As an autistic individual, sometimes, expressing feelings can be hard, impossible even. I learned how to fill the gaps in my knowledge through books, movies, theatre, and television. I learned subtlety by watching the late Alan Rickman, I learned how to relate to the world by living vicariously through a sea of characters, my mind filling in the gaps as we went. I learned sarcasm by catching the stand-up bits on Saturday Night Live, and the Late Show with Jimmy Kimmel. My library and television set were my teachers, and I its reluctant student. I say reluctant because if you told me I was learning how to exist in a world where I’d otherwise be shunned, I’m not sure I’d believe you.

To this date, despite 32 years of living, breathing and fighting, feelings are often still a foreign concept for me. It’s often ironic how much nuance is thrown at those on the spectrum. We are forced to survive and endure in a society filled with nuance, without the proper tools to distinguish it. It does feel at least a little bit ironic that those with the most complex traumas, the most nuanced upbringings, are often ill-equipped to deal with the challenges through no fault of their own. For me, the abuse was complicated–yes the elementary school girls who bullied me are partially to blame, but of equal blame are the family members who planted the seeds and enabled my bullies to thrive.

I face this challenge of not understanding feelings, or having a hard time experiencing them in the moment when writing. I’ve spent the past few weeks sitting down, attempting to create a routine around writing. I’ve joined the Maryland Writers’ Association. I’ve sat with that uncomfortable silence that comes from writer’s block, and realized it was a trauma response. After healing that trauma response, I began to develop my own way of storytelling. I’d realized after being diagnosed autistic, that previous attempts failed not because I was fundamentally flawed, but because I was approaching writing the way I believed a neurotypical person would.

I am not neurotypical, I am neurodiverse. This meant that my writing would fail, and would continue to fail, until something changed. It’s like that old saying: the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting different results. For me, I’ve learned that I need to have as much of the world and characters finalized in my head (and on paper) before I can consider just free-writing a book. I don’t think I’ll ever be one of those writers who can freewrite an entire book. I attempted it in middle school and ended up with something that felt like someone threw Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and Pirates of the Caribbean in a blender at top speed. Now, I approach my writing very differently.

I am an idea person.

I often have as many of three ideas for stories, characters, or entrepreneurship going through my brain at any moment. What I was lacking was follow-through. Around January, I began to take the many ideas, characters, and settings going around my head and began the process of untangling and combining them.

What resulted was an idea for a novel series about a magical library that exists outside the confines of time and space.

I was always fascinated by characters in books who took charge of their own destiny, and wanted to craft a heroine who was indeed in charge of her entire destiny. More than anything, I wanted her to be autistic like me. I wanted a character who loved herself and her family so much, that she was willing to will herself into existence to save them.

In creating my main character, Isobel Greenwood, I’ve attempted to create a heroine autistic young women can look to her as an inspiration. I hope thought that they let Isobel merely be a guide, and that they use their own experiences and feelings to build a better blueprint for raising autistic girls.

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