Most autistic people I know like to write. I know I do. In my experience, autism can be both the catalyst and a setback for putting out good stuff. It gives us the spark. And it definitely gives us the curiosity. Our special interests are a real asset here. We don’t have to be flashy or loud. We just have to know our shit.
Writing helps me sort out ideas in my own mind. One of my more unnerving autism symptoms is that I don’t always know what I’m thinking until it comes out. I see a page full of words that look performative to me at first, but over time I’ve learned that that’s how I actually feel. It’s a great antidote for alexithymia.
I used to run a beauty blog. I wasn’t well-known or anything, but I got almost enough traffic to make me happy. I had regular readers. I interviewed a couple of high flyers. I even went to conventions, which were an eye-opening experience because everyone there was as arcane and obsessive as I am. And they’re neurotypical.
But it took me a while to learn the tricks of the trade. At first I wrote strictly about products. I didn’t get it: this was about BEAUTY!! Why were people writing about their ex-boyfriends?!
Answer: blogging is personal. More so than fiction or journalism. It’s more immediate: you read the thoughts that someone else had today, mull them over, and wait for more of their input later on in the week. Like a conversation. I got better at it, but I was never charismatic enough to get the long line of comments that a lot of the other bloggers did. (Even when I commented on their blogs religiously.)
Consistency is a problem too. Autistics love routine. But we also experience burnout and let things slide for a couple of weeks. You can’t do that with blogging. You’ll lose your readers. New content’s coming out every second for them to keep up with. And your most devoted readers are going to rightfully feel betrayed.
You also need to develop some solid theory of mind skills. I’ve read those earnest lectures from life-improvement bloggers who nag at you about how to “deliver value.” It’s true though. As autistics, we have to keep reminding ourselves to think about what OTHER people would want to read. I think we develop this skill naturally over time. But the thing that helped me the most was getting out of my apartment and talking to as many different types of people as I could.
And of course, the devil is in the details. A lot of us have trouble sorting through information: like what’s relevant and what’s not. That old weak central coherence theory again. If you don’t trust your readers you’ll come off as condescending. Or boring.
It’s also hard for me to capture the right tone. At my best, I’ll put pen to paper and my words flow out as evocatively as they would for any passionate writer. But sometimes my writing is dry and austere. I revise to see if I got my real point across or if I was just dancing around it. It takes me longer to do good work. But it’s worth the effort. Be RELATABLE you guys. I know we’ve all heard it a million times, but if your narrative isn’t relatable you’ve got nothing. The only exception is didactic non-fiction like history or theory. And even then they want your prose to be snappy. There’s a Jonathan Franzen quote I love: “The reader is a friend, not an adversary, not a spectator.”
*Image from bevisibleassoc.com.