Unblocking myself

Huge apologies for not updating this site since June. A few people told me they were excited that I was writing here in general or because of particular topics I mentioned I was covering, and I feel like I’ve let them down, so I’m sorry about that. I have in fact written several posts but I seem to have lost the …confidence(?) to properly finish or publish any of them.

I think one of the factors behind this is that I feel that my first ‘explanation’ should start off with something general about the autistic spectrum as an introduction, but autism is such a huge and complex subject and autistic people’s experiences are so diverse, any attempt to represent things concisely fails.

My natural tendency when proof reading and editing is to expand and clarify rather than remove and simplify, which means the result quickly becomes unreadably dense and confusing, or I’ve produced a hugely long post about something that only really makes sense as a side point in an introduction. The nature of the subject and my natural tendency to add caveat after caveat are interacting badly and producing unmanageable and overwhelming drafts.

I’ve been struggling with this problem, giving myself insomnia, talking to friends about it and musing on Twitter. Today I went back and looked over my draft posts and noticed that the common factor was that I start off by saying that I can only talk from my own perspective and experiences. Yes, I’ve researched a lot, have autistic friends, go to autistic conferences, support and social groups, but ultimately I can only explain my perspective and my understanding.

So I’ve just started another draft post (that I’ve edited these first five paragraphs out of) to explain autism in general by giving an overview of how it affects me and how that might differ from other people. I’m going to try to keep that post brief, talk about the breadth rather than the depth (although that still probably means an essay; I tend to verbose even when trying not to). Perhaps this will both give an overview of what the autistic spectrum can encompass while also serving to explain who I am, how I’m autistic and what my perspective is. Perhaps that will manage to satisfy my need for a ‘perfect introduction’ post.

However, that’s not my only problem. I think the fact that I’m so fixated on why I’m not finishing posts is affecting my ability to finish posts, so perhaps letting myself off from the pressure of having to produce a perfectly formed ‘explanation’ before I post anything else, and instead allowing myself to just blog my thoughts about this situation might also help me get on with producing something useful. So I hereby declare this post ‘not perfect’ and give myself permission stop worrying about that respect. This is just a ramble about what’s happening to block me, not a great work of literature.

Another factor that’s scuppering my ability to finish posts is that some of the ones I’ve written need to be illustrated and need about a dozen illustrations, while I’ve been failing to incorporate drawing into my routine for months. I also know my tendency is to take longer and longer on illustrations, tending toward photorealism. The last one I drew easily took me a full week spread out over months of free time, which is clearly not sustainable. I think I need to take the pressure off drawing and ‘finding an illustration style’ and all that and get back to having drawing be something that I do everyday for fun, not a long list of illustrations that I’ve failed to produce. In fact perhaps I should forget about drawing for this site all together and perhaps rewrite a long should-be-illustrated draft I’ve finished into a shorter concise introduction to the other post I started today.

The other problem is that I’m not very good at providing my own structure and deadlines, but I know from bitter experience that I need structure, deadlines and a degree of non-stressful pressure to be able to finish anything reliably (or at least efficiently). I believe that this is an executive function and autistic inertia issue, and it’s one of the things I’ve been given accommodations for at work.

I know that I can write high quality content for this site, but due to my executive function and autistic inertia interacting poorly with my full time job, energy levels and all the other factors above, every attempt to write here spirals into something unmanageable.

Not being able to obsess about structure and revisions also seems to help. One of the best things I’ve written about the autistic spectrum was a Storify made from a sequence of tweets I sent to Twitter during World Autism Awareness Day. I had been thinking about it for months, I knew the shape of what I wanted to say and the subjects I wanted to cover. I tweeted them in a stream, while I was travelling to and from an appointment with an autism specialist to work on my self-awareness (ironically). All I did when I made the Storify was arrange them in order (with very few changes), add an introduction and include clarifications at any point I didn’t think my intentions were clear. I couldn’t rewrite any of the tweets, they were what they were. That actually made things much easier.

I also know that I do a hugely better job with writing if I’m provided with a pitch to respond to, a first draft to improve on or a blog post to reply to, rather than a blank page or a title to start from. This is evidenced by the fact that I only managed to write here when there was a flashblog event to contribute to, and that I was happily producing regular blog-post-length comments on other people’s autistic spectrum blogs for months, yet totally fail to do the same on my own blog. I recently produced 24 well reasoned and well received responses to panel questions on someone else’s blog, but since then I’ve never managed to finish any of my own work.

It seems that my ideal writing project is “take this, see why it doesn’t work, make it better”. This usually involves moving things around, adding a narrative, expanding on some things, achieving others in different ways. But somehow I can’t do that with my own work, the only response my brain produces is “Needs to be longer and more detailed” or “Argh too long and detailed, can’t cope!”. Alternatively “This needs to be split into more posts” after which each of those posts expand to become too long and too detailed. I’m hoping that this tendency is being amplified by the fixation I have on making my first post encompass and represent the entire spectrum, and maybe when I move on to smaller topics this won’t be such an issue.

