Log in

No account? Create an account

Seer of ghosts & weaver of stories

(You are very much not forgotten)

Previous Entry Share Next Entry
December Blogging Meme Topic(s) #3:
". . . this is how I feel about the act of writing, about all of the voices we pin to the page (we belong more to them than they to us)." Talk about how you feel about the voices you write, whether in fandom or original work?

If I recall, you were recently diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum. Do you think your neurotype has influenced the way you write, and if so, how?

(I should preface this entry by saying that this is the first time I've publicly discussed my AS diagnosis at any great length. This is a subject on which I hope to write more in future as I continue to read and to get my bearings; June this year was an accidental nexus-point for referrals that resulted in two different tracks of testing, medical and psychological, both of which should have been done years ago. The one that culminated in surgery, at least, is over and done with. I'm trying to move forward.)

For me, writing has always felt more like an imperative than an act pursued for fun or for any other reasons. Until my late teens to early twenties, expressing myself verbally to anyone but family members I trusted and / or the precious few exceptionally close friends I had was, in a word, impossible (and the act of accurately verbalizing how I actually feel about any given subject or situation is still an act with which I struggle as an adult, never mind how many years I've had to work on it or what I know now about how my mind works). I started writing poetry around the age of 12 or 13 as a release-valve for everything I couldn't say; it was painful to keep my mouth shut, but, being unable to open it, those emotion-fueled words had to go somewhere. Around the age of 14 or 15, I started treating my writing a bit more consciously as art even if the same motivations were still driving it; as long as I had to write things down, why not to try to make an actual skill of it? For a long time, I preferred drawing; I thought that if I practiced long and diligently enough, I could be an artist. Again, it was around 12 or 13 that I realized ten childhood years of sketching and painting were nothing but a spectacular failure (my peers with actual talent for it were getting visibly better at it; I was not). Writing wasn't just a psychological imperative, but a creative last frontier: if I couldn't do it, what was left for me? Even music, which I pursued into my first few years of college, went wrong for me because of the high-pressure atmosphere and toxic personalities you find in a conservatory setting. I'm still a singer, but not the way I used to be; I no longer take voice lessons, and the last time I performed with vocal and drama ensembles was a few years back, in the UK, during graduate school. Writing is quiet enough to live with.

This many years gone (I'll be 33 on December 20th), I can say that writing has both remained an imperative and successfully become the discipline I've mastered to a point that I probably never could have done with visual art or music. Poetry and fan-work function in similar ways for me in that they remain outlets for emotional reactions that I cannot, for the life of me, get past my lips without either causing myself distress or stumbling over what it is I'm trying to say. And, because I've spent just as long honing the technical-skill sides of conveyance (i.e. poetry and prose), I usually get sound pieces of art out of the exercise, too. The only thing I can't seem to write with the same level of frequency is original short stories, as evidenced by how few of them I've had published. People keep pressing me to try my hand at a novel, but this is a point of high anxiety: I know I'm capable of writing hundreds of thousands of words in only weeks, months, but never to the end of accomplishing what other writers seem to find so simple (i.e. building an entire world from the ground up; I can build original characters until I'm blue in the face, I'm great at that, but they're almost always just for use in short fiction and in verse). My fear is that writing-as-reactionary-and-self-expressive-imperative is all that I'll ever get out of it; namely, that my mind is not built for writing novels because I lack the essential type of creativity that's required for the job. Finally receiving a diagnosis of Asperger's (HFA) as an adult has been enlightening, but it has also left me somewhat terrified that the nature of my neurotype is also the very reason I can't just write a novel at the drop of a hat. I don't believe for a second that those of us on the autism spectrum lack creativity altogether, but from personal experience I'm beginning to question if, in my case, there's some truth to the limited parameters you sometimes hear about in clinical descriptions. Nothing else about this new piece of self-knowledge could possibly make me feel broken, but this? Very nearly does, because how else can you ever hope to one day make your primary living as a writer except by writing novels? Some poets are fortunate enough to attain levels of worldwide fame, but the percentage of those in comparison to the percentage of novelists at the same level is terrifyingly small (and I do firmly believe it's all down to luck, because I'm quietly confident that I'm as skilled a poet as any of them).

  • 1
Have you read any M. John Harrison? Most of his characters are glimpses of people, fitted for short story but not on the surface fitted for a novel. There is a range of mode of characterisation. Much of literary criticism praises interiority, but there are other ways of doing it: the quick sketch (Dickens, Winifred Watson), the outside observation (Trollope), the character who exists only in the minds of others (Maguire's Wicked).

