The literary world often feels like a big, insider-y club that I can’t get into. I see the same names over and over again on the best bylines, biggest book deals, and most prestigious panels. The select few teach workshops at impressive institutions, blurb each other’s books, and endorse each other on social media, insider-y BFF-style.
Some people in the industry return my emails. Many, many do not. When they don’t respond to my follow-up email either, sent after a reasonable waiting period, I occasionally feel a flash of respect for their unwavering commitment to unresponsiveness. I understand that people are busy, but facing this wall of silence, over time, is demoralizing.
Being on the outside, I spend a lot of time feeling like I’m pounding my fists on a window and screaming, “Look at me! Pay attention to me! I have something to say!”
This is not good for my self-esteem.
I also spend a lot of time in my day-to-day life feeling like an outsider. Whether it’s walking down the street or scrolling on social media, I feel the pang of being separate, wondering why other people seem to have an easier time navigating life, career, money, relationships, friendships, family, intimacy, connection, happiness, you name it.
This is not good for my self-esteem either.
I have to admit that I have a problem with distorted thinking, so part of this outsider identity is probably self-created and not totally in line with reality, and at times I likely feel like an out-of-place outsider in situations where I am not. Part of it though is probably legit. And part of it is probably a result of how the harsh realities of being a writer interact with my own psychological makeup.
Several years ago I pitched an essay about how I overdosed on self-help. It was eventually published elsewhere, but the first place I submitted it passed, saying that they were worried that most women wouldn’t relate.
This response made me really, really angry. I knew people would relate. Because I know that I can’t be the only one who’s a human being who struggles.
I get this a lot from gatekeepers: I didn’t relate. I don’t think people are going to relate.
Maybe in a certain world things aren’t human and messy and painful and hard to say and uncomfortable to look at. Perhaps in a certain world people don’t relate to difficulty and struggle. That’s a world I can’t relate to, though.
I recently saw a business coach post on social media that she could teach you how to connect with influencers and get on the inside.
Don’t do this. First of all, the word “influencer” makes my skin crawl. And second of all, trying to connect with the “right” people puts them above you and devalues you.
By definition, there’s not that much room in the inner circle. Which leads me to believe that across the world, most people, at some time or another, feel like they’re on the outside: the only one who can’t get it together, be in a relationship, achieve success, connect with others. The only one who’s having a hard time. The only one who struggles. The only one who’s in pain.
So I am here to tell you that you are far from alone. Don’t try to fight your way into the inner circle. Don’t try to get in the good graces of influencers. Don’t bang your fists on the glass and scream, “Notice me!” until your voice is hoarse and your hope is gone.
Instead, write from this place—this raw, honest, messy, hard-to-look-at place. Use this primal need to be seen and heard to fuel you and pour that screaming into your writing and write as loud as you can.
I need to write in large part to know that I am not alone, and let other people know that they are not alone. And the responses I have gotten from people who’ve read my writing have proven this to be true, over and over again. I AM NOT ALONE. YOU ARE NOT ALONE.
Don’t try to get into the inside. Write from the outside. And we will all be right here with you, motherfucking relating.