Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Autism and the Rules of Mockery

Most people with an autism spectrum disorder have a history of being mocked by the other kids in school. It doesn't seem to matter whether one has one of the more severe forms, or a high-functioning form such as Asperger's Syndrome with which some can 'pass' as neurotypical ('normal'). Other kids just seem to know there's something odd about us, and some of them, lacking good home training, think it's okay to make fun of us, torment us, and otherwise make school into a foretaste of hell.

I was picked on in school, and I hated it. I was not usually made particularly aware of other kids who were outcasts like me and the subject of mockery, but when I was aware of other kids being mocked, it hurt just as much as if I were the target. I don't claim this as a virtue, it's just an oddity of the way my mind works.

There is one sad exception. Very late in my career as a student, I became aware of another student, a girl, who was gossiped about as being 'dumb'. Now, I was at a Christian school and we were not little children any more, so she was not mocked to her face, just behind her back. I suppose I was flattered at being included in this and so I am ashamed to say I took part in the negative gossip.

But over time as I participated in the dumb jokes I became uncomfortable. I began to realize that some of the kids were amused in an odd way at my remarks. In one case a friend (to the extent I had a friend) wondered at the vendetta I had against this girl even though I wasn't saying any more than the others were.

Now, looking back, I begin to understand that when I was not present, I was also a subject of mocking gossip. Perhaps to a much greater extent than this other girl. The amusement I finally noticed was because one outcast was mocking the other.

The rule of social behavior --- and Christian behavior--- that I learned is to never participate in negative or mocking gossip, and to stand up against it if others do this in your presence. You just never know what others are saying about YOU behind your back; take the high road! I imagine that if I had done so in the incident above, I might have been more respected by the other kids for sticking to high-minded Christian principles, rather than amusing them by daring to mock another person when I was so mockable myself.

Friday, June 5, 2009

An Exercise against Writer's Block

If you ever feel like you just can't write, don't know what to write, or don't feel like you write well enough to actually put any words on paper right about now, here is a simple exercise that may help. I think I got it from one of the books about writing by Lawrence Block.

Just take any novel off your shelves, open it somewhere, and begin typing the copy into your computer until you have the urge to alter, change and improve the text at hand.

I have done this at some length and it does seem to help, especially the part where I am moved to add my own take on the work I'm copying. I've changed characters from the ones in the text to ones from my own writing, and changed the setting.

A variation is to copy out first paragraphs from several different novels, and perhaps copying them and then creating altered versions of them. This is a great exercise if you have a hard time coming up with story-beginnings. Or do the same thing with dialog segments, descriptions, narrative-in-general, first person or third person, and so on.

One point--- most of the time you will want to be giving yourself examples that are good, but useable. So avoid Shakespeare or Chaucer for your model, avoid equally first novels and novels of less-than-average quality. You don't want to teach yourself writing mistakes, if you are like me you can do THAT quite well on your own.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Money and the Writer with Autism or A.S.

There is a stereotype out there that REAL writers are Artistes, who couldn't possibly care less about something as mundane as money, and that any writer who does think about money is a no-talent hack.

But in the real world of people who have to live on ramen noodles and dollar-store microwave popcorn at the end of the month, there are good writers who have relied on their writing to put food on the table.

This is particularly true in the case of the writer who has one of the Autism Spectrum Disorders such as Asperger's Syndrome (A.S.). I read once that about 80% of people with Asperger's Syndrome are unemployed--- this even though people with Asperger's Syndrome tend to be quite intelligent, and very many are led by their 'special interests' to obsessively learn about some subject, such as computers, and thus have skills an employer might want.

When reading a book about writing where the author speaks about how to know when it's time to quit your day job, the topic seems quite different when the reader rarely has had a day job, and has had to leave--- or been fired from--- even quite menial jobs because the employer just could not understand the need to accommodate an Autism Spectrum worker who after all isn't blind, mentally retarded, or missing any limbs.

A previous post on this blog has covered Holly Lisle's excellent book "Mugging the Muse" which is available for free in PDF format. Holly's book has an excellent approach to the issue of writers and money, and many useful tips for writers at all levels.

When you sit down at your writing station for the day's work, the factor of whether or not you have a hope of getting monetary rewards for your work will be a factor--- in how much time you can afford to put in on a writing project, for example. And how probable it is you will get published and earn money on your novel depends in part on what kind of novel you are writing, and what publishers you are aiming for.

There is a fine balanced to observe here. Romance novels, for example, are a very popular genre, a large number of romance books come out each month, and many romance publishers are open to first time unagented novelists. If you are an eager romance novel reader, this may end up being what you want to write. But Holly Lisle tells the cautionary tale of her romance-writing effort, which ended in a very bad and unsalable novel because her interest was not in the romance genre, but fantasy.

On the other hand, writer Tanya Huff, in the intro to 'The Blood Books, Volume One', which contains her two novels 'Blood Trail' and 'Blood Price', tells that she chose her subject--- vampires--- because she had noticed, working in a bookstore, that fans of vampire books were very loyal to their chosen sub-genre, and she thought that the book would be salable.

In the case of the writer with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, I would suggest this: find a genre and subgenre that not only interests you, but that tends to sell well and for which there are publishers that are open to new writers. Then, when choosing the precise topics for your proposed novel, try to include ideas that connect to one or more of your Special Interests.

A Special Interest is a feature of the Autism Spectrum Disorders. A Special Interest is a topic, often a narrow (precise) one, that is a mild obsession for the autistic person. Special Interests can be computers, railway timetables, Star Trek, and any number of other things. These interests may change over time. My own current special interests include Doctor Who and Torchwood television series, languages, especially Polish, Korean and Esperanto, and the Catholic faith.

You may get the idea I am promoting some sweetness and light idea of 'write what you love and the money will come'. Not so. There are a lot of things we can write about that would not bring about money at all. For example, back when I was a neopagan I had the idea of writing a novel based on the evangelical Rapture doctrine (like the Left Behind series) only from a neopagan point of view. Obviously there are very few people out there who want to read a story based on the Rapture doctrine, but who are OK with it being from a neopagan point of view!

You have to use your common sense to find topics that other people might want to read. You also have to get good at your craft, on every topic from worldbuilding to dialog to spelling and grammar.


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