Writing While Autistic 5: Transitions are difficult - Comings and Goings
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'm frequently hearing "I'm not autistic, but this is really useful to me." I'm really glad to hear that this generalizes to other neuroatypicalities. 

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Here’s a thing I don’t often see discussed: beginnings and endings  are hard, but so are “comings and goings”. It’s great to get things done in a single sitting (more on this later), but if you have committed to a longer story or a book - anything that needs to be written in multiple installments, over many days, you will be leaving your work in progress and returning to it. And every time you leave, it’s a transition, and when you return, it’s another transition. The number of transitions needed to get to the end multiplies.

Generally speaking, it’s not as hard to return to your piece if you are in the flow - for example, you’ve written, fell asleep, woke up and continued writing. But if you step away for a few days, coming back is harder. It’s harder still to come back after a week, a month, or more. I suspect that’s why so many people advocate writing every day; it is more likely to keep you in the flow. 

You might be a person who can write every day, and comings and goings don’t bother you. OR you might be one of those people for whom writing every day does not work. The familiar adage to write every day can be really harmful - to disabled people who physically cannot write every day; to working people and/or caregivers, who might not have the ability to carve time for writing every day; etc. The insistence that Real Writers Write Everyday is exclusionary, ableist, and entirely unnecessary.

Writing every day is not necessary. However, understanding that writing every day helps reduce the stress of transitions - specifically of comings and goings - is important. Since most of us do not and/or cannot write every day, we need to figure out our own individual ways of reducing the stress of transitions.

A series of affirmations helps me do this. Nothing works perfectly, by the way, and that’s ok too.

  • Not writing every day does not make me less of a writer.
  • I took a step away and now I am coming back to this - it’s all right.
  • This is mine. I made it. I created it. It belongs to me. 

I also try to leave a trail of crumbs for myself - I write a sentence or a brief summary of what I want to write next, and/or I imagine the next scene, and/or I prepare my lit review/research (mostly for nonfiction pieces); it often helps to reread what I wrote, and tinker with it a bit before writing new things.

One of the hardest things, for me, is keeping my work safe between transitions. I am tempted to erase it. I am tempted to never save it (autosave helps, but does not always work). After the file is closed, it’s often really hard to open it again. So I might leave a file open for a long time, or I might send a copy to a friend for safekeeping.

It is really hard for me to come back to a text after I have been absent from it, even for a short while. There is a fear that I would not be able to get back into the flow, a fear of what is actually there - is it worse than I remembered? Shorter than I remembered? Did I erase it by mistake (this has happened many times)? The fear is real. I often dedicate a whole writing session to just opening the damn file. 

Taking time to think about how you handle transitions and what your issues are at transitions can be really, really helpful. It’s not a moral failure to struggle with comings and goings, just like it’s not a moral failure not to write every day. 

(Next up: autistic inertia!)