This essay is based on a series of tweets I posted in January 2015, almost three years ago. It was widely shared and storified by Charles Tan. "Don't self-reject" became a popular saying in SFF since then (hurray!), and many people no longer remember where it came from. I hope this essay will be helpful. I am planning to post a follow-up essay on "What I learned since Don't Self-Reject!" in a few weeks.
For beginning marginalized writers, lack of information, lack of mentoring and self-rejection are familiar and painful. Nisi Shawl’s important and poweful essay "Unqualified" in Cascadia Subduction Zone made me think yet again about what I can personally do to make the field more welcoming. I often think about it, and do the best I can to practice what I preach.
New marginalized writers often do not have the same kind of access to a network of mentors, supporters, and information as less marginalized people do. I often hear from marginalized people who are discouraged by clueless and antagonistic critiques, hurt by badly phrased rejections on #ownvoices stories. We often come into the field with pre-existing hurts; we have been told that we are not good enough, our experiences have been invalidated before we even send out that first submission.
Self-rejection is a huge issue for marginalized people, myself included - self-rejection not just from sending out, but from writing itself, from creating. Many of us fear that what we have to say is hopeless/irrelevant/not good enough for markets - and this includes professionally published marginalized writers. It is easy to envision the most painful scenarios because we have been hurt before.
What is the point of even trying? I hear these fears from so many brilliant people who are afraid to finish stories and poems, who fear that their chance to be successful is very fleeting, who fear that “diversity slots” have already been taken by other writers, who see #ownvoices work rejected over and over while work by non-#own work gets the spotlight.
In this, I feel, our people are especially harmed by the ‘rapid, youthful success' paradigm that is so pervasive in our field. You internalize that you have to “make it” (whatever that means) by 20, 25, certainly by 30; sure, there are exceptions but marginalized people often begin to feel that they’ve “fallen behind” already in their early twenties.
But if you are marginalized in any way, you all too often work slower, because there are institutional obstacles to overcome, because you are struggling to survive in a hostile world, because you may be trying to work through traumas, find community, gain access to information. All too often you also need to shed the painful and harmful misconceptions of what your work should look like or say - and once you do that, once you begin telling your own stories, the field may be even less receptive to your work.
The life of a marginalized writer is all too often the life of anguish, fear - and creative writing it's not the most mental-health-friendly pursuit to begin with!
What I offer marginalized writers is a hashtag and a sentence:
Don’t self-reject. Marginalized people, #dontselfreject from writing. We need your voices desperately. We need each other’s voices.
Marginalized writers, #dontselfreject from sending work out. Please, send it out. Please, let it sit there in slush piles; and while the work sits there, please #dontselfreject from writing new material and please #dontselfreject from sending that out as well.
Marginalized writers, #dontselfreject from querying magazine editors if you have questions, or if you did not get a response. Work might be misplaced or lost.
If you have work that doesn't fit the guidelines only slightly, and you would not dream of querying an editor, please understand this: as an editor, I received more queries from white Anglo men than I did from any other demographic. Marginalized folk are much less likely to query an editor. But if you query, you might get a positive answer.
As an editor, I noticed that where a non-marginalized person sends out a good-enough story, a marginalized person agonizes endlessly until they deem their work “perfect,” (often a moving target). Editors beg and cajole and marginalized writers still often feel trepidation, still often feel that the solicited work is not good enough to send. I see this over and over - in numbers, in conversations, I see it in the way our people talk themselves down. Please don’t self-reject.
Create it. Send it. Create more. It is hard. It is painful. It is scary. Acceptance is never guaranteed and might be harder to obtain. But - we need these voices. We need our own voices. Don’t self-reject.
We should not downplay just how difficult this is. Just how excruciating. How discouraging. How lonely. So, if you feel you can reach out to someone else with words of encouragement, that helps. Let us support each other to create, to send out, to revise, to try again, not to despair, because our work is worth the work.
This is my message to you as an editor, as a writer, as a multiply marginalized person who fights self-rejection every day.
Thank you for reading this. Thank you for surviving. Thank you for your voice. #dontselfreject