A lot of us on the spectrum like writing. It’s easier for us to get our thoughts out on paper because we get more time to organize them.
Plus we read all the time. Reading helps us understand the human condition and makes us feel like we’re not alone. In my experience, we’re impartial to science fiction and YA.
It’s tough though, being a writer with Asperger’s. Even if it outwardly sounds perfect. Here’s some problems you might come across and tips that might help:
1.) Character Development. If you have difficulty understanding people’s motives then it will naturally be difficult to write about them. But writing about people might not be as hard as understanding what they’re thinking in the moment. Many of us can pick up on things once we’ve had time to think about them. Sometimes it’s being expected to respond immediately that makes social skills still such a problem for us as adults.
But character development in fiction is even hard for NTs. It’s creating an entire human being from scratch. With as many little quirks and inconsistencies as somebody real.
Luckily this one’s pretty easy to solve. Just base your characters off people you know. Balzac did it. So did John Kennedy Toole. Think about what you think your friends would do in a given situation and then go from there.
2.) Being Emotionally Evocative. This has always been a problem for me. In fact that’s how I got the name for this blog. I shared a very personal piece (about sex) in a writer’s workshop. One girl actually got mad at me. She thought I sounded unrelatable because I didn’t describe what I was thinking. She said I sounded nihilistic. Like a robot.
That hurt so much. Especially because I was writing about the most emotional time in my life. I guess I was so caught up in my own feelings that I didn’t realize they weren’t coming out on the page. And I can understand why people would be put off by a deeply personal story told without any feeling. It’s creepy.
This one’s tougher. Having problems understanding and articulating our feelings is one of the hallmarks of autism. I’d recommend doing a lot of soul-searching before you can expect to be a good writer. Good writers should have an awareness of other people. But they at least need to have a strong awareness of themselves.
Also, alcohol helps. It brings forth the feelings that you’ve been scared to acknowledge. Drinking every time you write is a bad idea for psychological health of course, but they say Hemingway had a beer in one hand and a pen in the other.
3.) Being Relatable. This is mostly about how well you convey emotion in your writing. But it’s also about subject matter. It’s very hard to get people without Asperger’s to read about it. But that goes with any personal problem. Most of us wouldn’t read cancer blogs unless we or somebody we know had cancer.
Some people with Asperger’s write mostly for the autism community. Which is great. We need strong voices to bring us together. There are so many autism bloggers out there who describe our struggles much better than I could. (See: Rudy Simone, Cynthia Kim, Lydia Brown, etc.)
And many people with autism don’t write about it at all. I didn’t for years. I had a humor blog and a fashion blog. We might run into trouble if we’re doing creative writing (the fashion blogger community is very cliquey and prefers a personal or professional style over analytical-type writing from an amateur) but it’s less likely to be a problem if we’re writing about more objective special interests like science.
I probably picked the toughest road by wanting my Asperger’s writing to appeal to NTs. In order to get the general public to care about us, you have to use some humor and glamour. Your work has to be heightened. I’m not above strong language and some creative license although I haven’t done that second part at PsychCentral.
Writing for an audience is a tough balance. You want to be aware that other people will be reading your work, but you don’t want to pander to them. Some people write their first draft for themselves and then edit it to cut out the overkill. Chances are if you’re feeling something, other people are feeling it too. EL James is a very successful and emotionally evocative writer and her books read like she wrote them entirely for herself.
4.) Not Knowing Which Details To Include. Or Using Too Many Details. This is classic Asperger’s. We figure things out by tying together details instead of looking at the whole picture. Which can lead to some interesting insights, but it also makes us hella long winded.
Some people write outlines to help them stay on track. Some people create a word limit for themselves. The best thing I can suggest is to have a good editor. My clubbing with Asperger’s piece was about twice as long before it got cut down. Like many aspies, I have a hard time discerning what audiences will find boring. We tend to be self-referential. Which is fine to an extent. But think about why another person would want to read your essay. What would they learn?
5.) Run-on Sentences. So many of us do this. It drives readers crazy. Just check yourself. And again: a good editor.
6.) Time Management and Distractibility. Another classic Asperger’s problem. I’m always wondering how other people find so many hours in the day.
It’s a good idea to set a writing schedule. Say you want to get this, this, and this written in a week. And hold yourself to it.
I tend to overshoot. But that might be better than undershooting. Writers suggest working on a computer that’s not connected to the Internet. Or even writing in longhand. Sometimes going to a coffee shop helps me.
Just try to be consistent; that’s the most important thing. Treat your writing like a job. Because whether you’re getting paid or not, it is.
7.) Productivity. I don’t know if you read that study that showed autistic people had creative ideas but less ideas in general. In my experience that’s 100% correct.
Bloggers are supposed to be prolific. That’s how we gain a following. There’s so much out there that it’s hard to cut through the noise unless you’re putting new stuff out there constantly.
Accept your limitations though. And don’t feel like you’re less talented or less qualified because of them. I will never be a prolific writer. And neither will many, many others. Think of all the one-hit wonders in literature. A high output is admired, but quality and quantity aren’t correlated either way.
Plus, at the risk of sounding trite, writing is like a muscle. The more you develop it, the easier it is to use.
8.) Writing Weird Shit. You know, the stuff you think comes across as funny and relatable but doesn’t. Every aspie I know has unleashed at least one off-tone status upon Facebook that made people embarrassed for us. The better your social skills get, the less you’re going to do this. Try to socialize as much as you can so you can get a better sense of how people talk.
Reading a lot helps too. Especially contemporary and informal stuff. Thought Catalog taught me how unpretentious young people like to write. A year after I started reading it I became a regular contributor.
9.) Being Isolated. We tend to not get out much to begin with. And if we’re taking our writing seriously we end up spending even more time alone.
Thing is, to be a good writer you have to talk to people. It gives you more to say. It helps you understand which stereotypes are true and which aren’t. And it helps you understand why. Besides (disputedly) Emily Dickinson, most popular writers of today and yesteryear have had fairly interesting social lives.
I’m not saying you have to be a party animal. But you should talk to enough people and get to know a few of them deeply enough so that you’ll understand what they care about.
Writers are scavengers. We glean things from the general consciousness so we can put our own spin on them and throw them back out into the world. Bloggers do this with carefully selected details. Fiction writers say things through metaphor that would be difficult to digest if told directly.
Hopefully this helps. I only know this much because I’m working through all of these problems. Please let me know if I missed anything!
*Image from fanpop.com.