I've never read any M. John Harrison, no - is he a short story writer or a novel writer; that is, are you saying he's a short story writer whose characters seem more like they belong in novels, or a novel writer whose characters seem more like they belong in short stories? I've read Dickens, but I largely can't stand him; I have never read Watson and Trollope. I read Maguire's Wicked the year it came out, and I loved it, but, strangely enough, "the character who exists only in the minds of others" is not something I remember observing in it. Can you explain what you mean by that? I would just reread it in order to find out, but I think my copy's still in an attic in Pennsylvania.

fjm Expand
ajodasso Expand
fjm Expand
ajodasso Expand
fjm Expand
ajodasso Expand
I presume you've considered staying a short-story author (not every writer *needs* to write novels!) or playing in other people's worlds (so... professional fan fiction, as it were)?

ok you might never be able to support yourself only through writing, but many novelists cant either.

Oh, of course I've considered staying just a poet and short story writer - the trouble with that being even that I don't write enough original short stories to be cranking out the collection after collection required to sustain it. Poetry is the one publishable thing I'm capable of writing in steady excess when I'm not distracted by anything else; otherwise, yes, I'd consider professional fanfiction (licensed novels and the like, I'm guessing is what you mean?), but none of the franchises that permit it are franchises I'm passionate about. The universes in which I'm most capable of writing are ones that will probably never license people to do such a thing.

Oh, I'm aware that many novelists can't, either - I'm merely highlighting the fact that poets have an even harder time of it than novelists do on average. It's a tricky thing to do in the first place, and then cut the tricky thing down by half again (or more) if your game is verse.

taldragon Expand
ajodasso Expand
taldragon Expand
ajodasso Expand
taldragon Expand
ajodasso Expand
taldragon Expand
ajodasso Expand
Thank you for sharing this all with us. It's very hard to give more than superficial advice to someone who wants to make a living as a writer. I can't do it (and I am a professional editor). From personal experience I know that novel writing is not for everyone. It has nothing to do with creative talent, or even skill; it's just a form that does not go with how some people write. I was encouraged by Alice Munro winning the Nobel Prize, based on her oeuvre of short stories.

When you say you're a professional editor, do you mean you hold a full-time editorial post with a publishing house or similar? I'm a professional editor in that I have edited for a few publications in the past and currently edit for one now (Strange Horizons), and I also take paying freelance editorial work as it comes. I'm aware that short story writers do occasionally make it just like poets occasionally do, but again: I don't even necessarily write short fiction often enough for it to amount to multiple collections (I have enough for one collection, and said collection was technically accepted a couple years ago by Candlemark & Gleam, but the editor seems to have gone quiet correspondence-wise, and I haven't seen any new titles forthcoming from the imprint in a while; I'm the kind of person who touches base about every six months like clockwork, so I know there's nothing I can do beyond continuing to send pokes).

Edited at 2014-12-03 06:23 pm (UTC)

vaysh Expand
ajodasso Expand
vaysh Expand
ajodasso Expand
vaysh Expand
ajodasso Expand
Wow, that was an accidentally super-quick reply! Thank you for posting so candidly.

I must say that the talk about limited parameters (not by you, but by clinicians, etc) fills me with a frothing rage, so I would like to debunk it here. You can see a list of actual novels by actual autistic people here: http://ada-hoffmann.com/autistic-book-list/ (it's "Tier 4"). Most of them are self-published or with very small presses, but then, most of everything by everybody is self-published. Caiseal Mór and Corinne Duyvis are two examples of successful traditionally published novelists on the spectrum. You also get people like Dawn Prince-Hughes on the list who get good publishers and critical acclaim for their memoirs and non-fiction but who had to go with much smaller publishers for their book-length fiction for whatever reason.

And my list only deals with authors who are out of the closet. I am 100% certain there are others either intentionally hiding (as Caiseal Mór did for many years, even though he is very visibly autistic in person) or not yet diagnosed.

By the way, I have heard many anecdotal reports (including many in clinical literature, although that was a while back and I can't remember precise citations) of autistic people who specifically get caught up in the world-building aspects of writing as a special interest, and just world-build until the cows come home, ending up with fantastically detailed settings and not really seeming to mind the fact that they don't have a plot or characters! So if you have trouble with world-building, I would say that's NOT an autism spectrum thing; it's simply the way that you happen to be wired as an individual.

I'm not trying to say you should go out and make yourself write novels and/or world-build. Do what works for you. But you are not broken and you are definitely not broken by autism.


*hugs in return*

It's kind of eerie - your date and topic request landed just as I was writing the second paragraph of this answer for sovay, and, much to my dismay, it had begun to answer the very question you were asking. Rolling both prompts into one post seemed like the most sensible thing to do. I have been sitting around since the testing in June and the delivery of results and clinical paperwork (in July and August respectively) thinking, God, I need to write about this, but even that will be almost as difficult and/or exhausting as verbalizing it would be. However, I'm beginning to connect the dots between my neurotype and the reasons why I treat writing as an imperative (and something I enjoy, but it started out as more of an imperative, that much I know), and that seems as good a place to start as any (especially if I have people helpfully prompting).

