So, it’s August. Our nine-week kitchen renovation project is now on week thirty. The only progress in the last two weeks is that we got doors on our upper cabinets. It’s the height of the monsoon season, and we still have to go outside to wash dishes. Jak still has to climb through a window to get to his office. We are both screamingly fucking sick of this.
Now that I’ve got a couple more weeks of writing-on-meds data, I can see that the initial exciting burst (two nine-hour days in which I netted 3600 words) is in no way what I should expect long-term. I set what I thought was an easily-achievable goal of 6000 words last week and I only got 4000. Which is a little disappointing, but still enough progress that I’m not despairing.
I’ve been paying close attention to my process, and I’ve realized the constraint mostly comes from having to spend a certain amount of time thinking through what I’m going to write before I sit down and do it. I hear that some people can sit down at the computer and the words just flow, but that isn’t me. (Well, it’s me for something casual like these blog posts, but not for anything at a higher level of craft, like my nonfiction essays or fiction at any length.) I have to try out many different possibilities in my head before I find the best path to take. The 3600 words I wrote in two days constituted a pivotal chapter early in the book, one I’d thought about a lot in advance during the months I wasn’t writing. Whereas none of the 4000 words I wrote last week were things I’d previously worked out in any detail at all.
I find that on a given day I’m now rarely able to go nine hours in a stretch; partly because I’ve acclimated a bit to the stimulants, but mostly because I find after around six or seven hours of writing I have to go think some more. The nice thing about recognizing that ‘doing absolutely nothing but thinking about the next scene’ is a critical part of my writing process is that I’ve stopped being annoyed by my insomnia. Jak is one of those lucky creatures who can almost always lie down and go to sleep within three minutes; unless I am ridiculously, unhealthily exhausted it takes me anywhere from thirty minutes to a couple of hours. This has long been a source of irritation … but now I just lie there and pre-write a scene or two, and I don’t feel like I’m wasting time. It’s all good.
So that’s the novel. My other news is that yesterday I received an acceptance letter for the short story I wrote this past spring. I’ve been told it will be a couple of months before I see contracts, and I have no idea when it will actually appear (probably early 2023?), so I somewhat superstitiously don’t want to make a full announcement yet, but I will say this: it sold to an excellent professional market and I am deliriously happy.
This is only the second short story that I’ve written since the late nineties. The first was a story I wrote in early 2014, shortly after we moved to Mexico, mostly to prove to both myself and Jak that after fifteen years away from fiction I was still capable of not just writing but actually finishing a thing. That story, in my opinion, was competent but not exceptional, and after a couple of rejections I stopped trying to place it. In this second version of my writing career I haven’t cared much about short fiction; all my interest and desire has focused on my planned novel series.
But in the fall of last year, that changed. I’d been reading and thinking intensively about autism for almost two years at that point, including some first-person accounts from Autistics whose motor apraxia is so severe that they cannot communicate with speech. In the same way that in my early twenties I was intensely captivated by the experience of Deaf people, which led to my wanting to translate that experience for hearing people and thence to my novelette “Of Silence and Slow Time”, I now found myself deeply invested in sharing something of the nonspeaking Autistic experience to people outside of the Autistic community. Because the misunderstanding and misinformation under which nearly everyone in the world is operating so often has tragic results.
So I wrote a story about a nonspeaking Autistic and some genetically engineered corvids. (Being an autistic fiction writer is extremely satisfying when you can take two unrelated ‘special interest’ fixations and smash them together into something that is greater than the sum of its parts.) I ran it by a couple nonspeaking young adult Autistics, and their enthusiastic responses bolstered my confidence that my empathy was on-target.
And then the story was rejected almost instantly by a slush reader at the first market I sent it to, which I confess was kind of a slap to my ego. (I’m better than that, dammit!) The second market kept it almost four months, and I’m pretty sure that time it went all the way up to the editorial top, which made the eventual rejection a lot easier to take. Third time was the charm, and I am not just ecstatic but so relieved.
Selling this particular story, and specifically selling it into a prestigious professional market where it would get as much attention and readership as possible, was profoundly important to me — not because of pay rate or name recognition or anything at all about my writing career, but because I know a thing now that the rest of the world needs to better understand, and … this is what I can do to help with that.
One of my nonspeaking Autistic readers told me (in email) that his feelings about this story were summed up by this quote from Ursula K Le Guin: “You cannot buy the revolution. You cannot make the revolution. You can only be the revolution. It is in your spirit, or it is nowhere.”
Which, because it is both what my character was doing in the story and what I was seeking to do with the story, might be the most lovely response I could ever hope for, from anything that I write.
Vive la révolution!