Monday 4th September 2023: So you’ve just written two whole-ass books! On Being Insultingly Productive Behind the Scenes

Hi everyone!

Yes – I know. It’s half a year since one of these and now there’s two of them at once (please have a look at ‘Monday 11th September 2023: On Being a Neurodivergent Mentor Plus Book!’ also. Love to get some traffic going on this website after all this graft).

Well, on the day I officially published this blog, I instead sent in my novel to several literary agencies and professionals that have expressed interest previously. Teeming is finally done. Two days later, I had a meeting with my editor at Jessica Kingsley. The writing for Feeling Fast and Slow is also done: all I need to do is rejig the material into something that flows reasonably well. I don’t have to write anything extra. I’m not planning to, either.

Really, this blog is an answer to the question ‘where the hell have you been?’ because I have been neglecting this blog since May. There’s been four whole months since then! Plus 2023 has been pretty light on content from me online.

What on earth have I been doing? Well, writing two whole-ass books, that’s what I’ve been doing. Though, for the first part of the summer, I’ve been mostly avoiding doing that very thing. Apart from mentoring an increasing number of students, teaching languages and GCSE English, activist work, providing trainings on autism and neurodiversity and just, y’know, existing, I’ve also been very busy laying the groundwork for several academic papers (more on those in subsequent blogs). I’m still involved in academic research projects, too.

For Feeling Fast and Slow, I interviewed 28 people, usually for over an hour. It was a tonne of fun and really helped me develop my thinking about what empathy is for autistics, as well as figuring out how empathy as a concept is used socially. Why is it so important that we’re seen as unempathetic? This is what the interviews have helped me learn to understand. There’s no better way to learn to understand something than to really get into the weeds with others, especially if they are also more knowledgeable about these concepts than I am.

With Teeming, as many of you know, this process has taken a lot longer. Nearly seven years, to be exact. The first proper draft was only finished in late 2020 but it needed 3 more years, a lot more reading and a thorough set of rewrites in order to be sent back to literary agencies. Now it’s finally finished, I can say it’s the best thing I’ve ever done. I’m inordinately proud of the work I’ve done and I look forward to it landing into your hands sometime over the next few years.

In early June, I went to a stationary shop and bought A1 sheets of paper, for me to stick on the walls of my office. On my right, I drew out Feeling Fast and Slow. On my left, Teeming. As Teeming is longer and the first part in a trilogy, there was more to be written there. The double A1s were more than enough for me to get on with planning out FFAS. I connected the central concepts to the interview questions. Even contained within it, there’s a universe.

I had intended to take June, July and August off in order to simply write. But it wasn’t that simple. Until well into July, I was still having meetings, mentoring, teaching and generally working my arse off out of fear that there wouldn’t be enough money for my partner and I to survive until October, when mentoring would properly get started again. When I was once again beating myself up for not having written enough, he put his foot down and told me to stop all other work, so I could finally just write. And so, a bit shamefacedly, I did.

It was awkward telling my mentees that I wasn’t as reachable as I’d been before. I knew I needed to write at least 2,000 words a day in order to get FFaS over the line, let alone Teeming. I had 6 weeks to get both the line before the 4th of September. But I really love writing – how hard can it be? WRITING It’s REALLY hard to write. I do love it, I love being in a state of hyperfocus and completely concentrated on what I am supposed to do. I am also convinced that autism and ADHD are essentially the same thing, though the dopamine-redistribution is something that can be supported by medical science. I am thinking of starting those at some point soon. I never thought I had ADHD until I realised I just spent 5 years doing autism activism in order not to write my novel. (that joke stays, I’m sorry, even if it IS grammatically incorrect. It won’t scan otherwise).

