Leaving the Novel in Progress (Part 2)

A follow up to my last post.

Yes, it’s been a while. Forgive the delay – I had a strange work schedule and several class projects to juggle.

Anyhow, back to the matter at hand, which can be summed up like this: “I’m writing a book, but I don’t know what it’s about.”

I can tell you the neurotypes of my protagonists (autistic and ADHD), the genre (fantasy), and the quest my heroes are pursuing (saving the source of magic from destruction). But I can’t articulate how it all happens, because the scenes in my mind are disconnected, devitalized. After fourteen years, I’ve finally accepted that the NIP isn’t worth all the trouble it gives me. All the stress, the research, the irritation of uncertainty. Why should I assume that years of hard work will be awarded with publication and good reviews?

I want good reviews very badly – more than I want publication. I want to know that my characters are diverse enough, and my worldbuilding original enough. I want people to reassure me that my protagonist is a worthy contribution to the cannon of realistic autistic characters (because there are far too many that aren’t).

And as soon as I realise this about myself, I see a pattern: my NIP and my self-knowledge growing side by side. They’re so tangled together that I’ve lost the feeling of adventure and empowerment that writing used to bring me. Now, my fiction feels like a way to prove myself, and that isn’t healthy. The relationship must either change or end.

For now, I’ve chosen to let it end.

Earlier this year I also realised that I was stuck in a depressive episode (a recurring problem since my teens). It has taken me five months for thoughts of continuing the NIP to bring me any pleasure. But the panic and resentment are still there too, so I’m not eager to try my luck. Maybe I’ll glance at my manuscript next week, just to read it, and maybe I won’t. My health is more important than scrambling after an old dream.

Now in my late twenties, I’ve finally grown up enough that my sense of self isn’t defined by this one passion project. My job as an tour guide has given me friendships, an understanding of the natural world, and a sense of responsibility for the place I live and the people I share it with. I have more than one passion now, and I feel balanced this way.

The NIP is still in my future, out in the distance. In the foreground are my studies: becoming an ESL teacher and a better, healthier person in general. I want to help destigmatize autism, and to do right by other marginalized communities as well. Cut adrift from the NIP, I’ve rooted my new concerns in this non-fictional world.

So although I can’t commit to posting regularly, I would like to expand the focus of this website. I’ve listed some of my ideas below – let me know what interests you, and I’ll do my best to write about it over the next few months.

Leaving the Novel in Progress (Part 1)

I did consider it, once or twice, but the idea terrified me. Wasn’t the NIP (novel-in-progress) my anchor? Wasn’t it the reason I studied literature and creative writing, and read widely, and started this website – and wasn’t it my lifelong dream to be the Author of a Book?

There was no other job I wanted to do. There was nothing else I was this good at. What else could I do with my life?

If you’ve just read the above and thought “what pitiful adolescent stuff,” I won’t argue with you. I cringe at my past self too. I’m also impressed by her boldness: She started writing a novel at fourteen, and was still determined to finish it more than a decade later. She committed to years of study so that she could write the most detailed, authentic work possible. Her passion always sat in a corner of her mind, glowing with promise even when she was depressed.

I’m proud of this girl’s dedication. But I realize now that the beautiful promise of a published novel narrowed her focus too much.

I enrolled in university to learn how to be a professional writer, and graduated without much understanding of how to apply my excellent grades or find work that would accommodate my physical disability. Somehow, I had a job within months – but it had nothing to do with writing. My new career revolved around culture, history, and the natural world, things that had always interested me but never claimed as much attention as the NIP. I learned that my autism did not prevent me from being a decent teacher after all.

The idea of a career that was not centered around writing gained more appeal as the years went on. I considered going back to university, but the NIP always said, “How will you ever finish me if you go to graduate school?”

I started to resent the NIP, but I didn’t dare abandon it. I’d worked so hard to make something worthy, something that proved my skill as an artist and my dedication to social justice.

And then about three months ago, I stopped writing. I couldn’t find the motivation. In late January, I decided to set aside my childhood dream indefinitely. Not once have I felt any regret.

What changed?

It’s taken me several months to figure out what soured my relationship with the NIP. I’ll share more about this process in my next post.

3 Crafts to Make with Paper: Stars, Bunting, and More

Fun fact: stores selling paint and other décor throw away their wallpaper sample books at the end of each season – but if you ask nicely, they might give the sample book to you instead. Apparently teachers have been using them for years as free art supplies. Now that you’re in on the secret, you can too.

Spiral paper roses – tutorial below!

Like my previous post, 3 Crafts to Make with Vines, I’ve got some ideas for decorations made with repurposed materials, in this case types of paper. If anything paper is even more versatile than vines because of the variety of textures and colours available. Most of these projects are kid-friendly, and they can be adapted to any kind of holiday (or everyday) theme you like.

Tip: I recommend practising different shapes and decorating ideas with scrap paper first to get a feel for how the different materials behave.