The limited-parameters talk makes me angry, too, but I get distressed enough every time a family member or someone who otherwise assumes writer = oh, then why haven't you written a novel? to feel afraid that there might be a seed of ugly truth in it? Ugh. Thank you for the link to that list. I've noticed something you mention here, which is that many spectrum writers fare incredibly well in traditional/mainstream publishing tracks when they're writing memoirs and nonfiction, but not so much when it's fiction or something else on the creative end (I'm fortunate to have two chapbooks and two collections of poetry published; these are both through independent publishers, however, one of which is just slightly larger, more global, and has more funding at its disposal than the others [Flipped Eye Publishing, my primary one, which has put out my full-length collections]). Poetry, of course, doesn't make money as such even if you manage to get published, and I'm becoming increasingly more weary of the traditional day-job grind and how incompatible it feels a lot of the time. I keep thinking that if I could just find the right angle, the right thing to write . . . but that just leads to more frustration. I haven't been out of academia for very long (just a few years), and finding a work environment in which I'm not stressed to the breaking point (by things that don't even count as sources of stress to most people) feels impossible.

I get caught up in already existing worlds and settings. I almost can't imagine getting so caught up in building a world that I wouldn't care if I didn't have plot or characters; actually, no, it's characters I get caught up in, it's characters who immerse me in the worlds of which I speak, because they're the ones who make me care about the setting. Of course, you'd think my OCs, too, would then act as conduits through which I can build worlds, but what good is it if those OCs are designed for use in already existing places? It becomes a weird feedback loop that doesn't lead to original work on a broad enough scale. I don't know; it's difficult to articulate the issue, but that's as close as I can come.

(Deleted comment)
I've sent you an email, etc.

I have always wanted to be able to get my reactions out in any way at all, but have (almost) never managed it, so I guess the grass is always greener in that respect - you feel limited in some way by not being able to write a novel whereas some people like me wish they could write *anything*.

I encounter lots of writers through work who don't write novels, although they often are so involved with various creative organisations and initiatives that I'm not sure *how* they make their primary income.

The irony here is that I've always considered you an incredibly expressive individual when it comes to writing *hugs* In fact, I've known you primarily through means of written correspondence over the years. Yes, I'm aware there are people who wish they could write at all, so I count myself fortunate that I can; the problem I'm facing at the moment is day-in, day-out misery that I'm not where I want to be anymore, because that made so much difference to my sense of self/place/belonging. I always try to find an angle of compensation, and if I'm going to be stuck where I am, it's going to have to be the day job. So far, the job that I have is not the job that I want, and every job for which I apply that's editorial in nature just seems to ignore the massive backlog of relevant experience that I have.

ajodasso Expand
ajodasso Expand
I have always wished for parity between poetry and short fiction markets as opposed to the novel (though I realize that is unrealistic). There are so many brilliant writers that need an audience, and yet poetry and short stories are somehow thought of as lesser, in some circles.

You have immense talent (hard won as it is), that I hope finds more readers. There is so little that is understood about the brain and its workings (with suspect tests and research adding to it), and I believe your creativity is as fierce as any, with no definitions required or needed.

As you did, I always found it easier to write than try and explain anything verbally. I struggle to say things in the right order at times. I cannot imagine what you went through of course, but I am grateful that you found joy in writing.

*Hugs* (sorry for the editing, my typing skills are horrid at the moment)

Edited at 2014-12-04 06:22 am (UTC)

They seem to be thought of as lesser in most circles; it's as if you're somehow not a real writer if you're not writing novels. I can't quite understand where this attitude comes from, because, for the longest time, poems and songs were the foundation of our literary/storytelling tradition. Modern education practices have a lot to do with it, I'm sure; most young people I meet come out of high school terrified of poetry because they've been taught to regard it as inscrutable and hard. Something has to change.


OK, I read all the comments here too, and SO MANY THINGS

While recognising that you are VERY DISTINCT INDIVIDUAL, and having a diagnosis doesn't really mean that much in terms of how much you are like any other person with the same diagnosis (you are prolly more like other poets than you are like any other group of people) I found reading Thinking in Pictures to be amazingly enlightening - and as much about how being autistic can expand your parameters, as much as "limit" them in other ways. (Limit? Really? Limit? Maybe "challenge". We all have challenges. I suppose we may all have limits too, huh.)

