You did it. You worked out you were Neurodiverse. You accepted it and realized that your writing could be too. So, you started to write a story about an ND character doing… fucking anything. You polished, you got both NT (Neurotypcial) and ND betas, and you queried/published, whatever route you’re seeking for your book.
And then there came the;
“The character didn’t make any sense to me.”
“I can’t connect to the voice.”
“I don’t like the MC.”
Raise your hand (no, actually do it, participation is acknowledgement), if you’ve heard that about your writing. Raise your hand if you’ve had a friend call you weird, and when you found out you were ND, they said something fucking awful that reminded you not all your friends are ND friendly.
I’ve watched agents call for ND scripts after the last few years when many of us were discovering our diagnosis, opening up about it, and letting others know it’s okay, encouraging them to explore their own NDness. When it was trending. I’ve watched agents scream for ND. Only interested in ND manuscripts. There were pitch events on twitter purely so agents could see ND novel concepts.
Yet I watched rejections mount. The very agents who called for ND scripts ignore pitch events. Editors “hungry” for ND not published anything remotely ND. I’ve watched ND writers sob over their homeless stories. I watched as they pitched to agents and editors who wanted exactly what they were asking for but ended up with form rejections.
We are so used to delivering exactly what we’re asked for because we spend our lives conforming to fit in, that when we’re given the chance to offer what they are asking for and we are shut down.
And this time it is personal.
Not just a rejection, regardless of how subjective it is we end up rejecting our self because we put SO much of our true selves into this manuscript. The honest parts, the ugly parts, the parts we were told all our lives made no sense.
Isn’t that what the agent wanted? An autistic manuscript?
I have a grave and terrible fear.
Some agents have made it apparent that they’ve called for ND scripts, yet signed no ND authors. Editors asking for the next great ND adventure and the script is not “enough”. It’s sad and disappointing, I get it. But there is something else going on, something that’s nefarious, that sinks beneath the lines on the page and down to who we are underneath our skin.
What they wanted was easily consumable fiction for NT’s (Neurotypicals) to absorb what it’s like in an ND mind without taking the metric fuckton of hamsterwheel braining that goes on. The spinning circus behind our eyes. The squirrels at a rave as we try to organize our life. The librarians running around the catalogue of our minds trying to find the right cue cards (thanks for the beautiful imagery on that one @AnnaStaver).
They wanted diversity because it was a trending issue; they might not be able to understand, or have zero interest in who we truly are.
So how do we deliver that on our terms? How do we create a space where it doesn’t matter what critics, agents, or naysayers think because we can make our weird little alien minds relatable?
I don’t have the answers, but I’ve thought about this long and hard and for years. It wasn’t until Larua Zats questioned agents and editors calling for these scripts only to reject them was I able to start articulating what I thought was “wrong”. It isn’t wrong, it just isn’t relatable because I literally have a different brain to the average NT person.
Who’s seen the tiktok’s of autistics and ADHD of what people see on the outside….
Versus the ND inside:
Scary right? All that chaos in our heads only contained by a thin strip of bone, skin, and some probably questionable hair style choices. But how do we make stories about our true selves relatable? How do we convey that in a way that doesn’t have the agent or editor stating they can’t “connect”?
I got a lot of questions about my response, and I couldn’t answer them all in a tweet which was the prompt for this weekend’s post. I can’t count the amount of times people have told me things, there have been situations, and I’ve said or done something and people have just stared at me. ND’s you know what I mean. NT’s… buckle up because I don’t want to use ONE situation to relay this feeling to you, I need to use a couple;
- It’s someone’s birthday at work, and you forgot, and while there were team messages, you didn’t say happy birthday because you didn’t see it or it didn’t sink in you needed to say anything and by the time you realize you should have said something its several hours later and it feels awkward so you don’t say anything and then spend six weeks wondering if that person thinks you don’t like them
- Every time you need to talk to someone at work, you can’t just go talk to them, you have a specific reason for engaging in communication. The reverse is true; every time someone at work talks to you, you wonder what they want, and when it’s just small talk you look for subtext
- You’re at a party, people keep talking loudly, touching you, music is deafening, and you can feel your anxiety ratcheting up, because while there is nothing “wrong” in the situation, you feel wrong until your skin is crawling, you want to scream, and everyone is looking at you like you’re a freak for being unhappy in that situation
ND’s does this sound familiar? NT’s… chances are none of that bothered you. But it bothers us. This is a couple of drops in the ocean of social anxiety we swim in, and most days you are floating, and we are drowning. And the worst part is that we don’t understand why you don’t care.
Until we get used to it. Until our shields and our masks and our defense is so thick we can’t feel anything.
So when you ASK us for our ND manuscripts you are asking us to FEEL. For the first time. To reveal parts of ourselves we can’t share with anyone. And we, blindly, blissfully, stupidly trust you with our real selves.
I don’t have a solution for that either.