I seem to do better when I have a length limit (more structure!) or pressure not to write something huge and comprehensive because I’m commenting on someone else’s blog and writing more than them would be rude. Or in fact when someone else has done all the introduction and attempt to be comprehensive and I can just write detail for the part that interest me, which again happens with blog comments. Perhaps I should actually start enforcing a word limit on my posts, and perhaps I should write a blog post introducing why I want to write each ‘explanation’ post so I don’t get sidetracked trying to do that in the post itself (rewriting the introduction multiple times as the post’s content changes) and also have a pre-announced fixed topic with some form of pressure that I’ve already announced it? (Not that I haven’t already announced several of my posts on Twitter then failed to publish them).

I think ideally I’d make this site a collaborative partnership with someone else who was competent and very compatible in their interests, writing style, strengths and weaknesses, but I know that it’s extremely unlikely that I’ll manage to find such a person who would also be willing to commit to spending so much time on this project with me. In fact I’m quite baffled at the idea that anyone manages to set up such collaborations. Presumably a large degree of luck is involved, or both people also happen to be friends with existing work that both admire and similar goals?

One thing I did consider was perhaps organising some sort of group blogging project where weekly topics and deadlines would be set with a description of what sort of thing should be written about and who it would be aimed at, then everyone would post their finished articles in the comments at the end of each week and have them compiled into a group blog. I even suggested this idea at Autscape and had positive interest. Thing is, I think that would really help me if someone else organised it, but if I ran it then I know from experience that I’d end up using up all my energy on administration and commenting on everyone else’s work and never actually manage to write my own content. I’ve done that before with art communities and it was a frustrating dynamic. I think I would need to have worked out how to produce a blog with one quality post a week before I even started considering trying to organise other people to do the same.

If anyone else reading has struggled to get into a routine of blogging or doing any other type of regular writing or creative work, especially if you’ve had trouble with finishing things, I’d be very interested to read your insights of how you eventually got around the problem? Please leave comments if you have any suggestions ๐Ÿ™‚

Working through all the above has really helped me to organise my thoughts on this, but I haven’t ended up with a neat conclusion. I think ultimately I need to learn to keep my posts to a sensible length. Learn to edit my own work in the way I might do other people’s, and provide myself with my own deadlines and structure. I know from experience that it’s important to work this into my routine and make a rule that I have to spend at least an hour a day on writing (or every other day, but somehow that’s harder), but that’s difficult when my full time job can sometimes expand to take up all my free time and energy. I also think it’s important to let myself write unstructured rambly blog posts about my thoughts and plans, like this one. This kind of low pressure writing helps me to break cycles of perfectionism. Although believe it or not, I’ve read it through multiple times, expanded on minor things and rewritten a number of sentences to make them clearer. I can’t help but think that I’ve actually made things worse and harder to read though ๐Ÿ˜

The most important thing though is that I need to actually start publishing my draft posts and letting my work get out there even when it isn’t perfect. So in the spirit of that, despite not being at all happy with this post (particularly the excessive length), I now declare this post to be finished and I’m releasing it to the world! Who knows, maybe I’ll actually get my autistic spectrum overview post done now I’ve got this ‘out of my system’…

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Author: Quarries and Corridors

Nat from Nottingham. A 30-something Doctor Who and media sci-fi and fantasy fan, digital artist, filker, former podcaster and current IT professional. Editor of Practical Androgyny and Bridging The Rift.

8 thoughts on “Unblocking myself”

  1. OK, it’s been an hour or so since I published this and I’ve had dinner, done the washing up and reflected on this subject a little more.

    I think a core problem I missed from the post is that I’m struggling to make space/time in my routine to fit regular writing in on top of job, chores, socialising and relaxation, recovery and fun. As a result I end up only finding time to write once every week or every other week, and usually not until late on Sunday afternoon or evening after I’ve spent most of the weekend recovering from the week.

    I’m also constantly inspired to write new things, but I have other things to do, so most of my daily routine is stopping myself from doing the creative work that I have a burning desire to do and instead forcing myself to do my job or my chores. By the time I get to the evening when I might have time to work on this I’m too tired, and when I get to bed I have insomnia planning all the creative work I want to do.

    It also doesn’t help that I’ve been shifting 90 minutes of my working hours into the evening to the time when I used to have all my energy to get things done, although doing this was definitely a good move overall and means that I rarely procrastinate my working hours out into the early evening anymore.

    So I have the joint problem of having limited time to write in and a big delay between writing sessions, so when I do get around to writing again, I want to write the new exciting thing that I’ve been forcing myself not to work on all week, and I don’t want to do the job of editing and finishing the old post off because that’s too much like work when I’ve been doing that all week. Also if I work on the old post, that’s delaying the new idea another week meaning that it’ll probably never happen.

