A blog advocating autism through my own personal experiences and insights.

Posts tagged ‘Writing’

At the Intersection of my Autism and Writing

In my last post I told about my hobby of writing novels. I would now like to elaborate more on it, especially how my being high-functioning autistic has influenced it. First I’ll tell a little bit about my books. They are currently part of a series of four books where the protagonists are a teenage couple Ray Malay and Lucy Nelson. The setting is in Nova Scotia, Canada, which is where I live. The first novel called Love and Photographs is a short novel spanning about 50,000 words. It starts with Ray who lives in Sydney, Nova Scotia having three stolen photographs from his family album. At about the same time Lucy and her family move from Toronto, Ontario to Sydney only to discover their new house is vandalised. Ray and Lucy meet and ultimately investigate into these strange happenings, which ultimately leads to a connection between their families. They also have to watch out for a few antagonists who are a nasty old woman Mrs. Palo and an evil couple called the Tomkens. The second book is about a murder of a family friend of the Nelsons down in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia where the Nelsons take Ray to their summerhouse.

One thing I would like to point out is that neither Ray nor Lucy nor anyone else in the novels is autistic. Yes, I have thought about the possibility of using an autistic protagonist in a novel like in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon and I will certainly write at least a few novels of my own with this feature, but no one in the Ray and Lucy novels is autistic. This doesn’t mean, however, that my autism hasn’t influenced the novels to be what they are.

The first instance I’ll use of this is through my writing style and voice. Every author out there has a unique voice for telling their stories and mine is no exception. I think of my writing voice as very simple and very logical. For example, if I have Ray and Lucy go visit someone, I’ll have the house somewhat described, then I’ll have them be greeted at the door and shown into the living
room. Then I describe the living room, and then I have the characters sitting down and begin talking. Also, the descriptions that I use are quite simple in structure. As an example, here is how I once described a house:

Lucy ignored her, and they walked the rest of the way to Hannah’s house in silence. Her house had two floors with yellow siding and white shudders on windows arranged in a symmetrical way on the front of the house. There was a garage off of the house that was the same shade of yellow as the house. A cement pathway led up to the front door from the driveway. They went in and found themselves in the kitchen.

It’s kind of like the way description is put in Mark Hadden’s novel A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. Simple, plain, and logical. It’s one of the reasons why I like this novel so much. It means that I shouldn’t have to “fix” the way I tell my story because of my autism if I am to be successful as a writer.

The second way that autism has influenced my writing is through the characters even though none of them are autistic. If you’ve read my previous posts, you know that my social life in high school, which is when I started writing the series, wasn’t that good. This motivated me to give Ray and Lucy something that I never had in high school (and not even to this point in my life): A loving relationship. I decided that since it was very difficult for me to have any close friends, I’d at least give Ray and Lucy close friends, as well as a dating relationship that develops between the two of them to boot. Since Lucy was a new girl in town and would be going to a new school, I wanted to characterize her as an extravert, be very pretty, and be easily likeable. As a result, she would have a great social life as the novel unfolded. Ray, however, is probably closer to me when it comes to taking risks and social interaction. I still gave him, however, a few classmates he’s friends with and likes to hang out with. And as the story unfolded, I got him to know Lucy and eventually to have the courage to ask her out, which she accepts. This way I could still experience the joy of having more of a social life. Don’t get me wrong. It’s in no way a substitute. Just a way to keep me happy, while still trying to improve my own social life outside of my writing time.

Of course, it can be tough to write about a dating relationship between two other teenagers when you’ve never been in one yourself. When I started writing about Ray and Lucy my knowledge of how such relationships work was more than somewhat limited. And when I picked up the novel to revise it again a year ago and scanned through it, I had to wonder what on earth my 16-year-old autistic brain had been thinking. The revision I did last year included a more realistic approach to how I could get Ray and Lucy together instead of a simple “Hey, Lucy, I love you. Let’s go out” (and believe me I actually thought dating was that simple when I was 16). When I revised the novel this past year, though, I made their relationship develop at a slower and more realistic pace and the only time one of them told the other an “I love you” was when a cunning evil man had gotten Lucy drunk.

But I love the challenge. Even if I find myself stuck in some social gathering and I’m lost for words (which happens quite often), I stop trying to contribute anything to any conversation and just watch like a fly on the wall. It gives me ideas as to how I can get my characters to interact. In fact, I can pretty much find inspiration in any part of my life. I like to think of my own life as a story itself, filled with twists and turns and suspense. Which is partly why my passion for writing increased about a year ago. The more drama that occurs in my own life, the more inspiration I have. There is something to be said about the drama of my own life wearing me out, but leaving just the right amount of energy left for me to create dramas of my own.

A Developed Passion

I would like to share with you all both as a human being and one who is high-functioning autistic an extraordinary passion that I have acquired. It is my hobby of writing fiction, specifically novels. I’ve already showed myself as a writer in sharing my poem A Foreign Autistic World in an earlier post (I’ve also written three more poems, which I’ll share in future posts), but my main writing goals are novels. I actually started seriously writing 6 years ago at the age of 16, although I contemplated writing a novel since I was 12. Could I actually write a book? As to why at the time I guess you could say there was a “because it’s there” appeal to it and that I would’ve just loved seeing my name in print crediting the work of a book to me. Today, while those are certainly contributing factors to why I still write fiction, they aren’t the most important motivations to why I do it. I will elaborate on this in my next post.

When I finally sat down to actually begin writing 6 years ago, I had picked out one potential plot idea to write upon and I had also decided to specialize my genre of fiction writing to mystery and thrillers. I picked this genre for two reasons. One is that a mystery is like a puzzle. You’re trying to see how much you can solve or at least guess at before all the parts are laid out for you before the book is finished. Another reason is the high-level of suspense and tension that’s involved throughout the story. A lot is in the balance in such a story and a lot of characters have a lot to lose including their own lives. It’s this drama that attracts me to wanting to write fiction with this high-level of suspense.

As to how often I write, it’s always been a challenge to actually find the time to write. In high school, it wasn’t so bad and I managed to turn out two novels in my final two years in high school, working 1-2 hours per day on average. It became more tougher in university. If you’ve read my last post, you know I was an academic perfectionist who put in 75-80 hours per week of study in his first year. The amount of time spent on writing dropped by about half so I was only spending 5-7 hours a week. The next couple of years I wrote on and off. And just when I thought I was almost finished my third novel, the harddrive crashed with no backup! I lost the revisions I had made to my third novel, leaving only a first draft of it. Then just before I entered my fourth year, my passion for writing increased. And in my fourth year I probably spent about 10 hours per week writing, revising my first two novels that I wanted to try to improve (I’ve completely redone the first one at this point and am working on the second one). And I managed to do this, while keeping my academic perfectionism at bay, writing an honours thesis in mathematics, being part of three clubs, working as a teacher’s assistant for the winter term and a tutor for both terms, applying to go to graduate school, volunteering at a cat shelter in the winter term, and working at improving my social life. It’s a lot to juggle and I don’t expect things to get any easier when I go to graduate school in the fall and I know some of you are probably wondering how on earth I found the time to do all these things.

But I love doing these things. Quite honestly, I’m about as far away as a “party animal” you’re going to get. And I love to focus on challenging activities I love to do. While my passion for fiction writing takes away some potential time that could be used to form closer bonds to acquaintances, my great focusing and time-management abilities, which my autism probably influenced, have allowed me to keep both writing and a social life.

In my next post, I’ll share what my writing is about and how being high-functioning autistic has influenced it.