Asperger Syndrome and The Writing Game

I once looked at a book which had a section on careers for adults with Asperger Syndrome (Autism Spectrum Disorder) and one of the possible careers is ‘writer.’ And of course I hope it is true. Even though my writing has been confined to blog posts, poems, and unfinished novels up to this point.

When I was applying for Social Security disability based on my late father’s income, an ‘expert’ testified that persons with Asperger Syndrome don’t have any ability to be creative in any way. (He was an ‘expert’ because he had worked with institutionalized persons with autism.) This was kind of breathtaking to me. I had met loads of other Aspies online and nearly all were creative in some way. Most were writers or aspiring writers.

So that gave me a whole new arena for self-doubt. Maybe my creative ideas weren’t REALLY creative since I’m not capable of real creative thought…. But by now I’ve concluded, so what? You don’t have to be totally original and creative to be a working writer. You can have a career of rewriting Romeo and Juliet in the wild West or Hamlet in outer space. As long as you learn the basic writing and storytelling skills, you can do it even if you are not REALLY creative.

The social skills thing is one area in which people with Asperger Syndrome can really be held back. We feel like failures in social situations, and so we fail to do writer networking to meet other writers, even the online version of networking. I’ve seen some Aspies who say they don’t want to interact with ‘neurotypical’ (non-Aspie) people and so stick to a writing group for Aspies-only. Most of whom will NOT succeed as writers, ever, and who may give very wrong writing advice. (If you want a writing career, you need to network with writers who have some success, not just a group of wannabe writers.)

People with Asperger Syndrome can learn to develop more social skills, especially in an online context. It helps if you are a Christian and trained in the ‘do unto others’ idea of treating other people right instead of just wanting to use them for what we want. (You can learn the ‘do unto others’ thing regardless of your faith, however.)

Finally, one thing that can hinder many Aspies from becoming real writers is the ‘eternal child’ thing. Once you have a diagnosis, some people think of you as an eternal child who will never mature, always depend on parents or disability programs. I remember one time, when applying for a Michigan state food benefits program, I mentioned that I had an autism spectrum disorder. The lady then presumed that I was mentally retarded and could not sign my name, so she assured me I could make an X instead. Since I am not retarded but have a high IQ, this was troubling.

When people view you as an eternal child, they look at your writing the way most people look at a small child’s drawing. We praise children’s drawings even when they are dreadful. And people who see you as a child will praise even your most defective writing attempts, leaving you without useful feedback.

I used to have problems with people treating me as a child well into my middle age. Now I’m more likely to just be treated like a pariah. But luckily I have online peer groups I can go to when I need real feedback. I have also developed discernment through lots and lots of reading— I can often sense for myself what works and what doesn’t.

I think that even people with Asperger Syndrome can write books, publish them or get a publisher, and learn to market their books (even trad-published authors need to know book marketing these days.) It can be difficult, but we can learn the skills we need. After all, famous writers like Emily Dickenson and Herman Melville are suspected of having had Asperger Syndrome. If they could do it, why not you?


Getting Writing Things Done

As a person with Asperger’s Syndrome (Autism Spectrum Disorder) I can be incredibly disorganized. And this can hurt my writing. There is a reason I am better writing short poems than anything else— longer works require notes, and such projects can be harmed by losing or misplacing essential notes. I once devised the perfect system of military ranks for a space fleet— and then lost the list and in the end had to recreate it, with a system I felt was far inferior to the lost original.

My life also is harmed by my disorganized state. I have no system for handling my mail, so it tends to get stacked in various places, the important stuff along with the junk mail that should have been discarded.

Being disorganized leads to random stacking. I put stuff in stacks because I don’t want to forget where I put the stuff I may need again. The electricity bill is in THIS pile, don’t disturb it. My list of internet IDs and passwords is in THAT pile, don’t touch it. I may need that list next time I have to log in to something.

I am using the book ‘Getting Things Done’ by David Allen to organize my life enough to get more of my things done— not just my writing life, but my household life and my getting-bills-paid life. I think it’s a good book with good-enough ideas that even I might implement.

One thing that Allen recommends is having a label maker to put labels on file folders and the like. I normally letter labels for things by hand. But even though I have decent writing— I used to do calligraphy and even got paid for it once— I am embarrassed to see my own writing. I prefer to make labels on my computer, but that’s a lot of work.

So I bought a basic label maker from Amazon. I’m hoping that being able to make neat-looking labels for things will help me get more organized. And I can’t wait to make a label called ‘cat’ and put it on a cat.

