Neurodivergence and Mental Health (2019)
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Tara: Welcome, you are listening to a 2019 WriteOnCon podcast. This is Tara Kennedy from the WriteOnCon team, and I’m really excited to chat today with author, Laura Creedle, about how neurodiversity and mental health, and how to do that with your writing. Welcome, Laura!
Laura: Well, thank you! I’m excited to be here.
Tara: So, writers, I find, are a curious bunch. Especially when it comes to other writers processes. Do you find that awareness of your own neurodiversity and/or mental health, that you have to have an awareness of that, when you listen to other people’s advice about, you know, the best way to write?
Laura: Yes. I mean, they say there’s a two part answer this question. One thing I tend to — the more I embrace this subject of neurodiversity — the more that I think there is no such thing as a neurotypical person. And writers, among many professions, tend to be a little more neuro-diverse than the average. They tend to be a little more prone to depression, or anxiety, or compulsion. There’s a lot like compulsion among writers!
So it’s nice to, you know, start meeting writers and realize that a lot of the things that I struggle with, other people do to. My — because I’m ADHD — my editing process is very long and involved. And I tend to write large, you know, throw everything at it and then have to pare back. So I do occasionally get frustrated with other writers who write in a more linear fashion when they give me advice about how to rein it in. Because it’s just not me.
Tara: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Are there things you find you have to be aware of when writing characters that may have, sort of, different experiences? I know one writer said she had intrusive thoughts and had written a draft. And when she handed it to other people to read, they marked up all the intrusive thoughts and said, you know, “this is weird, where did this come from?” And she hadn’t realized that until she wrote a character with that, that was something she would have to explain to others.
Laura: Interesting. Are you saying that that her own intrusive thoughts got in the way of the character?
Tara: Well, she was intending to write a character with intrusive thoughts, but hadn’t realized how odd does that would appear to people who don’t experience that.
Laura: Yeah. When you are writing, I mean, I’ve written both from my own neurological frame, but I’ve also, you know, written from other neurological frames. I think you really have to work to be respectful and get beta readers. But it, there’s always this sort of cheating to the camera kind of thing that you do, because you still have to write a readable novel. And so, if the character is — for instance, the intrusive thoughts — if that becomes a distraction, then you haven’t written a good novel. There has to be a way to integrate an authentic neurological experience that still is a readable novel. So, I mean, I think that is a big part of the struggle, is how to be respectful. And I struggled with that a lot dealing with autism. I have autistic family members, but I’m not that. So I did ask for a lot more help in that case, so that I would, you know, be respectful. And a lot of the things that they told me, you know, were just “you’ve got to get rid of this”, or “I want to see this”. So it really guided my writing process, at least in the revision.
Tara: So, did you find that you talked to them, sort of, after you’ve done the first draft, or did you talk to people both before and after, or all along?
Laura: I am a multi-drafter. And I probably went through 25 drafts. And I didn’t start with talking to, I didn’t start with, you know, obviously, sensitivity reads or I would never have gotten done. But I was — I’ll give you a story about this.
I was on a very late draft and I gave the novel to a woman whose son is on the autistic spectrum. And she, and by that time I’d gotten rid of some things that were just wrong or, you know, didn’t resonate with people who were both family members of people who rate ASD or autistic readers themselves. And she came back and she was so deeply disappointed. And I said, “what’s wrong? You know, what’s missing here?”
And she said, and it’s just really kind of tears me up when I think about it. She said, “I want to believe my son can find a life partner, and that someone will love him the way that Lily loves Abelard. But” she said, “he didn’t ever have a meltdown. You never, — I mean, she, Lily — sees all the best moments and she never sees a truly hard-to-deal-with neurological event in his life”.
And so I had to go back, and I really respected that. I had to go back and I had to write a scene where he melts down and she does not know how to deal with it. And it was it was kind of a hard scene to write, because that’s out of someone else’s experience. It’s not my experience. And I was still writing from Lily’s perspective. So, Lily is very ADHD about how she deals with it. But yeah. And that was a very, very late addition to the draft. But I felt that what she said was very valid.
Tara: That makes sense. And that ties in, somewhat, to my next question which is that, when writing, we have to be really mean to our characters sometimes. Do you find that you have to have any tips or strategies for managing your own health and well-being while being terribly mean to these people that you’ve created?