But this post was prompted by the thread, the idea and I had so many questions to my thoughts on it that I wanted to expand on it here, and while sometimes its very situational/contextual I will do my best.
I had a really wonderful CP turn to me and say about my first ND script that she wanted to see the emotions earlier. It took me a while to work out that rereading my work that my MC waited until she had all the info to make a decision, and the times she didn’t she shut down or panicked. I tried to be true, but it meant in shutting down I didn’t relay that to the reader.
All the narrative was the observation of other people. The reader had no idea how the MC felt about the situation. This creates an emotional distance from events, and that the reader is being told, rather than acknowledging the observational patterns of a ND perspective.
How do we give that to them? That apathy or apparent indifference or shutting down until we know how we “should” respond? I wrote a few short stories and found that NT’s ended up feeling awkward and disliking the MC and it clarified something that I’d long feared and never wanted to acknowledge.
Neurotypicals don’t like neurodiverse people.
An article for every single word in that sentence — and there are many more.
The first time I stumbled on such an article it felt like I would never have my autistic self heard. That I was in a vacuum of dislike I had no control over, couldn’t change, and it was shoving me down.
If NT’s don’t like NDs how do we make our writing relatable without making ourselves pathetic enough to invoke pity, or change ourselves so much we are masking the very person we were trying to pull forward. How do we engage without making ourselves the centerpieces in comedic confusion. What can we do to relate to them without hurting ourselves?
Because we shouldn’t have to make ourselves “likeable” for them to understand us. We work so hard for them, to accommodate, adjust, hurt ourselves to fit in. How do we make our work conform to what they are looking for? How do we be “right”? How do we “fit in”? How do we give them the manuscripts they keep screeching for yet keep rejecting?
I’ve seen writers in speculative use action to make NT readers care about ND character outcomes. I’ve seen a slower paving towards the ND voice to imply enough NT traits to lull the reader into a false sense of security. I’ve seen ND stories be set so hard and fast in contemporary/real world settings there was enough to keep NTs grounded and the point of curiosity that kept them reading was exactly what we are; neurodiversity. But these are few and far between as I watch more and more ND writers abandon ND stories and just write as close to NT as they can and worse still, those stories are accepted over ND stories.
HOW DO WE FIXT IT?!!?
I don’t know.
I don’t know.
I don’t KNOW!
I’ve tried. For years. And nothing I’ve ever done has been enough. BUT I’ve had a lot of great writers, cps, and editors help me. I’ve worked for years on my own ND writing, my own NT voice, and finding out what my ND voice sounded like and how to tease it out to the point it sounded true, and then make it more manageable for editors and easier to consume for NT readers. This is a grueling process and if you are trying to do it I recommend starting with short stories and working up to a novel and getting feedback along the way. Again, this isn’t a magic wand situation, but it’s what I’ve done that I’ve found makes my stories easier for NTs to absorb, and here are the tools (because we don’t gatekeep from other NDs or writers), that I used to help my writing;
While we wait to hear from the MC about how they feel about the situation, there can be an internal monologue, the hamster wheel I call it, a short internal insight into the worries over the MC, the possible outcomes, the worst-case situations listed.
On another note you can shut down; state outright that the MC disassociates, becomes apathetic in self defense/disinterest, whatever reason but tell the reader through the narrator’s voice they do that. The problem is that there needs to be other emotional connections to help the reader know the ND narrator does feel, so that the reader can feel with them.
Make overwhelming and meltdown situations relatable through show, within the mind, the conflicting thoughts, the pressure and negativity, our inability to think. But sensory too in lights, sounds, the cold sweats, compressed chest, whirling vision, fidgeting, screaming, outbursts, and chaos that swirls us up and spits us out as limp rags of our former selves.
Connect to the emotional strength it takes to recover from those moments. Make ticks and tells active and in text, that clicking a pen soothes anxiety. That habit is a coping mechanism. Touch aversion is a sensory issue. Too much sound stops our thoughts. Food sticking in our mouth. Taste making us gag. But bring the joy, please don’t forget the joy; the excitement over a cool rock. The hyperfocus made into a useful tool. Outside the box thinking that change the plot. Use your every day successes and wins to creative positive character traits. Remind them we are people too, and like them we have good and bad traits.
Tell Don’t Show:
I’ve been rapidly building my list of Naomi Novik stories because I’ve fallen in love with Spinning Silver. But I couldn’t help notice how… ND El, the main character of a Dangerous Education was, the things she did, how she reacted.
Whether or not the author intended it, and sometimes we don’t, or may not be ND (I couldn’t find anything on whether the Novik is ND), this book was an excellent way to sort through all the thoughts. But what I find that Novik excels at is telling in a way that isn’t telling.
It’s a masterclass on all those thoughts in our head and spilling them onto the pages in a way that keeps the reader reading. This is the hard part, there are so many thoughts in our heads, maybe we need to be voicey snippy sarcastic raw thoughts coming out.