The first tutorial shows you how to make simple traced shapes that can be used as ornaments, window decals, or to decorate cards and table settings. Second are instructions to make bunting, a type of banner that I often saw in cafés when I was in England. Finally, I’ve added a tutorial for the classic paper chain and some bonus how-to links from other creatives.

First, gather some supplies:
  • The basics: pencil and eraser, ruler, scissors, craft glue, stapler.
  • Scrap paper for practising on and making templates.
  • Sticky tack (always test to make sure it doesn’t stain surfaces!), fine thread, or fine wire for displaying your ornaments.
  • Card stock and construction paper might be lying around your house already, or you can re-purpose old folders, posters, and cards.
  • Visit your local paint shop (or a friendly teacher) to ask if they have wallpaper sample books they aren’t using.
Continue reading “3 Crafts to Make with Paper: Stars, Bunting, and More”

3 Crafts to Make with Vines

I’ve always loved art. In my pre-NIP years it was my life plan to become an artist (or composer or dog breeder). I learned some tricks from my grandfather, a professional painter and designer, and took art classes all through high school despite the warning that it wouldn’t look as attractive to universities as, say, business class (I still got offers of acceptance from all three unis I applied to).

Making tangible, beautiful things remains one of my passions. Since I’ve become more invested in sustainable living in recent years, I’ve learned to make my crafts more eco-friendly by using repurposed or biodegradable materials. Wild vines are resources that literally renew themselves each spring. In this post, I’ll show you how to turn them into wreaths, globes, and birds’ nests.

Continue reading “3 Crafts to Make with Vines”

November Plans

As always, the Halloween season has been great fun. At work as a tour guide, I introduced people to the wonders of autumn, told semi-spooky stories, and gave out countless candies. It rained, and it was chilly, but the kids wore raincoats under their capes and wings and still had a good time.

Now I’m eyeing the row of books that have accumulated on my shelf over the past few weeks – Ada Hoffman’s The Outside, Perpetual Astonishment by Tomson Highway, and Esi Edugyan’s Out of the Sun. I’ve got some catching up to do, as well as some planning.

When I graduated from university four years ago I had a vague assumption that my professional writing courses would somehow land me a writing job. Instead, I was hired for my internship experience at a museum and became an educator-tour guide. The fault in my original assumption was a lack of understanding: I hadn’t known that writing skills alone were not enough. Most likely a teacher (or two) in university mentioned the need to specialise and build a targeted portfolio, but for some reason I didn’t absorb this. I didn’t plan, in part, because I didn’t know how to work with my physical disability. I had to learn how to budget my spoons, how to adapt my posture and hand position, how to leave a project when it hurt too much to continue. Now that I’m more familiar with my disability, and with what I want, I can make better choices. In the new year I’ll start training to be an English language (ESL) teacher, which looks like good match for my skills and aspirations.

For November, my plans for this website have two areas of focus:

  1. Add a Resources page with links to information about neurodiversity, disability, and writing. This will put all my favourite books, channels, articles and more in one place instead of spreading them across many ‘Links & Pursuits’ posts.
  2. Write a series of short ‘how-to’ posts with holiday themes: budget-friendly eating and decorating, minimising waste, enjoying winter after the New Year’s parties have ended…

As an example for #2, here are a few decorations I whipped up out of repurposed materials:

For now, I’ll schedule myself some quiet time to enjoy the seasons as they turn.

Links & Pursuits, October 2021

October isn’t just turkey and pumpkins month.

Several weeks ago, I learned that it’s also National Disability Employment month, and this guided some of my reading and thinking, as you’ll see below.

…I read:

Accessibility and the Lack Thereof in the Film Industry by Carolyn Hinds asks us to reconsider our focus on cinemas as the “best” place to watch movies. In fact, streaming services and virtual film festivals have allowed many disabled folks to enjoy films more easily than they could pre-pandemic. Like Hinds, I hope that people in the film industry can recognise the value of accessibility and will maintain their virtual and at-home options for everyone.

Dr. Johnathan Flowers’s article Supercrips, Solidarity, and Crip Families in The Bad Batch is a brilliant analysis of portrayals of disability in the Star Wars universe. It’s given me a framework with which I can determine how disability is perceived and portrayed within my own fiction work.

Lauren Groff’s novel Matrix has all the grime and passion and artistry of the best historical fiction (think Wolf Hall or Rivka Galchan’s Everyone Knows Your Mother is a Witch). This story of poet-visionary Marie de France kept me entranced all the way through.

I also indulged in the audiobook of Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett for the second time in three months. Resisting my special interests is exhausting, so after a few days’ thought I decided to plunge back into the Discworld and its marvellous satire. On this second listening, it was easier to appreciate the poignancy woven into the humour and the expert plotting that makes the commentary on gender, religion, and nationalism so powerful.

Continue reading “Links & Pursuits, October 2021”

Review: Everyone Knows your Mother is a Witch by Rivka Galchen

Rating: 4 out of 5.

“Katharina is an illiterate widow, known by her neighbours for her herbal remedies and the success of her children, including her eldest, Johannes, who is the Imperial Mathematician and renowned author of the laws of planetary motion. It’s enough to make anyone jealous, and Katharina has done herself no favours by being out and about and in everyone’s business.”

