If I could go back in time to speak to myself in my twenties, I would probably shake him half to death and continually scream, “WHAT’S STOPPING YOU?!” in sheer frustration that it’s taken me this long to get to where I am today. But the truth is that I’ve had to go on a monumental paradigm shift over a number of years to reach this point. (Spoiler: I was diagnosed with Aspergers when I was 11. Surprise? Did the title give it away?)
Back then, if you’d walked up to me and said you’d heard I wanted to write and you would pay me a million quid for a finished manuscript, even a first draft one – warts and all – aside from the truly insane reaction I would have utterly failed to deliver. Not through lack of trying, but through sheer inability to focus on anything.
Even now, I still struggle to focus a lot of the time. I am lucky, I have a very strong preference for sci-fi and fantasy – that’s it – which obviously is such a wide net that it covers books, comics, video games, TV and film plus dozens of other things besides. But back then I was dipping and diving into all of it. Over and over in a continuous cycle.
I would get surges of confidence and inspiration to write, but suddenly would see a book I liked and start to read it cover to cover, only to then get distracted by something else like a giant humanoid squirrel.
All of this is complicated by the fact that when I read or play I am THERE and can practically touch the things I see in my mind. Writing, while the same, was competing. And losing.
The above image may seem dramatic, but with so much input available – both then and now – it’s a bit like drowning in a sea of opportunity. I usually pendulum back and forth from several different types of content – gorging myself on one before flopping into another in an endless cycle. It’s pleasant, don’t get me wrong, but ultimately means I am horrifically unproductive.
Twenty years is a long time. Within that time I’ve grown and began to recognise the signs I was due to switch my focus to a new medium again – usually following a kind of fatigue from glutting myself until I couldn’t stand it any more. Honestly the birth of my daughter broke me out of that a little, but it still is hard and I definitely struggle when I cannot satisfy my need for that immersion.
I’m rambling slightly, but it’s hard to truly encapsulate just how slaved to my needs I have been, even if I am able to exercise some measure of control now. With all of that cyclical consumption and immersion, my ideas continually rose and fell like a seasonal flower, poking up, briefly flowering and then withering away to go back to a bulb wintering beneath my subconscious after I had feverishly scribbled them down into a notebook or app. I’ve mentioned that I mind map before, I think (hopefully) and I believe when I started to mind map that was the slow tipping point to accumulate enough concentrated, tangible information to get me to where I am today.
Everything changed when my daughter was born, for sure. But the birth of my son kickstarted another evolution of my sense of self again. I was in the kitchen, and imagined a conversation between both my son and daughter.
I wondered to myself, what advice I would give their teenaged selves if they came to me and said they wanted to work in a challenging, competitive industry – like acting, music or…writing. I thought about what I would say:
“Do it right. Research, dig, talk to people in the industry until you know what you’re getting into and what you need to do.”
I realised that I wasn’t doing that. It made me feel a hypocrite, ashamed that I had truly had the tools to do what I wanted to do, but I had not used my neurodiverse gifts. Instead I had hidden away inside them, used them as excuses and distracted myself away from my dream. But how could I look at my children and say that they could work for their dreams and make them come true when I wasn’t doing so myself?
So I set out to do what I had imagined telling my children to do. Research, talk, commit. I set my lunch times as my writing time so that evenings are still family time with my children and wife. I set small, manageable milestone goals (micro goals, if you will) that I could achieve if I actually knuckled down and wrote.
And it’s working. For the first time, repeated success and discipline is working hand-in-hand with my ecstatic imagination. I feel the thrill of achievement and know that I can do it. I will get there.
The struggle was not in vain.