I’m thrilled to have Rachel Thompson back for another guest post to discuss her experience with the naysayers who tried to keep her from writing. You can read my post on the same topic on her website here.
- Your writing isn’t fit for publication.
- You need to stick to humor. Nobody cares about another ‘I’m a victim, woe-is-me’ story.
- You just don’t have the talent for any agent or publisher to pick you up. Stick with self-publishing.
One of my writing mentors, someone whose opinion I valued, someone who is an expert in the publishing world, said this to me about four years ago, when I shared my current WIP (work in progress) from my third book. It was the first time I had shared publicly my story of being sexually abused as an eleven-year-old child. I had already written two bestselling, award-winning satirical humor books, and this person very much wanted me to continue down that path.
But writing more humor didn’t feel right to me. I was experiencing some emotional and personal turmoil — someone once very close to me had committed suicide in a most violent way, and that created a hole in me I needed to fill writing about loss, longing, love, grief, and ultimately, as these things do, these things that drive us to places we’ve wandered away from by filling our days with family and loss and longing and love and grief, I moved deeper and closer and stepped and danced around the fires that lapped at my toes.
I touched the box I’d closed all those many years ago. I opened it. I started pulling out and examining the contents. It was time to lay myself bare.
Writing about the abuse became well, while not exactly cathartic (it doesn’t change what happened), a way for me to understand the many, many ways I’d been affected without ever realizing it, internally as well as externally. The more I wrote about it, the more I had to write about it. Poetry, essays, blog posts, and ultimately, my book, Broken Pieces.
Excitedly, I shared a few of the essays and poems I’d written with my mentor, and as part of a critique group she led. The group loved them — one member cried, later sending me her own story of abuse (something that still happens almost daily). The leader, however, tossed it to her assistant who immediately tore me down, discussing my lack of craft, lack of storytelling ability, and on and on it went. When she was done, it was the leader’s turn to attempt to crush me (with the statements at the beginning of this post).
I won’t lie and say I ignored them. I was still a fairly new author, with just a few books under my wing, and these people were industry vets. It hurt. It hurt, a lot. I felt like a total loser.
However, I had been a writer since age ten, been blogging (with a successful following) for four years at that time, had taken numerous creative writing courses in college and throughout my life, minored in Journalism, sold several magazine and online publication stories — I had some chops. I believe now, looking back, that I put myself into this vulnerable situation because I believed they had good intentions, and because of the riskiness of my storytelling — not everyone is comfortable with the subject matter.
After this group meeting, I felt myself going into a depression, and I didn’t like that feeling at all. I couldn’t pinpoint exactly what it was that was bothering me:
- Was it their accusation that I wasn’t talented enough?
- My supposed “lack of craft?”
- Or was it something deeper, having to do with the minimization of telling my story, something I’d dealt with my entire life?
Most survivors will tell you that they quickly move out of victim mode — it’s not a place anyone who has experienced trauma wants to be in. It’s painful, and it’s uncomfortable. Your entire being hurts, you want to escape, but there’s nowhere to go, so you learn to survive. Sadly, however, we ARE victims of crimes, despite negative societal connotations to the contrary. Bad shit happened to us.
Writing is a powerful technique to help us not only survive, but thrive. Sharing our stories empowers us. When those around us attempt to minimize the power of our stories, as our families or abusers have done most of our lives, our immediate, subconscious reaction is to turn inward.
And then, we fight back.
Not only did I leave that group, I wrote my story, self-published it, and it became a bestseller, winning ten awards, and it still sits in the #1 spot on Amazon’s Women’s Poetry list after three years, #2 on Women Authors, and Top 20 in Memoirs! I also sought out a therapist — the fabulous Bobbi L. Parish, herself a survivor of childhood incest — who specializes in working with survivors of childhood sexual abuse, and together we host #SexAbuseChat every week on Twitter (Tuesdays, 6pm pst/9pm est).