Laura: Oh boy. I’m kind of at a point where I have to be a little bit meaner to the characters in the novel I’m working on right now. I find that the meanness comes out of digging into your own experience and really settling in with the unpleasant emotions. And that, you know, to get back to the scene that I was just talking about — where she witnesses a meltdown — basically, her response is to run away. And that’s a very ADHD thing. If you get overwhelmed, you just want to bolt. And when I was writing that, because I have had that experience of “I’m just overwhelmed, I’m just gonna, you know, walk away”. And it’s kind of devastating to Abelard.
And when I was writing that, I had to think, how many times have I, you know, just gotten into a space where I was overwhelmed with somebody — a family member or a love — and just bolted. And so, the repercussions of that in my own life is something I had to kind of look at, and it wasn’t a pleasant journey. But I think it was necessary. And, in a way, that’s, you know, in writing we write to inform others of our experience. But we also, you know, I mean, if you are writing contemporary fiction you are also, I think, doing your own therapeutic work, in a way.
And I had to sort of confront. Like, I’ve always, my husband is always — this is funny — he’s always referred to me, we’ve been together for forever. Like 25 years, but he’s always referred to me as the Dread Pirate Roberts of relationships. Like, you know, “good work Henry. Nice job. I’ll most likely leave you tomorrow”. You know, and I always thought that that was him. And I didn’t see my part in it. And after writing about my tendency to run from, you know, emotional scenes I thought “I’ve got a big part in that”. So, yeah, being hard to your characters is sort of being hard to yourself, if you’re honest. And that’s a big part of it.
Tara:Yeah. That makes a lot of sense.
So, on the flip side of that, are there special self-care tips you found useful for writing and drafting particularly? For doing lots of drafts where they’re having to dig deeper?
Laura: You know what? I am part of a — it’s like a giant online writing community — and I’ve been there longer and since I’ve published I’m sort of like the elder statesman. And I always feel like when you get through — and I run a beta group, it’s for people who want to be published — so it has some moments of people telling me harsh things about your novel. And, I think, every time you finish a draft, and you’ve run it through a beta, and it’s not right you feel like, “I’m gonna chuck this”.
And, I think, there’s — the self-care that I give — is to go, “well, this is part of — being terrible, is part of — the writing process”. And if you haven’t thrown stuff out there that isn’t working or isn’t good, then you’re not really digging in. And so, yeah, for me it’s always a matter of stepping back, away from a project for a while, you know. Because you lose perspective and you do kind of have to forgive yourself. And go see movies or whatever. You can’t write all the time or you go mad!
Tara: Well, and I knew you had also participated in PitchWars. Are there things you found helpful when doing something like that, where you’re really amping up the competition level, I guess, and the stakes of your writing?
Laura: I mean, you’re talking about self-care, and other writers, and you’ve really — PitchWars taught me something just absolutely fascinating that kind of helped me let go of rejection and I always love to share with other writers. I was not accepted to PitchWars on the first round. I actually — and they don’t really do this — but another one of the mentors, my fabulous mentor. She liked my novel so much she decided to edit it anyway, and revise it, and got me into the competition.
And then I was in the competition. I got requests. And one of the things that I found out was that I was getting requests from people who had A) rejected my novel before, which is fine. But there, I got requests from people who had not only had my novel but who had requested full manuscripts and had never seen it — because they are so busy. Agents are just insanely busy. And I have been in the situation, because I queried this novel 90 times before I ever entered PitchWars. And I got all sorts of, I got the requests for fulls, I got requests for partials, I got people who had my novel and never got back to me, I had people who requested and then said mean things.
But the thing about it is, you send a request or query off to an agent and you get a no. And it’s devastating. But it really doesn’t have that much to do with you and it really doesn’t have all that much to do with the work. So. And that freed me to deal with rejection in a different way. And I encourage all writers who are struggling to look at a query rejection as just not having to a lot to do with you. And if you get a rejection that says “this is an interesting premise but it didn’t resonate with me”, or “I like the character but I’m not sure the story is –”. That’s a win. And people don’t know that. If you, if a writer, I mean, if an agent writes you something personal about the novel — like a personalized rejection — that’s the biggest win you have. That means they took time out from their incredibly busy day to write you something so that you would know that you’re on the right track and what you can fix. And take that advice. You know? If it’s, like, “I like the premise, the characters didn’t resonate” dig into the characters and get back to it. Or if, you know, “I love the character, the novel didn’t go anywhere” pick your plot apart. You know?