    I think the answer is to spend an hour or so of my evening routine every day on *editing*, finishing and publishing my old posts. While the weekend time can remain as new idea writing time. I think I could actually fit this into my routine, but right now the prospect of doing so is overwhelming because the posts are so long and so unmanageable that I can’t make myself start working on them (because it feels like I need to do everything in one go).

    (Also the other major problem with me is that I’m really good at theory and making plans, very poor at actually putting that theory into action. But perhaps writing all this out in such excruciating detail will help somehow?)

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  2. I set myself a 1000 word limit and spent the last two hours producing a rewrite of a 2500+ word draft post I wrote in June without re-reading the old post. I ended up producing something 1027 words long that makes its point so much more clearly than the old post. If I do any more editing when I re-read it tomorrow it must be to make it shorter.

    I’m really happy with what I produced and I’ve just proven that I can do it quickly in ‘one sitting’ (albeit after having the idea in my head for months). It was much more like writing the stream of World Autism Awareness Day tweets than my blogging usually is.

    I even threw away what I originally considered to be the ‘cleverest idea’ in the article, which I’d previously spent a long time developing and obsessing over, because in such a short post it was clearly over-thinking the metaphor and diluting the overall message. Also it added more than 100 words to the post so had to go!

    So I guess I *did* break my writers block with this excessively rambly blog post! Now I just need to keep my working hours within sensible limits tomorrow so I have time to give it a last read through and maybe even add some simple illustrations ๐Ÿ™‚

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  3. Writing is hard. ๐Ÿ™‚ There’s a lot of pressure to writing publicly like this and I’ve found it’s easy to get psyched out by all manner of things.

    Perhaps letting go of trying to be too comprehensive in each post and simply writing your thoughts about whatever aspect of the subject interests you? I tend to gravitate toward certain views of a topic and zero in on that because I think it then ends up being what I can uniquely say. Whereas anyone can give a full, well rounded “reportage” on something but then it becomes more like a wikipedia entry and less like a blog post. When I read blogs, I like to discover unusual micro ideas rather than general overview type reads. Not sure if this make senses exactly or even addresses what you were saying, but I’m throwing it out there because it might help address the length issue you’re struggling with.

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    1. Thank you for the first comment on this blog from someone who wasn’t me! ๐Ÿ™‚

      I certainly think that it will be less daunting to start with smaller topics, as I plan to do once the overview posts are out of the way. Although I did try that a couple of times after Autscape and both of those drafts also spiralled out of control.

      I’m hoping my ‘reportage’ has somewhat unique value due to the way I’m trying to present it with ‘shortcut’ metaphors and different ‘ways in’ to the topic than most books and sites seem to use. Also illustrations if I ever find a way to work that into my routine.

      I’m planning to blog on topics like different theories of autism and how they might help to understand and live with different traits. Also different types of help I’ve had from the Asperger Service here and what I’ve learned from implementing each of them. That covers things like social skills, executive function, emotional awareness, sensory processing and sensory management, so hopefully that’s a pretty good start.

      Barring the post on the concept of a spectrum that I wrote last night, I’m going to mostly make what I write have a personal perspective where it makes sense to do so, while also talking about possible differences and inviting the perspectives of others.

      It seems that just enforcing a 1000 word limit has made a big improvement in my ability to structure posts, and the strategies I’m working on with my Occupational Therapist seem to have helped me carve some more time and energy out of my week days, so hopefully I’ll be able to keep last night’s momentum going and work it into a sustainable routine now! (Or I’ll burn out, that’s what usually happens).

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      1. Ugh, I think “reportage” was a truly horrible word choice. :-/ Sorry.

        I’m really looking forward to your posts because you always bring a unique slant to topics and because we think very differently so I learn a lot from you reading your thoughts. That’s what I meant to say the first the time around.

        I’m especially curious to read about the help you’ve had and your strategies because there’s very little out there written from a first person POV about services of the sort that you’re describing.

        So here’s hoping your plan holds and you find your blogging groove. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  4. Your pictures are cool! They are much more pretty than the one I managed to make with pictures, which I really want to show to you, because you explained with pictures too! Although something sort of different and much prettier and all of that.

    I hope you have more pictures because posts with pictures are awesome and MAKE SENSE and fun things like that.

    (http://sleepwakehopeandthen.blogspot.com/2013/09/an-autistic-navigates-large-social.html) But it’s still sort of colorful, even if it isn’t nearly as pretty as yours.

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    1. I’m glad my pictures made sense ๐Ÿ˜€

      Thank you for pointing me at your post with the graphs, I really like seeing other people’s visualisations.

      Have you checked out the ‘illustrated autism’ links in my sidebar (or footer on mobile)?

      I think you might like this comic series:

      http://par-la-fenetre.tumblr.com/tagged/webcomics/chrono

      And the illustrated posts at Astronauts Are Cool:

      http://www.astronautsarecool.com/

      You’ve probably seen them already, but that’s my recommendation just in case you haven’t.

      Thanks again for the comment and link ๐Ÿ™‚

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