Because to my mind, these thoughts didn’t slow down the narrative. They were a great and thoroughly engaging read. I’ll have my five star review in a week or two to break this down but I thoroughly recommend it. It’s yet to be a talent I can master myself though. One day at a time. One story at a time. Remember, we’re always learning and improving.
Show the Chaos:
Stimming. Social Awkwardness. Strong sense of justice. Not fitting in. Taking things literally.
A couple of weeks ago a colleague I like and thought I got along with refused in a dead pan voice to take an uber with me. I was tired. I’ve been so busy. I took it literally and I’m comfortable enough in my autism and my trust in him that I asked him if he really wanted a separate uber because I couldn’t tell.
I’m nearly forty and I still can’t tell the difference.
But we can show these in our stories. Paint these little awkward interactions, both the good and the bad through dialogue, actions, awkward moments that make us cringe for our characters because we’re so empathetic.
So use that too; note down how you feel, the conflict, and use the emotions, sense how your body feels and write those cues down for you to use when your characters are in those situations. Create your own library of awkward, weird, sensory things that happen to you every day to better relay what it’s like in your head.
The other reason I liked the Naomi Novik books was because it better helped me understand how I can do a bunch of thinking about a situation before I need to worry about taking away from the immediate action. I’m not quite sure how she does it, but I find reading her work so in tune with my own thought processes but with more sass than lingering over reasoning. Maybe that’s the trick?
Don’t go too deep:
HAVING SAID ALL THAT….
Uncovering these parts of ourselves, delving down into this kind of depth and reliving it as we write is fucking EXHAUSTING.
Small parts of my soul were carved out purposefully writing my first autistic book. I poured so much into it without realizing what the story was about; the hero using a perceived weakness as strength to save herself. But mostly about saving herself.
I wrote the book 2 years ago and just realized this is the theme today.
We need to give ourselves time. Be gentle to yourself as writers who were diagnosed early to uncover these things as we write. It’s cathartic but it hurts. Those who went undiagnosed and found out as adults need to be even gentler to themselves because this will hurt but it helps uncover who you are, to heal the trauma of what you did to yourself. It helps you find the real you. And to those who aren’t sure, who are still discovering be kindest of all, because you are already full of doubt and writing can bring out that doubt, but querying, getting people to read your work, that can shatter you.
Try to do this on smaller levels. I found that once I wanted to write ND stuff, I did a whole ass novel that fell apart in the query trenches because I was so adamant on making my character ND and get what they, what I wanted, I was less focused on connecting to the inner story and goals.
My best story to date with an ND character is a short novelette (8k words), that I’m currently seeking publication for, that I absolutely adore and should it get rejected in this next round I will make it available on my website. But working with short stories has got me more comfortable writing that voice, and I’m almost ready to write a full novel.
But I’m taking my time, and I’m being kind to myself while I figure out what that ND story looks like.
I say something to everyone who ever works with me; this is just my take. These are just my experiences, this is just the way I think, what I’ve observed, and found that all these things help a lot but they aren’t the cure all you see.
Because I still don’t have an agent. I still don’t have a novel with an autistic MC published.
The last book hurts me still that it was rejected over a hundred times, and maybe it was the writing, maybe it was that the MC was unlikeable, or the very real possibility was that the story wasn’t ready yet. It was too raw. Too much of what I wanted and not enough tangible moments to make sense to NT readers. Too much of me crammed in. Too much of what I wanted shoved inside to make it perfect in a way I wasn’t. I don’t know.
It took me three weeks to write this blog in a way that I thought would be helpful. In that time I’ve flown out of state for work, and then moved to another state. This is another reminder that you need to be gentle with yourself starting out. And if you want recommendations from ND authors here is my list of recommendations:
Ada Hoffmann – The Outsiders
Essa Hansen – The Graven Trilogy
Al Hess – World Running Down
There are many more authors who are ND and advocate for ND books, a special shout out to Kate Foster, especially as she helped me be more open on social media about what it was like to be autistic, and be more accepting of that.
For those still trying to work it all our, and want to try Deadset Press are doing an apocalyptic short story anthology and I’m helping them put it together. I’m looking for stories that I, as an ND person, can connect with so don’t sell yourself short, and don’t self reject. Write a story about the ND in you surviving an apocalypse, just like you survive every damn day.
This blog isn’t a magic key. I don’t know any of this will work.
But hopefully some of this helps explain or expand on those tweets in a way that helps you on your writing journey. Maybe something I said resonated in a way you can use. At the most, please know these are not definite answers. They are just the experiences I’ve taken away and they’ve left me a better writer.
Please just know if you are Neurotypical, give more space to your neurodiverse friends.
And if you are neurodiverse… I see you. I see your stories.
3 responses to “What’s With ND Rejection?”
Once got feedback that it didn’t seem believable that my autistic mc would be given solo.
That is gross and incredibly rude, I’m so sorry.
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Thank you for taking the time to put this together, E.J. Every insight you share is a gem. Hope the move went well. I will miss our catch ups. Take care and keep writing.