For almost two years, I directed the Gravity Imprint for Booktrope Publishing, which focused on stories of trauma and recovery (Booktrope is closing at the end of this month but the authors and their stories will continue to thrive and for that I’m proud and grateful to have been a part of this amazing journey). I released Broken Places in 2015 and it also has done amazingly well, also hitting #1 on those same lists and still ranking highly. Finally, I’m thrilled to share that I just signed with Lisa Hagan Literary Agency, and Shadow Teams NYC Publishing for all my Broken books and upcoming BadRedhead Media business books.
I’m currently writing Broken People, the last of the trilogy, which will focus on how victims of trauma move from victim to survivor and then, to thriver. What happens to us as we move through each stage? We are victims of horrific crimes — why do people tell us continually to ‘get over it?’ Our childhoods were taken from us in a terrible way at a very young age; I was eleven years old, the same age as my young son. I can’t even imagine what that would be like for him or any child. To minimize that grief, that rage, the humanity of that child, is egregious. Where’s the compassion?
Ultimately, I cut off all contact with this mentor as well as the entire group, though two members did kindly connect with me within about a year to apologize, explaining that the mentor had set up the entire scenario to cut me down. To this day I don’t understand her motivations, and I really don’t need to. It doesn’t matter.
In fact, I want to thank her. That probably sounds crazy to you, but just like the trolls and bullies who tell me to get over it simply because I wrote my story, share others’ stories, and strongly advocate for all survivors, I believe the same is true of this person: her reaction showed me that I’m on the right path, and that for me is a win.
- Can You Win By Losing? Sometimes, Yes - May 20, 2016
- This is the Reason We’ve Lived in Shame Long Enough - April 29, 2016
- Branding 101 For Authors: What you Need to Know - April 14, 2016
8 thoughts on “Can You Win By Losing? Sometimes, Yes”
I wonder if the mentor was jealous of your writing skills, Rachel. It’s not everyone who can write good humor, then write a poignant collection of essays and poems about abuse. But brava to you for turning that negative experience into a positive.
When I think back to the time when Rachel was experiencing all this, Mary, I always thought it was jealousy. What you say is so true… why else would this person work so hard to tear Rachel down?
As someone who has known me the longest (as both a colleague and a friend) through that experience, you definitely saw much of what went on from the outside and later, were privy to a more insider view, C.
People fascinate me, which is why I likely tend toward writing nonfiction — to this day, I don’t have any answers for that whole experience, but I’d still love to understand her motivations. Maybe it was jealousy, maybe it was some kind of power trip, maybe she hurt in some unknowable way and lashed out at me for convenience sake…
I do know that once I left that group, it started a mass exodus. People can only be treated poorly for so long. But why was she like that at all — did she think she was somehow helping me? Why was Chuck like that with you (in your post on my blog)? Why do people derive pleasure in hurting others? I’ll never get my mind around that.
I appreciate your kind comments. I didn’t see it at the time, but probably because I had my own self-doubts as a writer, and she was (and likely still is) quite successful. I’ve basically shut that door so hard, and blocked her so completely out of my life, that I don’t check on her at all – not on social media, not on how her books are doing, nothing.
In fact, when I went to ask someone I still work with from that time period about that a situation, to be sure I was remembering it correctly, I couldn’t even remember her last name (which kind of tripped me out LOL). She did have her own history, and we had discussed how she would cover that up with humor. I wondered later if somehow my level of honesty was perhaps too much for her. I don’t know.
This is a great post, Rachel. What a shame to have a mentor treat you in that way! It’s great that you were you able to keep writing and publishing despite her comments. Inspirational!
thank you, Melissa! It was a learning experience, definitely. I believe most people have our best interests at heart, and I learned a lot from her, good and bad.
The experience definitely taught me how NOT to treat people, and how to mentor others, so for that I’m truly grateful. xx
Isn’t that terrible, Melissa? Mentors are supposed to encourage and uplift someone, not try to destroy that person’s spirit.
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