Another thing Allen said you need is a ‘trusted capture system.’ Like an in-box, only one you go through regularly and sort out the things you need to do something about. Not the ones you fill up, ignore, and start a new in-box.

For more electronic things I have an app ‘Evernote’ on my computer, which syncs to a version online and I can also get on my cell phone. I can make notes of stuff there. I just need to check it regularly, which I guess what makes a capture system ‘trusted,’ that you trust you will find the stuff there and do something about it.

This is a small part of my beginning to organize some of my life. I’m hoping it will go well, and perhaps even be of help to other unorganized writers.

Do you ever have problems with being unorganized? What has helped you deal with it (other than Scotch?)

Ketogenic Thursday: Why Not Fast in Survival Situations?

Sometimes I watch moments of those survival shows where they dump people on an island or in the wilderness and watch them try to survive. On one of the shows, they have to be naked, and are not allowed to use their carry-bags to fashion loincloths. But the one thing I haven’t seen is the use of fasting as a survival strategy.

People who have tried the low-carb, Atkins or ketogenic lifestyle know that these diets put you in a state of ketosis, and when you are in ketosis you are not hungry. Similarly— if you fast— don’t eat food at all but drink water— you get into ketosis and are not hungry.

If I were scheduled to be on a survival show, or met with a survival situation in real life, my first move would be to fast. No food, no attempt to find food, no worries about food. Average people can fast for 20, 30 or 40 days, so when you land in a survival situation, food is not your big worry.

The first few hours should be devoted to one thing— finding a good source of water. You can live without food for many days, but without water you die quick. And unsafe water— like sea water— is no substitute.

After you find out where the water is, the next move is to find shelter. Often, you need to fashion something for yourself from branches or palm fronds. And usually it won’t stand up to a hailstorm. But humans are better off under at least minimum shelter.

Only after you have got the water and shelter thing in hand do you have to start worrying about food. And there is no hurry. You are not going to die after a few days of fasting. Many people fast for multiple days at home for health reasons. Surely you can do it for a bit to survive in a survival situation or in a pretended survival situation.

It helps to do a bit of research beforehand on wilderness food sources. Wild vegetable foods and fruits can potentially be poison. Meats are not poison, but overly lean meat, such as rabbit, can lead to ‘rabbit starvation,’ which makes you die quicker than eating nothing at all. Fish is mostly safe, except for pufferfish. Which you probably won’t find.

If you normally are a heavy carbohydrate eater, it will help you if you avoid gorging on any available carbs. Carbs are not necessary for survival, and tend to make you hungry for more carbs. Fat and protein, the components of meat, are necessary, and as you will find when you try a ketogenic diet, will make you feel unhungry and sustain you for a long time.

In the artificial situation of a survival show, the faster also has the advantage that while he is fasting, he can donate any food he finds to the other survivors, thus winning points for generosity. People are more helpful to you when you give them a banana or a fish and go without food yourself.

In a real survival situation, just knowing that hunger won’t kill you in hours or days will help you. I hear stories of people lost in the woods who ‘survived’ a couple of days by eating cough drops or some such. They might well have ‘survived’ more comfortably without the cough drops!

To learn more of the science behind fasting, I recommend the book ‘The Complete Guide to Fasting’ by Jason Fung, MD, with Jimmy Moore. Besides learning things you can use for your own health, as writers we might always benefit by learning facts we can put to use when we make our characters get into a survival situation with no food.

I sometimes blog about health issues and the ketogenic ‘diet’, and I think I am going to post on Thursdays about the topic, rather than have a separate blog, which is harder to keep up with my health issues.

Watch Out For this Common Sugary Kids’ Drink

I heard a TV report on the health dangers of giving kids sugary drinks. But what is one of the things they recommend instead? Another dangerous, high-carb sugary drink: fruit juice.

Think about this. Many parents are mislead into thinking a big glass of fruit juice is something healthy for a young child. But a big glass of juice contains the sugars 4 or so oranges. With the pulp and fiber removed. Could you get a young child to eat 4 oranges at a sitting? Most can’t finish even one!

Doctors in the know about low-carb nutrition often warn their patients about the hazards of fruit consumption. It is not a ‘free food’ that you can consume in any quantity.

Juices are particularly dangerous. An insulin-dependent diabetic is often advised to drink juice to bring up low blood sugar quick. If your blood sugar is too high anyway, why do you want it to get even higher quickly?