That is encouragement. And I think that’s something we don’t see. And I think, because I was in this odd position of having people, you know, 17 agents request my novel and knowing that half of them had it already or had seen it in some form. And it was just like, I mean, that’s the beauty of PitchWars. They have to. They have to compete for you, which isn’t normally how us writers work. So it was a little view into the world that I didn’t get. And I’ll tell you something, and I will stop talking, because I know I’m going on and on. But, I had queried my dream agent — who is my agent now and he’s amazing — Tim McCarthy. And I queried him four times. Four times and three of those times with the same novel that he accepted, and I thought he would remember, and he didn’t. You know, that’s how busy they are. You know?
Tara: Yeah, I know. It is really fascinating. So, another thing that I know you’ve talked about that, particularly with the debut process. But, you know, once you’ve got this agent and then once you get this book deal, particularly in YA publishing, there’s sort of this long period of time. People are announcing books for 2021 already, I’m sure.
Tara: And that trying to explain to your non-writer friends that, like, this isn’t a bad sign. This is actually so normal.
Tara: And how to be — did you develop any strategies for how to explain the really slow process that is traditional publishing?
Laura: I wrote a blog post about this at one point. Because it’s like, you decide to paint your living room and people ask you, “how’s it going with that living room?” And then six months later they go, “how’s it going in the living room?” And they’re like, I’m not done? It’s, you know, it’s just, it takes forever. And everybody goes “how’s it going with the book? How’s it going with the book?” You know, and that’s, like, for two years you’re on the same page with that. And, oh my gosh! It is just. I haven’t figured out how to explain to non-writers how lengthy, you know, the process is. It’s just, yeah. To any writer who’s been through it. You – oh, I’m sorry are you still there?
Tara: Yeah, I’m still here!
Laura: I just I went away. I think.
But yeah. I don’t know how to explain it. It’s just, it’s unbelievable. And you go through so many edits, you know. And everybody, it’s stressful, and then people who are writers who are not on the publishing track yet — and I say yet because I think everybody has their moment. – are just like, “why are you complaining? You’re gonna get published.” But it is stressful, it’s a very stressful process. I’m glad I’ve been through it once because, you know, I can’t imagine that it isn’t, like, at least I’ll know next time.
Tara: Well, and with subsequent releases, have you changed how you describe it to non-writers? Or do they, now that you have a book, do they ask less because they’ve at least seen one come out?
Laura: Ugh. You know? People still ask “how’s it going?” You know. I get a lot of asks on the next book and I’m slow, so. No, it’s funny, I have. It came out in Dutch, and in French, and supposedly German this year. And there’s a lot of — if you haven’t read the book — there’s a lot of nonsense words. Like, she has a slight phonological processing disorder. That’s very common with ADHD. And so, she hears something that other people don’t hear. And you know, so mostly I talk about that. Because it’s, to me, it was the most hilarious thing to know that was coming out in other languages. How people would deal with the nonsense words, and how you translate nonsense words into other languages. And when the French edition was coming out, I got a lot of emails from the French publisher who was like, “what is this word supposed to be?” So I had to translate the gibberish so they could take that gibberish and make it sound like something close to the French word for the word they were translating. So, that’s mostly what I talk about, because it’s hilarious to me.
Tara: Yeah. That is a lot of fun. And then, I know, I personally have a little bit of a social media addiction. Have you developed strategies for balancing the need for connection and feedback with, you know, taking a break from all that input and stimulation?
Laura: You know what? I am terrible. I love to research. I will rabbit hole, you know. Yeah. Medieval love letters. There’s a lot about art moderne architecture in my new novel, and furniture making. And I’ve just, I can spend hours just watching, you know, videos of people making furniture. But — and I think I told you that I just moved — we moved into a house that, my husband is a computer guy, so, you know, we have Google Fiber which is great. But, for some reason, there’s this garage that has been converted into a room, no windows, so it’s the perfect study. For some reason, the reception out there is terrible. I don’t get internet.
And so I take my laptop in there, and I go work, and I start to think, “I wonder how you do veneer in sets and, you know, in this kind of woodworking”. And then I’ll, like, reach down and I’ll think, “I’m just gonna Google this”. And then nothing happens because there’s no internet. So it’s, like, it’s terrific! So I wouldn’t — I’ve know people have apps to turn the internet off — I would suggest that. And do your research in your own time. Because it is almost impossible not to. You think about something and then like, “I’m just gonna Google that” and two hours later you’re, you know, sitting there drinking coffee watching people make furniture. Yeah, I’ve gotten so much more done since I moved. It’s great.
