On Writing, Ableism, and Self-Worth

To begin this post bluntly: My life has not been easy. I’m fairly transparent about the various traumas I’ve faced, from living with an extremely abusive parent for 25 years to dealing with surgery and chronic illness. On top of that, I also have a learning disability and a stutter that makes it difficult for me to function in spaces “normal” folks wouldn’t have an issue with.

Though I’ve been challenged in many aspects of my life thus far, the one thing I know I’m good at is writing. I’ve always been good at it, from a very young age, and it’s the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do with my life. I want to tell stories and have those stories be out in the world. I’ve queried four different manuscripts and yet I still haven’t “broken through” and gotten and agent. Just write another book, I tell myself. So I do.

This past March, I was chosen to participate in Author Mentor Match. It was the first time I’d been chosen for anything like this, and the first time I’ve ever had my writing validated by a professional (Allison, you are the best). It’s also the first time writing has been–in any serious capacity–a less than solitary experience for me. I’ve always been so guarded with my work for a variety of reasons–abuse from my father being one of them. However, AMM has given me an opportunity to surround myself with friends and critique partners who are going through the same things I am, who all have that same desire to succeed.

Querying is a hellish process for everyone. It sucks. Agents don’t like it, querying writers don’t like it. No one likes to be told no, and no one likes to do the rejecting. It’s especially hard for someone like me. Someone with unresolved issues with criticism due to years of emotional abuse, as well as a severe case of social anxiety and a learning disability. Every rejection feels like a failure–even though I know in my logical brain that it isn’t–and that I only need one yes. This is not my first querying rodeo, after all. I’m a pro at this point. I know how this process works.

And yet, this time, it feels different. With Allison’s help and the backing of AMM, I thought, perhaps, things would be a little easier. A little smoother. Guess what? They haven’t been! It’s true that for some people, credits like being a PitchWars mentee or an AMM mentee help them sail through the process a little faster. That has not been my case so far. I don’t blame any one agent or the industry. No one owes me their time because I am disabled and write stories starring disabled main characters.

And yet, with every rejection, I wonder if I’m doing the right thing. My main characters are always disabled in some way, taking from my many (many) forms of disability. Selene from NEON TIGER, for example, has braces on her legs and struggles with chronic pain and leg weakness just the same as I do with cerebral palsy and spinal tumors. She also has my anxiety.. My struggles with disordered eating. She is extremely complicated and I don’t think I’ve ever loved a character more. Ableism and combating it/using it is a huge part of her story. A narrative I find deeply important to the YA audience at large.

Still, I wonder…if she weren’t visibly disabled, would the book be repped faster? Would it sell faster? Am I marketable enough as an author? Is my book marketable enough? These are all questions we have–especially us disabled authors, disabled authors of color, and BIPOC authors in general. Any one of us who exist outside the margins of acceptability–straight, white, cisgender, able-bodied, neurotypical–must constantly be vigilant about our stories AND ourselves. Are our OwnVoices experiences palatable enough to be published? Are we as people, as authors, marketable enough?

The Disability Reckoning(TM) has not yet come to the YA market. Disabled authors are not enough or we are too much. We are not marketbale, we can’t carry a story. We explain too uch, we explain too little. I suppose, in the end, it’s finding someone who will give us a chance. That one special agent who wills ay yes, I want to champion you, and I want to help you.

That’s all I’m looking for. That’s all we are looking for.

A chance. Just a chance for my story–for all our stories–to be told.

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