You mentioned before being OCD, or having some OCD characteristics - I think if you were to do a lot of reading about autism spectrum and OCD and other anxiety disorders, and even about other seemingly-unrelated conditions like ADHD, you'll find that the categories and labels that the mental health profession currently use are not all that useful, necessarily, for those of us who live with them; and they are not based in much if any objective measurements. I think over the next 100 years we may learn enough about the brain and genetics and environmental interactions to develop more accurate terminology. For instance, as you know, AS exists along at least three axes: cognitive, social, and sensory. HFA don't have an issue in the cognitive. The social is such a vast spectrum - I'm sure I'm on it somewhere well below optimum, even if not clinical. The sensory aspect is one overlooked by nearly everyone who is not in the AS world, but many many MANY ppl have sensory integration issues (you may not even be one of them, for all I know. I think the social axis is the one most relied on for an AS diagnosis). More than ever get diagnosed or treated, sadly.

OK, not sure where that was going, so will drop that topic. Sorry, I'm weird. See sub-optimal social skills, above *g*

On the writing front - that's so bizarre, that notion that you have to be a novelist to be a writer. Perhaps that comes from the discovery that you've made - writing novels is about the only way to make a living through writing. Nowadays. Well, except for the vast number of non-fiction writers - journalists, for the most part, including folks like Bill Bryson and John McPhee, who've turned their journalistic adventures into books - many books, that sell well.

But that you can build characters - to me that is the essential of a novelist. You don't have to "build" a world - we already live in one. You just create these characters, have them interact, et voilà, novel! :D No, I know it's not that simple, obviously. If you want to pursue the story/novel writing, I'd recommend seeing if you can hook up with someone who has complementary skills. For example, character-building would be my limiting aspect, I already know that, they'd all come out as some sort of variation as me, so I've never even tried at a novel. But ooh boy could I world-build! So much fun! Course I mean AU world build.

Anyway, listen for if any other possibly-compatible writers lament how much trouble they have creating compelling, believable, unique characters, and then maybe you could each solve a problem *g*

My other more fun but even less helpful suggestion: Invent the novel-poem. Or poem-novel. Am not sure what that would be - possibly not the epic (that's already been done ;-) but maybe you could figure it out :D

Oh, and the last thing your post brought to mind: How TS Eliot was a teacher in his early days, found it inhibited his writing, and switched to banking. Not sure if he ever made a living off his poetry - perhaps towards the end of his life, I dunno. But it made me think that you may find satisfaction in a day job that has little to do with writing, but pays the bills. Or perhaps not - you are your own unique individual! :-)

Do you know, I haven't read TiP yet, but it's on my to-read list once I'm done with Attwood. I'm familiar with Temple Grandin from her media appearances, though, and I've seen the biopic HBO made (I thought it was incredibly well done). You're right in that we're all different even in cases of shared diagnoses :) It's just...absurdly easy to question finding one mode of writing difficult when I have little trouble getting words upon words upon words out of myself in other contexts.

alltoseek Expand
ajodasso Expand
As others have said, it's just so bizarre that the novel is considered to be the thing that every single writer does, and that is somehow the pinnacle of all achievement. Novels are really hard, but damn it, so are short stories, so are poems. It's all writing, it all has a place; it's silly that there should be only One True Form in the public conception of what writers do.


*hugs* Very true. It's all hard; it's all work.

*tilts head*

Hits too close to home, or did I upset you with the post? Sorry if I did *hugs*

ajodasso Expand
ajodasso Expand
This is a few days delayed, but still: if you have trouble world-building, why not ask someone who can only do that? I have full worlds floating in my head and they are terrible in that they stubbornly refuse to have plots, or be put into words that are more than hand gestures and IM convos. If it's someone's head-world that has never been published, and it gets explained, or pulled out of one head and into another, does that still work? IDK. I feel like that's such a norm in TV (to work within the world established by someone else who then floats off and doesn't always have a lot to do with the show) and yet such a taboo in written media.

I feel like that's such a norm in TV (to work within the world established by someone else who then floats off and doesn't always have a lot to do with the show) and yet such a taboo in written media.

I think you're right about that.

Collaboration is something I've done in the past, so I certainly don't think I'd be averse! It'd be finding the story, too, though. And clearing enough bandwidth to account for such a lengthy project, given I already have so many ongoing...

Edited at 2014-12-15 03:32 am (UTC)

I have a new-ish friend who feels the same way about writing a novel. I know I can never write anything longer than a super short story because I just can't. There's nothing there.

I wish anthologies and novels were still published as serials. What about short stories--something like Winesburg, Ohio?

I'm fond of the serial format myself, so I hear you on that. What is Winesburg, Ohio? Is it an anthology, or is it a story with which I'm clearly not familiar?

ajodasso Expand
  • 1