First off, I needed the internet to be locked away in a vault. We have an actual vault, I’m not joking. Well, a bit. In 2021, I bought a piece of wheely luggage that we can lock up using a padlock. That’s where we put the wifi router on days where we both prefer not to use the wifi. The internet is the world’s greatest dopamine machine and I was putting in coin after coin after metaphorical coin and let myself be washed away into endless rabbit holes of clearly vital information that I never knew I could live without. I’ve used the internet like that for years, especially when I’m tired. It was my main anxiety about starting freelance work: I’d just spend all my time procrastinating. I know I could have made a joke there, but I decided against it.

See? Self-control.

Ironically.

Despite that last statement, I did nearly 100% Pikmin 4 as well, but I can’t always be on. Still, due to incipient phone wonkiness, meaning that I can’t devour podcasts as easily as I’ve done before; a sense of physical exhaustion due to burnout and maybe being a little bit depressed causing me to have to take a break with exercise, I did have time. I no longer had the internet, I didn’t have to take care of anyone but myself, I still didn’t do much writing.

In order to write, I needed to have the house clean. Otherwise I’d be pulled into doing that. During the second day in early August where I was home alone, I washed all of the bedding on a hot day. Because I could. And then hoover and dust everything in the house till it shone. Then there’s the anxiety: ‘WHY aren’t you writing?’ This one’s the pits.

HYPERFOCUS

For me, I know that pressuring myself to do anything means the same as someone else pressuring me to do something: I will find a way to not do it. This is something more usually associated with the PDA-profile, but I think it’s common in all autistics. When we want to produce work, being ‘disciplined’ is not what we need. In fact, the more external stressors hang off us doing the work, the more difficult it will be for us to do so, plus the more likely it is that we will not fully complete it or miss deadlines. The more we WANT to do something, the more external pressure we receive and the more internal pressure we put on ourselves, the worse autistic inertia seems to get.

‘But I thought you people were hyper-productive?’ I mean we can be: I can do entire days’ work in a couple of hours on a good day. I just burn out after that. But the point is not to think about work as homework. It’s too stressful, as a concept, for many autistics to see as anything other than a massive pain. Therefore we need something better. If we can find ourselves being able to do work we love doing and lose ourselves in it, then we can actually get somewhere.

Despite being classified as a form of dissociation, autistic hyperfocus is a joy. I love losing track of time as I write. The words just come out. It gives me energy. It’s like being on stage: I’m totally in control and totally in synch with what I’m doing. Like at Autscape this year, I have an amazing time for the hour and 45 minutes I’m on stage, but afterwards my energy just pools into my socks. I burn through my spoons, hard, but I create things that I’m proud of. I make my best work being hyperfocused. It’s life-affirming, rather than detached. I feel more myself than I do on days where I can’t hit the brain space where creation comes naturally.

FINALLY WRITING

So I spent an evening getting in contact with a guy on Patreon who makes music mixes for every year in the history of recorded music. It’s fantastic and great inspiration for my second novel. The next morning, I realise I have absolutely nothing left to do but write. So I start – by finding free transcription sites for the massive glut of interviews I’ve done. I find it, then check each of the interviews for spelling, grammar and allocate the transcription to either myself or the interviewee. These do the trick: I get inspired and I can’t stop myself from writing. There are a thousand words, two thousand, four thousand. It just keeps going. I decide to simply focus on FFaS, rather than on Teeming, because I’m actually in a pretty good flow with it.

After a while, the bulk of the book has been written! The day after Luke comes home, I produce over 10,000 words – my own words, not the transcriptions, I might add. Since the book was supposed to be 60,000 words, that’s significant. I realise that now is the time to put things together. I hit the word count – I even get to 91,000 words and that’s without the interviews included.

That, though, is where I hit a snag. I don’t know if my structure would make sense to a neurotypical. I think and write in an associative fashion that I’ve found works well with other autistic people, but when it comes to neurotypicals, I’ve often been accused of being rambly and structureless in what I create. The issue with the book is that it’s two main things: one, an exploration of autistic empathy and two, the way empathy is weaponised against autistic people – neurochauvinism. This is a tricky combination of factors to build a book around. Is it two books? Maybe. But then either book would lose a vital part of what it means. The ’empathy’ book would leave its ‘so what?’ question unanswered and the ‘neurochauvinism’ book might turn out to be too technical. Together, it would need the space to breathe, but not so much space that it would overwhelm the reader.