Medical reports say children in the US are suffering more obesity, which leads to the development of Type 2 diabetes in children. These things are a result of excess carbohydrate consumption. Switching from sodas to juices and ‘juice drinks’ does not help. Carbohydrate consumption and processed food consumption need to go down.

Many families are learning more about nutrition and feeding their kids less carbs through a low-carb, me to or Paleo diet. This is more natural for humans than the fast-food and soda diet so many families refuse to question.

What should kids be drinking? Skim milk and chocolate milk are right out. Healthy whole milk must be rationed, rather than allowed in unlimited amounts. Milk substitutes commonly available— soy, almond, even the ‘coconut milk’ that doesn’t come in cans— usually have added sugar.

Children can learn to drink water— home filtered or distilled water, not flavored water bought in stores. Older kids can learn to drink plain tea or black coffee (decaf). Children should learn that you don’t have to consume carbs or calories to get hydrated!

Make a low-carb/ketogenic bread substitute

Learn to use MeWe, part 1

What is MeWe, anyway? It’s a new social media which is an alternative to Facebook and Twitter. Why do people even want that? Because Facebook and Twitter are run by people who find it weird and suspicious when people don’t share their viewpoint and their politics.
I’ve known a lot of conservative and Christian people who have been unfairly banned or suspended by Facebook or Twitter. Often it’s for some minor thing. Or they never tell you why you are in trouble at all. I’ve heard of one FB user who even got his post deleted because he mentioned he was on MeWe and used the hashtag #MeWe.
On the other hand, what happens if you are conservative or Christian on FB and someone bullies you? I had some left-wingers steal my picture from my pro-traditional-marriage page, and use it for a post on their FB page which essentially told me to eat sh-t and die. I reported that FB page, which did nothing but personally harass conservatives. Nothing got done about it.
Now, I know a lot of people get tired of being told that they have to be on different social media. But when your social media is failing you, and you may lose your account unfairly, you need an alternative and you need to get started NOW, and not wait until you are in trouble with Facebook just when your new book comes out, or when you have a great blog post that needs promoting.

Starting Your Account

Open an account on MeWe. You will need a profile picture and a cover photo, just like for setting up on Facebook or Twitter. I used the same ones as I use for Facebook. I use my name: nissaannakindt as my ID there. If you are a writer and trying to gain a platform, use your author name, real or pen name. Use a profile picture of your actual face. On the other hand, if you are a blogger and advocate for your point-of-view under a patently false name (‘The Deplorable Guy’ or ‘Socialist Nancy P.’ or whatever) use that name. Whatever name you need to build a platform for.
Once you have an account, you will need contacts: that is, friends or followers on the site. How do you get contacts? You recruit them from the people you already know from FB and Twitter. Take these steps to get started with contacts:
  1. Use your list of email addresses. Send an email to your email-connected friends and invite them over to MeWe.
  2. Tweet about it! Tell your Twitter followers you are on MeWe and why, and give the link to your profile page on MeWe. Use the hashtag #MeWe when you do this. Do it more than once.
  3. Tell your Facebook friends about it. DON’T use the hashtag #MeWe on FB because they do take posts down for that ‘sin.’ If you have other pages on Facebook, make a post about MeWe there as well. Again, make posts like this more than once.
  4. Add your MeWe profile’s link to your pages on various social media and to your blog or web page.
  5. Write a blog post about MeWe— whatever aspect of MeWe you like. Include a link to your profile page on MeWe and invite your readers to become your contacts.
  6. Become active on MeWe: when you write a blog post, share it on MeWe. Post pictures of your cats on MeWe. Check your MeWe page regularly like you do your FB and Twitter. Comment on stuff. Don’t be quick to give up on MeWe because you don’t know many people there yet. It takes time.
  7. Set Goals! At first, when you start out, make your goal getting 10 new contacts. Then 20, 30 and so on. It’s like on FB and Twitter— you need to make ‘friends’ on the new site or you are just talking to yourself.
Now, don’t expect all of your friends to jump on the MeWe bandwagon and join you there! Be low-key about it. They may find their own reasons to join in a few weeks or months. In fact, spending time on MeWe may be a bit of a gamble for you. It may be the coming thing, and it may not.
The important thing for the blogger or writer who wants to use social media to build a platform is to avoid being in the FB/Twitter rut. You need more social media than just those two! And if you are at risk for ‘offending’ the gods of Facebook or Twitter by failing to conform to Left-wing political agendas, you may someday really need to be on alternative social media.
Feel free to request to become my contact on MeWe. I will accept requests so long as they are not from porn-filled accounts. I will be your guide— or maybe you will be mine— through the unexplored wilderness of MeWe. This is my profile page:
Part 2: Joining MeWe groups— coming soon!