Tara: So, do you find that there are some lessons or, you know, sort of strategies that you have to keep relearning to remind yourself, like “this is why I’m on the internet watching veneers instead of…” or whatever?
Laura: No, totally. When you’re working on a second book, as I am now, you think, “aw, I’ve done this before. I can do this”. You know. And you forget how much work goes into that book. And it can be really discouraging, because you know, you may spend four years working on that first book. And then, you know, the time frame is pushed out. I mean, you have to work a little faster. And I think that is the hardest thing to deal with, once you’ve had a debut, is “oh jeez, now if somebody wants something from me. You know? I’ve got to work a little faster. And get the second book out.” Yeah, so it is.
I do think that there are moments when you’re writing the second book that you realize — you’ve got to step back and realize — I’ve been through this process before, and it is a long involved one. And if they’re, you know, if you’re like me, there are gonna be some drafts that are terrible. That’s good, you know? Half good and then you just have to throw away that other half. Which was definitely my process for the last one. But it’s, there’s some little point of pride that goes, “I’m published now. All my work should be good” and it isn’t! You still have to go through the same winnowing process. So, yeah, it’s hard. That’s the hard part.
Tara: So, are there some recent favorite reads of yours you wanted to chat about?
Laura: I’m part of an online group, and so and I’m writing, once again, about depression and dealing with mental illness of the parent. So, I have two friends who — and they’re both Middle Grade novels — but they have that mental health, external mental health. One is The Three Rules of Everyday Magic by Amanda Rawson Hill and the other is Where the Watermelons Grow by Cindy Baldwin. So I’m reading both of those with a keen eye to how — because they both have done a very good job of dealing, of presenting someone dealing with a mental illness with another person — which is a big thing in the novel I’m working on now.
I’m also reading Far from the Tree which came out in 2015 and, I think it won the National Book Award, so. And I’m really enjoying that. I keep about eight books going at once. It’s weird. Mostly because I’ll lose my Kindle, or I’ll lose a book, halfway through. And then I come back to it. So, it’s, I read very tangentially.
I’m also reading Will Grayson, Will Grayson which, for some reason, I never read. So. And I have a book called The Girls in the Picture which I picked up for the airplane ride here. And it’s good, I’m really enjoying that. So, yeah.
Tara: Well, that’s the fun thing about books. It’s, you know, they don’t expire. It’s never too late to read them.
Laura: Right. I definitely see myself as a Young Adult writer. That’s just where my voice settles. I tend to think a little tangentially and frenetically. But I love reading adult books. You know, and YA books. And I have, you know, I read some genre fiction. I generally have half a dozen books going at once. And, I just, I could get in the mood to read detective fiction, I’ll read that. And it’s nice, you know? I mean, having the cross-genre experience.
Tara: And you said you’re working on your second book right now, is that correct? And when’s that scheduled to come out?
Laura: Oh no! See that, this was the question I was afraid you would ask. It’s not on the schedule. I’m holding on to it ‘til it’s right. I feel like I’m getting there. I’m supposed to send it to my agent, then my editor, then this, you know. I was supposed to send it to them after Christmas. But this past half year has been sort of crazy in my life. But, you know, the craziness feeds into my writing. I oftentimes think, you start writing about an experience, and then you bring it into your life.
One of the things, you know, the elements of the book I’m working now — it’s about a girl whose mother leaves home for a conference and she leaves her with their two-year-old brother and then she doesn’t return. And she lives in this beautiful but decrepit art moderne house that her grand great-grandfather built. And she, the house is everything to her. It’s their history. It’s a family. It’s her legacy. And then she faces losing the house and losing her family.
And as I was doing this, and I’ve been living in the same place for 25 years, I just suddenly realized it was time to move. And I would never have thought that. And I was very happy with where I was. But there were, you know, aspects of my life that needed to change. And I don’t know if the book freed me up to do that, or if it’s just like, it would have happened anyway. But it, yeah, a lot of the experience of leaving a place that you know and love has made its way into this book. So, you know, chaos always leads to writing somewhere down the way.
Tara: That’s great! And we’ll definitely keep an eye out for that.
Tara: Well, thank you so much for chatting with us today.
Laura: Thank you. It’s been a pleasure to talk to you.