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The Challenges Being Autistic and Living With C-PTSD Posed While Working on my Book

In less than five months, I wrote, photographed, and went through the copy edit process for my upcoming book Crip Up The Kitchen. Yesterday, I approved the copy that will be used in the catalogue of Spring releases and to generally market the book. In a couple weeks, it will be off to design. When I say that is an accelerated timelime, know that this specific part of the process for traditionally published cookbooks usually takes 18 months to two years.

When I say this accelerated timeline posed multiple challenges for my autistic brain, you need to know that I cannot stress this enough.

Friends, they are going to come an arrest me at any moment because I did a crime. Okay. Not really. But that is how it feels. Because the rules say, the process from querying to traditional publication for cookbooks is 5 – 6 years, if you are lucky. And my journey did not follow the rules and so I’m going to jail because this isn’t how it is supposed to work.

Listen. I may have hypermobility of the joints but I’m not flexible. There is no such thing as good change. Sure, the change could be positive, but it isn’t good. Heck, my brain is still stuck in November, on the telephone call with the acting publisher (an actual role within a publishing house) trying to get onboard with being told, “We want to release your book for Spring 2023, so can you have it done by March or April?” Because that is not how it is supposed to happen.

Somehow, in less than five months, I wrote, photographed, and completed the copy edit process of a nonfiction cookbook. I don’t know how because my brain is still in November. Part of me split off, went to work, while part of my brain continually screamed, “THIS ISN’T HOW IT IS SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN! YOU ARE GOING TO GET CAUGHT FOR BREAKING THE RULES!”

Let me pause here to also let you know that I gasped, audibly, loud, when the acting publisher said the words “Spring 2023” and “Can you have it done by March or April”. She heard that gasp and said, “If you don’t think you are capable of this timeline, that’s cool! We can push it off until Fall 2023, giving you six more months. We are just really excited about this title.” I could have said, “Cool, let’s do that!” Nope. Of course I didn’t. Instead, I said, “No, Spring 2023 is fine. I can do this. It’s just that this isn’t how I had planned for this to go down. My expectations were for a 2025 release.” So, yes. I did this to myself. I had options.

Then, the rules changed again. During the call and the follow-up letter of understanding that was attached to my contract, there were to be three rounds of edits. Three. This number is important. Especially as three and nine of my OCD numbers. My OCD makes a fun appearance during this story, too.

March 1, 2022 rolled around. I submitted my manuscript. My editor let me know she would be reviewing it and sending off to the publisher for feedback. The publisher is the most knowledgable person on the subject of cookbooks and can quickly spot developmental things that need to be tweaked and spot any organizational issues. And then I heard nothing. I said to myself, “Okay. I guess I’ll get these notes during the first round of edits.”

April 1, 2022 rolled around. I submitted the images. My editor let me know that he manuscript is going to the copy editor and I should get them back in a few weeks, so time for me to rest. A week later, I get the updated production schedule and on it, there is only one round of edits.

I for real yelled at my computer, “Excuse me?! Where are the developmental issues that need to be fixed? I was told there would be three rounds of edits!” When I tell you it took all of my restraint to not response, “So my contract says three rounds of edits, so what is going on here? I need three rounds of edits!”

So, now my brain is stuck in November screaming about going to jail for breaking the rules about publishing timelines with the added fun of my contract being broken without explanation. Good. Times. While I moved on with the next phase of this process.

Then May rolled around. I get my copy edits back. And the rules changed, again. Somehow, I managed to convince my editor to accelerate the timeline and let me return my copy edits a week early to make sure the accessibility guidelines I created for the book have extra time to be spot checked before going off to design. OMG, now I’m breaking the rules! They went for it and I’m really going to jail now. Publishing timelines are supposed to get pushed back, not moved up. Those are the rules. I don’t make them, I just enforce them but now I’m breaking them with intention.

And this was when my OCD decided it wanted to take over. Ten days before I was to return my copy edits and the accessibility guidelines, my brain decided that there was a much better and more efficient way to work through my edits. You know what that means? It is time to put the copy of the manuscript that has all my copy edits in it in the recycling bin and start over with the copy returned to me.

Yes. I nearly did that. I took three days of a lot of cognitive behavioural work to convince myself that the way I did it is fine and acceptable and that my editor won’t yell at me and the world won’t break down because I didn’t do it the most efficient way. It is fine to not do things from beginning to end without making a single mistake and it is okay to backtrack. Truth. You don’t have to complete every single step with perfection in a very particular way and in one take. Nothing is going to explode. Nothing bad is going to happen.

