Jan 6, 2015
Over the weekend I caught the tail end of a Twitter discussion centered on the hashtag #dontselfreject, created by writer and editor Rose Lemberg in response to an essay by writer and editor Nisi Shawl in the literary quarterly The Cascadia Subduction Zone. Nisi Shawl’s essay, titled “Unqualified,” is about how difficult it is for writers of color, and particularly African American writers (Nisi is African American, among other identities), to develop the confidence to try to get published — essentially, how hard it is to believe that their stories are valuable and worth it. If you have $3, you should buy the January 2015 issue of The CSZ containing Nisi’s essay because it’s totally worth it (plus you get poetry!).
Rose Lemberg started the #dontselfreject hashtag to talk about the issues faced by marginalized writers. By marginalized she means not only African American writers, but other writers of color and queer writers. (Rose is queer, among other identities. It feels a bit weird to identify her and Nisi as “marginalized,” but I want to make it clear that they’re speaking from personal experience.) You can read the storified version of Rose’s tweets here.
I didn’t catch onto #dontselfreject until Sunday, but as soon as I saw it I realized how valuable this discussion was. I tweeted some thoughts with the hashtag, and I wanted to elaborate on them in this post, because #dontselfreject raised a whole lot of feelings in me.
I basically rejected my own fiction for 10 years. That’s why I didn’t get published till mid 30s. I’m still fighting the urge to self reject
— Malinda Lo (@malindalo) January 4, 2015
When I was growing up I wrote nonstop: three complete fantasy novels, several plays and short stories, hundreds of poems. I talked to my grandmother about writing, and she was my number one source of support in this because she too was a writer. I had some English teachers who also supported me 110%, and they made me feel legitimate as a writer. However, I also grew up with parents who told me I could not and should not be a writer because it wouldn’t pay well and it simply wasn’t a logical career choice. I know they were trying to give me their best advice, but given the fact that my mother was (and is) a musician, the message of “don’t be a writer” was totally confusing. Then I went to Wellesley College, and even though part of my college application was a series of five poems, there was no way I could see myself as an English or creative writing major. I didn’t go to one of the best colleges in the country to waste my time writing stories (I thought). I majored in Economics and Chinese Studies, but I did sneak in a couple of writing workshops in on the side. Those workshops were wonderful. Confusingly, I also really loved Economics (and still do); I hadn’t figured out yet that writers are interested in tons of things all the time. CONTINUE READING →