AspieLife: Special Interests and your Writing

One of the fun aspects of having Asperger Syndrome is having obsessive ‘Special Interests.’ These interests are often described as being ‘narrow’— which I suspect means ‘focussed’ and ‘specialized.’ Which is the way of the world. We don’t have PhD ‘generic’ scientists, we have nuclear physicists or geneticists.

What Special Interests really means is that we may be obsessed with ancient Roman history or Star Trek or The Walking Dead or collecting those glass insulators they used to have on power poles….

Herman Melville, an author who is suspected of having Asperger Syndrome (even though the diagnosis wasn’t invented during his lifetime), gives us more information on whaling and sailing ships in the novel Moby Dick than many readers even care for. We might guess that these topics were his obsessive ‘Special Interests.’ And I found the book interesting enough to read voluntarily as a teenager.

Modern Aspie writers have a problem, though. There is more competition for writers, and the modern reader expects us to get quickly to the ‘meat’ of a story. No ten paragraphs of Special Interest generated meandering.

Other people often find our Special Interests peculiar. They may regard us as boring people if we talk about them. Actually, I believe that the real reason we may be boring is not that we talk about our Special Interests, but that since we lack some social skills we may not catch the non-verbal clues that our listeners are bored with what we are saying. Or we may ignore those signs because WE were bored when it was their turn to talk and they talked about their hernia surgery and their diarrhea problem, and now it’s OUR turn. But this isn’t good. We don’t want to bore people when the consequences may be they just don’t want us around.

SOLUTION: The way to make other people think you are a brilliant conversationalist it to talk about those other people, their interests, their lives…. Showing interest is a sign that we care. Or wish we cared. Or something.

SECOND SOLUTION: Join a MeWe group (or Facebook) dedicated to your Special Interest topic, so you have an outlet to ‘talk’ about your Special Interest that isn’t boring other people, or adding boring amounts of Special Interest content to your novel.

Do we have to make all our writing Special Interest free? And just write in a bland, ordinary way to please other people? No, readers don’t like bland either. You want to include the things you are passionate about. You just don’t want to bog down the story with too much Special Interest content. Keep the story action coming. Breaks in which you insert Special Interest content should be few— and connected to the overall story, if possible. Think of them as dazzling little gems that spice up your story— but adding a hundred more such moments would not be dazzling but blinding and scary.

Having Asperger Syndrome and/or Special Interests doesn’t spell doom to a writer— Herman Melville did pretty well for himself after all— but we must be sure that WE are in charge of our stories, not our Special Interests. We want our writing to be interesting, brilliant and different in a cool way— and attractive to readers.

QUESTION: I wonder if it is possible for us to develop a Special Interest on purpose? I mean, if you had to take a class in college in order to graduate, could you make American history or mathematics or Spanish your new Special Interest? Because you have to take the course anyway and you might as well be interested in the subject, and having an obsessive interest in it might help you get better grades. What do you think?

Do I really need to learn Chinese to write this character? & Celebrate

Right now I am occupied with outlining a science fiction novel, Tiberius Base. I’ve written some 51 pages, by hand, in a composition book. I’m following the instructions in K. M. Weiland’s Outlining your Novel Workbook, and so far it has been useful in developing characters, particularly the main character, a junior administrator at a starbase-under-construction, Ping Yuan.

I’ve been having an impulse to learn a little Chinese as a result. Chinese is the character Ping Yuan’s native language though he is fluent in interplanetary Trade Languages like Esperanto and Volapuk.

Foreign languages are kind of a Special Interest of mine, and I try to keep them under control— ‘you can’t buy a beginning Italian book until you have finished the beginning Serbian book.’ But I’ve also come to understand that starting a language project is one method I use to relate to fictional characters.

As a kid I was a massive Star Trek TOS fan—  before Star Trek needed initials. I particularly liked the junior officers, Sulu, Uhura and Chekov. As a result at various times I tried to learn Japanese, Swahili and Russian. Not a lot of results, but I do know the Swahili word for toilet and learned to identify Japanese writing from Chinese or Korean at an early age. I even know a few words of Russian, including one naughty word.

I have at various times used similar approaches to characters of my own creation. I have also deliberately given characters a certain linguistic background to match a language I was at the time interested in.

In my current project I’ve done some of that. Esperanto, a language which is a long term interest of mine (I have read books in it), is the Trade Language most used in my setting. I made some characters native speakers of German, which is my own ancestral language and one I studied in college. I can also read in German.

The character Ping Yuan was made Chinese for story-related reasons— he needs to be a communist-style ‘scientific atheist’ because another major character is a Catholic priest. But I think that learning a bit of Chinese does help— I’ve signed up for the Chinese lessons on a free language learning site and ordered the book that goes with the 50Languages free audio lessons.

Question: Do I think language learning in general is a good way for writers to relate to characters? It depends a lot on the writer. And on the character. But the language learning process can help you relate, and you will probably learning bits and pieces of your character’s culture as well. You might give it a try especially if your character’s culture is different from yours. (Or if you are a German-American like me, your character is too, and you’ve never tried learning a little German.)


This is also my Celebrate the Small Things blog hop post. As of this week it still seems like blog hop host Lexa Cain is not feeling well enough to participate, so prayers for her are still in order.

