking when disabled by able-bodied people trying to shove disabled people into their boxes. I cannot tell you how many books with autistic protagonists I’ve put down within three pages because it is evident that it was an allistic person clowning what they think it means to be autistic, often because their child is autistic. My current WIP was born out of a couple human rights injustices where currently it is cisgender allistic people who drive the narrative.

I write books with an authentic voice that isn’t masked to make the default comfortable for two reasons. The first is so that people can see their actual experiences and not a pastiche. You can’t be it if you can’t see it. The second is so that the default cishet allistic people are forced to see us as we are and not as they think we should be. Being tolerated isn’t enough. We’ll never be accepted as long as our stories are what cisgender allistics think they should be.

I can’t write anything else. It’s antithetical to who I am.

My Voice Will Always Be Autistic

There is a rhythm that runs through many, if not all, autistics. It’s different for all of us, but we all feel it. When we need to self-sooth, we often call on it and it drives our stimming. When that rhythm gets disrupted or the outside rhythm of the world becomes louder than our natural hum, our bodies literally feel like they are being torn apart, and we have a meltdown. It hurts in ways that are difficult to relay.

My body’s rhythm runs through my fiction writing. It is only recently that I came to this realisation. My literary voice is autistic in many ways. It is present in the musicality of my prose. And this musicality changes based on how outside stimuli are having an effect on the MC.

My narrators and MCs will always be autistic. They can’t be anything else. This will always be present in differences between the character’s interiority and how they outwardly communicate. It will be present in how they both show emotion and how they can’t read the emotions of others. It will be present in the things they notice and don’t notice about the world around them. It will be present in the ways they relay their experiences of other people to the reader.

I can’t write anyway else. I’ve tried. But just like I can always tell when an allistic is writing an autistic because it’s a clown, that is how my writing of allistics comes off when I try to write any other way. My brain is autistic. Fact. It is a filter through which everything runs. It cannot be turned off.

If you want to get to know autistic people, then you need to understand these fundamental differences about how we brain and how it will be shown in our stories.

Turns out, this is also why I didn’t enjoy English Lit and why I find myself noping out of a lot of books: I can’t relate to allistic writing. Does that mean I only read books by neurodivergent people? No, I just always enjoy them more because of these qualities that are beyond the writer’s control.

How These Truths Dictate Expectations

Being a literary writer automatically makes it more difficult to be traditionally published. The agent pool is small. The publisher pool is smaller still. That is an easy one to accept and not one I feel disappointment about. It also means advances are more likely to be smaller. If you are a literary writer who dreams of a Big 5, Big Advance publishing contract, you need to shift your expectations.

The types of stories I write add another layer of difficulty.

But the thing that most dictates what type of journey I will have as an author is the fact that my voice is autistic. And the reality of the current state of publishing is that many agents and editors may be asking for autistic voices, but when they get them, they say, “Oh, no not like that. We meant autistic stories that sound allistic. I can’t relate otherwise.”

The sad truth is, a lot of my rejections have been and will be based in, “This book is too disabled, too trans, too autistic.” For others, it will be, “This story is too Black, too Latinx, too Asian, too Indigenous, too Brown, too Gay, too Muslim, too Jewish, too not America experience, too Not Us.”

This is all assuming your writing is fantastic. The number of rejections I’ve received that say something like, “Gosh, this writing is amazing. But it’s too autistic/disabled/trans.” Now, they don’t use the “too autistic,” for example. It’s things like, “The writing is amazing. But I just couldn’t connect to {insert specific story point that is true representation and not an allistic version of it}.”

And that is what makes my journey, and the journey of all other underrepresented voices the hardest: An industry that still wants stories that are dimmed versions of true representation; stories that make them comfortable; stories written for them and not the voices the stories represent.

The truth is, I had to accept that my rejections will come not from the quality of my writing but the quality and perceived humanity of my characters. Knowing that doesn’t take away the sting, but it does make me prepared.

This is from where my disappointments always come. I can totally deal with someone not liking my writing. Cool! It’s okay to not like things! But when it’s a rejection based on a quality of humanity that is unchangeable and the truth, that is much more difficult.

Ask yourself the following. “What type of writer am I?” “What kind of stories do I write?” “What are the immutable qualities of my writing voice?”

Once you know those things, you will be better equipped to figure out what effect that will have on your publishing journey and the types of unavoidable disappointments that will come. Because it is unavoidable. But it may sting less and hopefully, won’t be crushing because you are prepared.

If you are an underrepresented voice like I am, you don’t need a thick skin to survive it. Also, it isn’t only about expectations management. You also need a good supportive writing group. And an amazing freaking agent.

In another post, I will write about the ONE question you need to ask an agent during “the call” if you belong to an underrepresented group. When the inevitable casual (and sometimes outright) discrimination comes, finding the agent that best answers this question will help to make this all a bit easier.

The quote on the featured image is a sentence from the first paragraph of my current WIP.

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