Sticky Note: I am an adult autistic writer. All text in Writing While Autistic is my personal reflections and thoughts, which are based on my experience alone. While I do make general statements and give advice, this does not constitute prescriptive advice: meaning that what I say is just one possibility in a sea of other advice. Take what you need from it and ignore the rest.
As autistics, we begin living in the neurotypical (NT) world before we begin writing; before we begin speaking. For many of us, the NT world is full of rules, often unspoken and contradictory rules: do this, don’t do that – rules that often make no sense to us, rules that we struggle to understand. Obeying NT rules and learning to pass as neurotypical is often crucial for survival, and certainly to achieve NT-defined success in the NT world. At the same time, rules are comforting for many of us. The NT world is confusing and rules promise comfort, they promise that the NT world will eventually make sense. As children, we are often pressured to obey these rules more than most NT children are pressured to obey them: because autistic kids are perceived as different, and this difference – big or small – is often threatening to NTs and thus must be controlled via rules.
Many of us, by the time we start writing, have a difficult and emotionally fraught relationship with rules.
Since we are so often admonished to follow rules, a beginning autistic writer may want to find and follow “writing rules” – and at the same time experience profound feelings of guilt and shame when these rules prove unhelpful.
From conversations I keep having with other autistic writers, the reaction in this situation is usually “oh, this advice is unhelpful to me, I’ll look for advice that is actually helpful to me/try to figure out what works for me,” but “What’s WRONG with me?!?!”, often accompanied with intense feelings of guilt.
What’s wrong with me? Rose Fox at StoryNurse recently received a letter from an autistic writer with these words: “What’s wrong with me? Am I just too broken to be a writer?”
Their advice is detailed and thorough, and you can read it at the Story Nurse website. I posted a comment, and I will replicate a part of it here.
Nothing. Nothing whatsoever is wrong with you.
What is going on with me?
A. You are autistic in a world of NTs who approach writing differently from you and who are often convinced that their way/advice is The One True Way OR that it will always work for you as an autistic person. You have absorbed harmful narratives about what it takes to be a writer, and a variety of additional harmful narratives about your selfhood as an autistic person.
You don’t have to follow NT rules when it comes to writing.
I cannot promise you that it won’t come at a price. The world of traditional publishing is a NT world. But the world of is not for NTs alone. The world of writing is for everyone.
Take what you need from writing rules and advice, and move on. This includes any advice I give.
If you need nothing from these rules and advice, then take nothing.
It’s not your fault that these writing rules don’t work for you. It’s hard to disconnect from the guilt – many of us have been trained to feel guilty about not following NT rules – but you are not to blame. You are not broken. You are not wrong. You are at the center of your life and your work. You are the source of your own endeavor. Not other people and their advice. You.
And you are right here.
(To be continued)
Note: if you are not autistic and you find this useful, awesome! I'm glad.