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 🙂
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 😐
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’…