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.
I’ll get this out of the way: transitions are difficult.
Perhaps not for NTs. I wouldn’t know. I know that as an autistic person I often struggle with transitions large and small, in all areas of my life. The more tired and/or in pain I am, the harder transitions become. On teaching days at work, I struggle to get up from the chair to transition to the classroom. I struggle with transitioning from answering email to writing to grading to reading. At home, I struggle with getting up to make myself a cup of tea, even when I am physically capable of doing so. I have no shame discussing this, either. Transitions are hard.
Transitions are hard for most autistic people I know, at least some of the time (I’ll discuss the related concept of autistic inertia in a separate essay).
So many of us beat ourselves up over this struggle with transitions, a struggle which is can be invisible to other people. For example, I am not sure if my struggle with transitions is visible to my NT colleagues. Luckily, as an academic I have quite a bit of discretion about ordering my day, and the struggle can be hidden as long as I get my work done. But the effort of passing takes its toll. In other areas of my life (home, SFF/writing) I cannot spend as much effort on passing. I need to have a break from the effort of passing at work, or I will fall apart.
I had the morning off, and for the last ten minutes I have been struggling with interrupting my writing flow to get up and go to my medical appointment. I am finally up on my feet, but my computer is still open. I hope to be on time, but may be a few minutes late.
I was two minutes early to my appointment. I have various techniques that help me deal with a variety of transitions, which mostly work. All my techniques begin with acknowledging that transitions are difficult and building that difficulty into my plans.
Many autistics struggle not just with transitions themselves, but with accepting the difficulty of transitions without the accompanying feelings of guilt and self-loathing. “What’s wrong with me that I can’t…”, “If I wasn’t such a failure, I would…” - these are familiar thought patterns. But we cannot change the way we’re wired, even if it would make fitting in the NT world easier. So I’ve made a commitment to accept this aspect of myself as a feature, not a bug: certainly not something to be cured.
How does this translate into the writing life? Directly. When you struggle with finishing projects (as discussed in WWA#1), when you keep asking yourself “why can’t I finish anything?”, the answer could be transitions. Finishing a project is a transition - a major transition. It is terrifying. You have no idea how to get there, and even worse perhaps, you have no idea what’s next - you’ll have to think about the project you created, revise it perhaps, scrap it or shelve it after all the time and effort you invested, or - terrifyingly - send it out to be judged by beta readers and/or agents and editors. Finishing a project is a transition so terrifying that many of us, subconsciously, would rather avoid it.
Finishing is a kind of transition that does not happen out of the blue. You must lead to it, in your writing. You must prepare for this transition through plot, character development, action. If you are writing a novel, you set this major transition up for many tens of thousands of words before you hit the —End—, just like I start reminding myself 30 minutes before getting up that I will, in fact, need to get up in twenty minutes, in fifteen minutes, in ten, in five, I’m running over time to get up, I’m getting up now, a bit late but I have a bit of a buffer, I’m really getting up now, I got up, I’m getting my things, I’m ready to go, I am going. Gone. —End—.
From personal experience, thinking about finishing a project in terms of a transition which is difficult for me as an autistic person helps me prepare for it, set it up, and above all, acknowledge how hard it is. To let the guilt go.
That guilt is connected to the internalized search for a cure: if one could finish projects like NT people do, one wouldn’t be autistic. Just like that. Cured. So what’s wrong with me that I can’t be cured? But just like I reject the idea of the cure, I reject the many NT narratives and expectations and the feelings of guilt that accompany my un-cured state. It’s hard enough to live in the world set up for NTs, I don’t have to beat myself up for it.
Beginnings are transitions too, by the way, and I will discuss them in the next installment.
(To be continued).