You all have no idea how many times I have started things, stopped, thrown it all out, and then started from complete beginning, because my brain said, “There is a better way to do this and so this is all garbage and you have to start over.” And not in small ways but like spending 16 hours a day, multiple days of the weeks, for close to nine months organizing all the files on my computer so that everything was the most efficient and right.

And let me tell you, breaking all the rules here was triggering that specific manifestation of my OCD. It was a lot.

And then, every now and then, some of the voices from my abusive upbringing would decide to speak. They would tell me the occasional, “You can’t do this. Who do you think you are? You’re not talented enough. Nobody cares what you have to say. What makes you an authority? Okay, Clavin.” Can I tell you how much I hated being called Cliff Clavin? It was one of their favourite things to call me and I hated it because unlike Clavin, I was right. My facts were actual facts. 

In Grade 4, we had to do a 500 word report on an animal. I decided that I was going to write thousands of words about a whole slew of reptiles because that was my austitic special interest at the time, and there is no way you can make me pick just one reptile to only write 500 words on it. You need to know everything I know about this.

This is my first memory of infodumping.

I also knew I was smart. Smarter than my teachers. I was Wesley Crusher rolling his eyes and saying “Adults” after he schooled them about brainwaves. This was three years before we’d meet Wesley. During this report on reptiles, I had all sorts of narrator asides. But the narrator was someone reading this report and commenting on just how enjoyable they found it. At one point, the narrator gave me a Nobel Prize for my ground breaking research.

Before submitting this report, my mother read it. She told me I absolutely cannot hand in this report with all those asides. Especially the aside about the Nobel Prize. Who did I think I was? I did it anyway because autistic hubris and I know I am damn smart. My teacher loved it. She not only commented about how the asides made her laugh when she marked my paper but she also made note of it when grading my report card.

There would be many versions of this story as I got older. Something exceptional would happen or a teacher would let me do something that was well beyond my grade level, and at home I would be met with, “Who do you think you are? Can you even do this?” The irony of all this was the absolute trouble I would find myself in if I didn’t receive all A’s on my report card and wasn’t perfect at all times. The joys (not really joyful) of being twice exceptional.

The lesson I learned from that was, I wasn’t to trust my instincts about my abilities and what I can and cannot get away with. The thing I took away from that was that I was noone special and I was doing something very bad if ever exceptions were made for me, such as my publishing journey.

It is a mix of imposter syndrome, trauma, austitic inflexiblity, all colliding to create chaotic noise inside of my head, while I just truck along and get shit done.

The other day, Sarah Nicolas tweeted something about knowing if you are a good writer. And the thing is, I honestly do not know if I am a good writer. They wanted to stop the car and pull it over because how can I not know, especially as I have over a decade of published work behind me.

I know I’m a competant writer. Evidence suggests at least that much. But unlike my photography–something I know I am amazing at–where people literally gasp and hold their chest because I took their breath away, I don’t get that type of qualitative feedback when it comes to my writing. People aren’t telling me how they connected to my written words like they do my visual art. The only feedback I get is small little copy edits, which to my brain equals a certain competency but that doesn’t tell me it is “good”. The word “good” has a certain level of emotionality to it and is very subjective.

Yesterday, I approved the marketing copy for my book. My editor used the words “inviting, comprehensive, and accessible” to describe the book. It has been 24 hours, and I am still hyperfixating on the word “inviting.” Does she mean this?

Because, friends, I did a crime. I somehow managed to convince a publisher to allow me to write a 54k word infodump. Info dumping isn’t exactly known for being inviting. Comprehensive, absolutely. Accessible, sometimes. Inviting? The neurotypicals generally tune us out after a couple minutes. I want it to be inviting. I want it to have that feeling, because that is what my home is. You come. I make sure you are at home. I feed you and tell you stories.

The word “inviting” was the first time I got feedback from my editor about the quality of my writing. I probably could have asked. But I was afraid because I did a crime and soon they are going to find out.

And, I think this is the first time (like this very moment as I’m writing this) that the voice that has been yelling at me since November, telling me both that the rules police are going to take this all away from me while asking me who do I think I am, has started to silence.

Maybe I’m a little bit more than “competant” or as us Vulcans also like to say “satisfactory” because the writing served the purpose. It is also probable that my writing is good. And maybe I didn’t break any rules afterall and it is okay for me to be exceptional.

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Join the Conversation

  1. Thank you for this Jules. I so want to meet you in person. I live around the corner from your office on Ingram.

    Maybe we could go for coffee in the park behind Duncan Manor? I am a photographer , a cordon bleu chef, a voracious reader and disabled.

    Jean

    1. Hi, Jean! If the rain ever lets up (can’t use my chair in the rain without risking damaging it), then that would be nice. If it is okay with you, I’ll reach out via email during the summer, if it ever arrives 🙂

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