‘Unprofessional’ for a writer to use a free blog or website?

Here is where I have to disagree with the ‘experts’, specifically Joanna Penn. She says that using free blogging services— and Blogger in my case, is ‘unprofessional’ and that discerning viewers can tell a free website and, evidently, look down on you for it.

Even people who have plenty of money might choose to not spend more of it on paid blog services and domain names and such. And also, it might be a sign of solidarity with poor, disabled, and other disadvantaged writers and aspiring writers who haven’t made it big yet.

If you are a writer or aspiring writer with Asperger Syndrome [autism spectrum disorder], you have according to some statistics an 80% chance of being unemployed— even though the Asperger Syndrome diagnosis (when they still had it) rules out retardation and extreme low-functioning. It’s hard to get even the most menial job when employers take one look at you and see you as ‘odd’ and ‘shifty’ because you can’t make eye contact correctly!

Writing was one of the recommended careers for Aspies according to one book I read, and the prospect gives a lot of us hope. But being told you have to spend money on just starting a blog….. There are better things to save our limited funds for.

There is also the case of homeless aspiring writers who are bloggers. I’ve read of a case where a homeless girl wrote a popular blog about her homeless life and eventually got a book deal. She wrote her blog, I assume, with a free blogging service, and used the computers in public libraries.

I reject the notion that you need to pay for your blog and for a domain name to be serious about being a ‘professional’ writer. I have seen writers who have tried to save money on a domain name and turned their free blog into something less functional. If your words are good, people won’t notice your blog isn’t a paid one. If your words are not yet good because you are still learning, people won’t notice your blog’s free status either because they will either criticize you (a good thing) or just look down on you.

What true crime stories can teach us about fictional characters

I like to read true crime books, if they are well-written or if the case is interesting to me. And one thing I’ve learned about true crime stories— it’s all about the characters. There are some true crime books published every year because the murder cases garnered a few headlines and people want to read more. But the books soon drop out of sight, because most people don’t find the cases all that interesting.

Other cases— like those of Jack the Ripper, Lizzie Borden, Albert Fish, Ed Gein, and O.J. Simpson— remain of interest, no matter how much time goes by. Why is this? The difference is about the characters.

Some murders are almost routine. Armed robber kills victim. Pimp kills prostitute. Violent husband kills wife. Wife poisons husband— or a series of them— for the insurance money. These cases make headlines at the time, but most of them are quickly forgotten once the trial is over.

But the interesting cases are those with something special. A murderer that is notable and interesting— like O. J. Simpson, once the nation’s hero during his football career. Or perhaps an accused murderer that many believe is innocent, like Lizzie Borden. Or a sympathetic victim, like little Grace Budd who was lured away by Albert Fish and cruelly murdered.

Murderers aren’t normally the kind of people we want to spend time with, but the good true crime author presents the case as if it were a fictional tale with heroes and villains, and an ending that often brings a degree of closure.

Fictional stories are like that. It’s all about the characters. If the characters are dull and prosaic and walking stereotypes, the book is dull and you may not be able to finish it.

I knew an author that had a longish book out on Kindle. I read a lot of the beginning but I couldn’t find characters I much cared about or plotlines where I just had to know the outcome— perhaps because they involved characters that hadn’t caught my interest. But then the author wrote a novella about one of his more minor characters. He did a great job on the novella and on the Lead character. It still didn’t give me the inspiration to finish the longer book, though I did try. But my experience makes the point— the characters are the thing.

Many writers, like those with Asperger Syndrome or autism, lack the social skills and insight to learn enough about the real people around them to create book characters based on these real people’s traits. But reading books, both fiction books and nonfiction like true crime, allow you to benefit from some other person’s social insights. Of course, a true crime writer might be inaccurate about the details of some of the characters. Some writers repeat local gossip about a murderer to blacken that murderer’s name. I read a book about a woman who killed all of her own children, perhaps because of the mental disorder Munchhausen Syndrome by Proxy. The local gossips accused the woman of being part of a rumored witchcraft coven in the area. But the evidence seems to point to the idea that this woman was quite conventional and attended Christian churches.

Now, fictional characters are not exactly like real people. Each fictional character has a function in the overall plot of the story. Real life isn’t that neat. But learning more about real people, even through a habit of true crime fandom, can help you create more compelling fictional people.