As a consequence, I decided to split the main threads of the book into different documents. First, the narrative about my partner, then the narrative about me that gives context to his, then the ‘mind’-stuff, more diffuse points that came out of the interview. The final document was the interviews, all 240,000 words of them.

I sent them to my editor, who was still on her holiday, in the middle of the night. That last day, Sunday, I worked for 16 hours straight. My partner had missed me quite a bit and my brain was shonky afterwards.

The outcome? I’ll just have to make a go of it. My editor said that she was happy to have a look at all the different documents, but that I should give it a go regardless, making my own structure. We’ll see what happens, but I don’t imagine it won’t be finished by the time October comes around.

TEEMING

Then Teeming. The way I work on fiction is reactive and I often get inspired by other things I’m reading, and a bit less by stuff I’m watching or listening to. Since putting in the 2020 submission draft, I’ve had writing mentoring via Mainspring Arts (hi Katya and Aoife!) and I’ve also written additional material, in fits and starts, in longhand. That’s why I’m always carrying at least one notebook. If a reasonable idea pops into my head, that’s where it goes.

So what did I do? I streamlined the narrative, didn’t break what didn’t need fixing and inserted the new narrative strands, binding them together with greater connectivity than was there before. I strengthened the van der Lubbe-parts and made sure the focus was more on Sara, equalising her with Frank. One of the pieces of feedback that I got from Aoife was to focus on Frank as the main character. I never thought that he was, though clearly, the book was placing undue focus on him.

My friend, the amazing novelist Alex Rugens, recommended I think about organising the structure more like a TV serial, with narrative threads for each character and closed shorter narratives for individual episodes. Those are all in there now. I sent off the novel to TGLA, who had shown interest since 2018, but also to the people who had helped me out previously.

On Sunday the 3rd, I had a meeting with Paul from Out on the Page, with who I convene the Queer Neurodivergent Writers’ Group (yet another thing I’ve been busy with these past few months – more on that soon!). He recommended I look at a new literary agency that works with queer and neurodivergent authors. Sent it off to them as well.

Lastly, I sent the manuscript to Max Porter, who’s a novelist based in Bath, who I kind of cornered in 2022 to initiate a chat with him about publishing.

AND REST

Last week? I was free. That was difficult enough, I was pretty burned out by the end of the summer and I was as difficult to my partner as that sounds like. He had been burned out pretty hard himself and was struggling to find new work. I’ll talk more about that in a subsequent blog.

WHAT ELSE?

Oh yeah, Autscape. That was fun. I write about my experience there and at a gay retreat I visited early in the summer in Feeling Fast and Slow – as a comparison between an inclusive space and a space that trumpets inclusivity but doesn’t actually make good on its stated intentions. More on that, of course, in the book itself.

My partner is my first reader, but he often isn’t the first person to finish reading. I did have to get him to read the parts concerning him, but his brain will simply not allow him to do things that he intends to do. As frustrating as that can be, I know I’m just as bad, in manifold ways. We are just irritating in different fashions. More on that soon.

CONCLUSION

In the end, yeah, both books are done. Evidently, my brain hasn’t joined the land of the living yet. It will soon! But not yet. Lots of love in the meantime, though.

I didn’t intend to write as much as I have, but I am going to have to push the brakes for today. I’ve missed you, so I look forward to re-engaging with all of you very soon. Also, please let me know if you’d like to receive the blog via email, bc I’m kind of tired of irritating people with Whatsapp messages. If you’re on my Whatsapp, you have my email address. Also, after writing the blogs themselves, I’m usually tired and would like to rest with a cuppa.

OK BYE EVERYONE!!!


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Categories Feeling Fast and Slow/Money/On Burnout/Teeming/Uncategorized/Writing

Post Author: jorikmol

Professionally Autistic

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