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Things neurodivergent writers are sick of hearing: a series

“You have to have a thick skin to be a writer. Rejection comes with the turf.”

The second half of that statement is inarguably true. We’ve all heard the stories. JK Rowling was rejected a thousand times before Harry Potter was picked up, Stephen King had similar terrible luck before his debut Carrie sold for some astronomical figure. And yet there they are, rolling around in banknotes like Scrooge McDuck.


I mean, it is. But that doesn’t mean that rejection should be easy to shrug off, or that if you don’t move on emotionlessly that you are somehow not a proper writer.

I have seen a ton of posts recently about the inevitability of rejection and how most of the time it’s not about the quality of the writing — and that’s from the horse’s mouth: I heard an actual competition judge say recently that she rarely sees bad work. It makes sense, doesn’t it? If you are submitting, you are likely to be sending in your very best stuff, proofread and spellchecked to death. She went on to say that out of a hundred entries, ten will be magnificent and go straight to the top, but choosing the rest of the longlist is purely down to luck and personal taste, not a matter of getting rid of the remaining 80 horribly written pieces.

So we can relax, knowing that it’s nothing to do with skill it’s just the nature of the beast. Accept it, they say. Move on, they say.

All good advice.

But if you are ASC or ADHD (or both), you probably have this great bonus feature called Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria. It's a controversial issue – some parts of the community see this as just another aspect of emotional dysregulation (i.e. not being able to manage your inner world when the outer world is kinda crappy, like a faulty thermostat), and others say this is a separate, core feature in its own right. Who knows. Who cares?

What I do know is that this idea resonates. Good Lord, does it resonate.

Rejection Sensitivity means being primed for perceiving even neutral events as rejection; things like your partner not looking up when you speak, or not getting any response to a tweet.

But it's not just about form, it’s about degree.

Both perceived rejections like the ones above as well as actual rejections (getting turned down for a date, not getting the job, being denied a bank loan) can result in massive, painful bouts of low mood, anxiety, hopelessness and an internal narrative looping every five minutes on the subject of what a worthless, air-stealing dilbert you really are.

This shit can last for days, and the most annoying thing is that you know the reaction is disproportionate. Being neurodivergent doesn’t make you stupid (regardless of that nasty inner voice). We know that it's just the algorithm and not that the entire Twitter community hates us, we know our partner is super distracted with work right now; we know the job wasn’t really right for us.

The problem is our nervous system doesn’t know those things and by then it’s too late. The amygdala is already kicking out signals to manufacture stress chemicals (cortisol and adrenaline) like the neurological equivalent of Pablo Escobar.

So if you’re an ND writer, hearing that you just have to develop a thick skin is just so unhelpful, and I recommend depositing that kind of information in the brain-file marked “bollocks to ignore”.

Anyway. Beyond lobbying parliament to outlaw impersonal standard rejection emails, what can we do?

Well, we can accept that we’re sensitive. Rejection is going to hurt, and our skin is likely to stay tissue-thin forever. Let’s not add shame on top, just because we don’t react like neurotypical people do.

We can also stand by the view that having a thick skin has nothing to do with being a writer who is “out there”.

What we can do is prioritise learning a ton of self-care skills, and seek support.

Because rejection does come with the turf and it is going to happen frequently.

So, feel hurt, if it hurts. Don’t act like it hasn’t happened, or pretend to be like, totally unbothered, man. Acknowledge it, and take care of the injury. That will look different for different people, but for me it means talking to a trusted friend who will just listen and remind me of my successes. It means writing something else and remembering that I do it for love. It means having a bath, reading, being quiet for a bit…and waiting for it to pass.

And take it from me, it does pass.

Be kind to yourselves, and keep writing my friends.

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