Why my neurodivergence is a barrier to my development as a writer

Posted on September 16, 2021 in Uncategorized

Emerging writers are quite possibly at the toughest point in their careers, as they try to develop a portfolio of writing, a novel, a poetry collection – whatever it may be – but with little respect in the industry, and few accolades, if any.  We’ve got the thirst, the drive, but it’s the start of the battle and we must prove ourselves worthy. In my experience, far too much weight and expectation is put on a writer’s ‘track record’ and whether their work has been published in anthologies or ISBN/ISSN publications.


For neurodivergent writers, hunting for the opportunity to be published is an extremely challenging feat. I’ve been talking with a lot of emerging and disabled writers, and with neurodivergent writers in particular, sifting through potential opportunities is one of the top listed barriers to their career progression. It’s a tough slog for anyone keeping on top of open and closed submissions of various publications, not to mention the myriad criteria. Throw in cognitive dysfunction, ADHD, memory issues, problems with listing data and remembering to check it, and it can soon become overwhelming. To the point where people stop submitting. And not to mention some anthologies don’t accept work from someone who’s not been previously published.


This idea that someone must prove that they’re worth their salt directly impedes neurodivergent creatives in receiving funding to develop creative practice.


I’ve applied to our arts funding body, Creative Scotland, for creative development funding three times, unsuccessfully. This is of course not unusual, it’s over-subscribed and highly competitive. But in the meetings I had following my rejection, I’ve been advised that ‘some kind of track record’ or sign of ‘quality’ would go a long way to supporting my application, showing I’m less of a ‘risk’. Despite it being clear that my writing was ‘excellent’ and ‘publishable’. Prior to my third application, to the Inclusion Fund, I was encouraged to consider pairing with a mentor (which I did include in my application) and to consider developing a project about ‘my disabled experience’, as I’d been trying to highlight in my meeting that I was having to focus far too much on other (paying) work such as events and consultancy.


This expectation of a track record is problematic because it neglects to consider the barriers faced by neurodivergent creatives, and so it’s exclusive of them. It says we’re not as worth investment as other artists, that our output, our message, is not of the same value as someone who doesn’t face these barriers. And that’s painful. It’s also deeply wrong, and ableist.


It seems ironic that, an application I made to a diverse critics programme funded by Creative Scotland was successful. And £1500 was very gratefully received. I put the money to developing my novel writing craft, nature-writing and poetry.


I’m delighted (and a little relieved) that since I was denied creative development funding, I was chosen to be mentored in the Write Mentor Summer Mentoring Programme. I met a wonderful community of emerging writers who became beta readers and critique partners, invaluable at this early stage in our careers.


I’ve been shortlisted for two awards this year. I still haven’t placed a short story in any of the ‘lit mags’ which were suggested when my funding application was rejected.

I don’t know if I ever will. It distracts from my goal, and it’s incredibly exhausting to follow this prescriptive path.


Knowing personally how beneficial mentorship has been to my own development, I’d love to see mentorship for neurodivergent writers which focuses on guiding mentees through the process of submitting to several opportunities. I know myself – I go back to the same platforms because it’s a truly daunting task to try and find and submit work to new places. Particularly if it’s a cold pitch.


The same goes for querying agents and publishers. There’s a vastly prescriptive format when it comes to querying: Letter – personalised salutation, three paragraph blurb, bio; Synopsis, one or two pages; chapters – anywhere from five pages to three chapters. Every single agent will have their own preferences and the savvy writer must do their due diligence and navigate various forms or webpages to identify whether to submit via email or form, which materials to include, and which books to use as comparisons (thoughtfully based on your chosen agent’s MSWL (manuscript wishlist). There’s a lot of terminology to get your head around. And it takes hours to methodically submit to even a handful of agents, tweaking the letter to make it just right. Even then, what if your three-paragraph summary, or one-page synopsis, doesn’t quite capture the essence of a layered, complex story and characters? Not every writer is creating a fast-paced, high-concept thriller. Nor is every reader looking for one.


When I attended a business course for creatives in 2019, my idea for an app was one where writers could upload pitches to a central database that publishers can search through. They come to us, rather than the other way around. I think something similar could work with querying.


I think it’s important for publishers to be aware that there’s excellent content and writing out there that they are missing and I encourage them to solicit writing from neurodivergent authors. I think you’d be surprised, if you reached out and had a conversation.


Not one size fits all.


I wish funders and even publishers would think creatively about what ‘makes’ a writer, what should be celebrated about one’s career. We all are unique, so why can’t our career path be? Why can’t opportunity be shaped to fit the individual and their needs? Wouldn’t that be fun? Imagine, what work we’d see then. The diversity. The innovation.


When artists are given the freedom and support to produce the work of their hearts.

To feel proud of their achievements, whatever they are.


By Julie Farrell