– HarperCollins.ca

It’s difficult to guess the genre of Everyone Knows Your Mother is a Witch based on its premise. The first few pages aren’t written with the aim of clarifying this, and I read the opening scenes with a feeling of uncertainty, half worried and half amused. When a widow named Katharina Kepler is first accused of witchcraft, she doesn’t seem sure of how to react to the news either. Despite her family’s alarm, she seems inclined at first to laugh it off.

So you wonder: Will this be a courtroom drama? Social commentary? Comedy or tragedy?

I had no idea what to expect, and that was fine with me. The unconventional approach to describing the legal battle, the juxtaposition of satirical characters against the cutting realism of the setting – marvellous. I think I would have enjoyed it no matter how it ended. Everyone Knows Your Mother is a Witch will definitely be a favourite book of 2021.

A glance at the GoodReads reviews shows that a few people were let down by what they felt was a discrepancy between the premise and the actual plot, but I think Galchen’s varying of narrators and pace works brilliantly .

With a dexterity that reminds me of Hilary Mantel’s historical novels, Galchen incorporates the 17th century’s new vogue for silver forks and the heartbreak of its high child mortality rate into a crisply modern narrative about jealousy and suspicion. Nothing feels anachronistic – and yet nothing feels alien either.

Continue reading “Review: Everyone Knows your Mother is a Witch by Rivka Galchen”

I’m Published!

A few months ago, I had an idea for an article. I’d noticed that neurodivergent representation in fantasy fiction was all over the map – unrealistic, plot devices, insulting portrayals or not portrayed at all. I thought, “well, I’ve been reading fantasy since someone first put a chapter book in my hands (about twenty years ago), and I write and read about being neurodivergent, and I am neurodivergent. I could write something about the kind of research and planning that’s needed for good neurodivergent characters.”

So I wrote an article and pitched it to Mythic Scribes, a site which specialises in fantasy for fantasy writers, and they accepted it.

HUGE thanks are therefore due to Mythic Scribes for publishing my work: Writing Neurodivergent Characters in Fantasy.


In other news, I’m planning to add some more in-depth analyses of neurodivergent characters in speculative fiction (sci fi, fantasy, dystopian etc.). Among the books I’m considering are The Parable of the Sower, The Lightning Thief, and On the Edge of Gone. Are there any other titles/characters you’d like to see in the discussion?

If you’re interested in learning more about writing neurodivergent characters or real-life neurodivergent folks, check out these resources:

Links & Pursuits September 2021

Autumn is nearly here! After another summer without air conditioning this can only be good news in my house. I’m thinking of having a kind of mini harvest festival to celebrate the turn of the season – something involving apples and a bonfire.

Recently I found…
Continue reading “Links & Pursuits September 2021”

Progress Report: Summer 2021

Anyone who’s read my blog posts chronologically will notice a lapse. This is because I’ve been working lots and typing little. However, the summer scurrying has eased and I was able to grab a day to throw this together.

Consider it a journal entry for the first six months of 2021.

The Novel-in-Progress

Chapter twelve was finished in mid-July, marking the approximate completion of one third of the NIP. One third of draft three finished! There were cookies to celebrate (alas, they were devoured before I could arrange them for a photograph). Overall the first months of 2021 have been quite productive, by my standards, with nine chapters written and lots of research done.

Current focus has turned away from the NIP for now, as you’ll read below. I’m not sure when I’ll return to it: hours at my job always increase in the fall (good news for my bank account), and if I start classes in September that’ll use up all of my computer spoons.

Oh well. Winter is a better time for storytelling anyway…

The Life

…has been lifey (yes, I know ‘lifey’ isn’t a word, but it’s quicker to write than ‘full of contradictions and inspiration and improvements and pain episodes and my cousin’s wedding (congrats M!) which was wonderful and also reminded me of my romantically hopeless situation’).

Healthwise, my posture and muscle tone have improved greatly under the guidance of my physiotherapist, but no long-term remedies for my misaligned bits have been proposed. I’m on a waiting list for a surgeon in Toronto, and if I’m lucky I’ll see them before the end of the year.

I’ve read a lot of books and articles, especially on disability and justice and writing.

I started a painting of a scissor-tailed flycatcher which hasn’t been touched since February (when your dexterity is limited, hobbies fall to the bottom of the priority list), but I still intend to finish it.

Yes, another one…

Sock toys were no longer a thing until suddenly, last week, I finished a donkey that had been waiting around in a basket. My bag full of sock toys is overflowing. Should I try selling them, or just give them away to people with grandkids?

The Future

Uncertain. Potential for more schooling as an English language teacher or digital marketing specialist. Many more questions need to be asked, though, regarding job opportunities and the nature of the work, so I may not be able to start any classes until January. If that’s the case, I’ll be able to work on the NIP and this blog after all.

I might be getting published. A query I sent recently was well received, and if the article I wrote gets similar approval…stay tuned!

As always, more writing to follow.