My celebration this week is about the 50 Languages free language learning materials. I discovered this years ago. It is sponsored by the Goethe Institute which used to encourage people to learn German. The 50 languages thing is really quite clever. The lessons are translated into the languages, and the learner picks out two— his own native language and the language he wants to learn— and can download the paired two-language audios. So— I can download some Chinese lessons with an English translation, but some Dutch speaker who wants to take Arabic lessons can get audios for that, too. It’s very helpful and great for homeschooling families who want to teach a language.

Riding your obsessive interests

Captain_KirkAs a person with Asperger Syndrome, I have Special Interests— obsessive/intense interests in a number of topics. My Special Interests include languages, ancient Roman history, The Walking Dead, and Star Trek.

Right now, especially Star Trek. At an intensity that’s a distraction from my writing work. Which is an on-going problem— it’s hard to plot and write the story I’m supposed to be working on when my mind is buzzing away at a Special Interest.

When I am feeling a Special Interest very intensely, it takes up more of my time. Because my Star Trek interest has been at the top of my mind lately, I’ve been rereading some of the Star Trek novels from my collection. I have a whole bookshelf that is nearly all Star Trek books. This takes up time I should be spending on writing, blogging and housework.

I’ve also been highly tempted to buy new Star Trek novels. I haven’t bought new ones in years. In part because since my father’s death in 2004 there has been no one to go to the bookstore with.  And of the two most recent Trek novels I’ve bought, one was dreadful and the other was so-so. But still, I keep looking on Amazon and sooner or later I may buy.

Special Interests can cost an Aspie a good deal of money— money we mostly don’t have since Aspies have an 80% unemployment rate. One of the tough parts of riding a Special Interest is to say ‘no’ to buying special-interest-related items when the interest is very intense. When this happens I may feel intensely like I ‘need’ certain items— and have less sales resistance to buying them even when they cost too much and I don’t have money to spare.

One thing that helps me is to rate the Special Interest that triggers the desires. A brand-new Special Interest does not warrant purchases, because the interest may fade quickly and may not recur for years. With a lifelong Special Interest such as Star Trek, a few modest purchases may be justified.

Others are harder to figure. With my interest in languages the problem is that I like to try new languages, but don’t know how interested I will be in them in the future. So I go for free audio language lessons from Book2 with a new language and tell myself when I’ve completed the lessons then I can buy something related to that language.

As a writer there is one way to keep a Special Interest from becoming a distraction— use the Special Interest that is obsessing you in the story. Herman Melville did that when he wrote Moby Dick— he gave us a lot of information about whaling and the life at sea in the book.

Of course if you are writing an Amish romance, it may be difficult to work a science fictional Special Interest into the story. Your current interest may not be something you can incorporate into the story. But you might be able to use your Special Interest as a reward when you have completed your writing quotas for the day.

Another trick might be to try to reactivate a previous Special Interest which DOES fit your story. How might you do this? Well, here’s an example: I currently have one writing project which is set in Russia. The Russian language has been one of my Special Interests, on and off, since my late teens. Doing a little work with Russian language tapes or listening to online radio from Russia might ramp up that particular Special Interest, and that might keep my interest on the story a bit more.

The worst temptation for an Aspie Writer when the Special Interest bug bites is to drop the current writing project for a new, more compatible one. I almost did that a couple of days last month, when instead of working on my current project I did some planning/outlining for a starship-based science fiction story which was compatible with my Star Trek obsession. But today my plans are to be a good girl and work on my proper project— mainly doing planning/outlining since I didn’t do quite enough of that before beginning.

Question: do you have Special Interests or other obsessions which can be a distraction from your writing/blogging? How do you cope?

Celebrate The Small Things: SP Anthology

Celebrate blog hop

The small thing I’m celebrating today is that I got up the courage to volunteer to write a story for an anthology called No Award, a science fiction and fantasy anthology for supporters of Sad Puppies, which is an attempt to push for a more diverse set of authors getting recognized by the Hugo Awards.

I don’t normally volunteer to write stories for anthologies. I don’t normally know about anthologies I could possibly write stories for. But this time, since I’m now a member of an online writers group for conservative and/or libertarian writers, I found out about this one.

I even mentioned the idea I had for the anthology story. It will be set in the not-too-distant future and center around a scientific discovery— a gene that causes homosexual orientation. And the social fall-out as gay people discover they are biologically straight, and straight people discover they are biologically gay. A situation made hellish by an intrusive government which keeps DNA records on all citizens and which also requires that one-tenth of government jobs be filled by licensed and registered homosexuals.

Anyway, I mentioned a bit about my idea and a couple of group members told me to go for it. And since they are group members I respect, that’s really encouraging to me.

I know I have no guarantee that my short story will get published in the anthology. But I feel optimistic that I could come up with something well-written. And since I’m a gay woman I add diversity to the anthology— not that this ought to be a major consideration.

My life has been a history of writing attempts failed due to either writer’s block or writing avoidance. I think I may have a handle now on improving that, but it’s a little fragile at the moment. I’m going to be starting the story this morning, and I hope my writing day goes well.

If you are a writer, how is your writing life going? Any new projects you are feeling enthusiastic about? Or is your writing energy waning lately?

 

This is a post in the Celebrate the Small Things blog hop.