Novel Writing with ADD

Having almost finished my third fanfic novel, I’m preparing to start my first original novel early next year. This is a project I’ve been planning for the past year, and I’m taking it very seriously as I consider the path my life will follow over the next few months.

I’m facing something of a problem, however.

I have ADD.

I’m making a (somewhat arbitrary) distinction between “ADD” and “ADHD” here, not in the least because I’m probably one of the most chill and least “hyperactive” people you could ever meet. If you talked to me for the first time, or even if you worked with me for years, you would probably never know that there’s anything “wrong” with me. To be honest, I don’t see ADD/ADHD as being in a different category of chronic condition than, say, diabetes. It’s genetic, and I handle it with a combination of medication, behavioral strategies, and social support structures. You know, as one does. It’s not a big deal.

Still, working with ADD can be difficult. The secondary conditions accompanying ADD, such as dyslexia and executive function disorder, can be difficult to work with as well. Although it’s only tangentially related, having anxiety is difficult too. All of this is difficult to begin with, and it’s made even more difficult by the fact that almost everyone born after 1980 – regardless of gender, race, or economic class – has been subject to intense neoliberal pressure to “optimize” their “performance” in order to succeed in absurdly competitive systems that only reward people with an abnormally high degree of preexisting advantages. It’s also unfortunate that these disorders are both poorly understood and ridiculously stigmatized, and that the American medical healthcare system is largely inefficient, ineffective, and intensely bigoted, even if you’re a straight white man (but most definitely going downhill from there).

In any case, having Attention Deficit Disorder is precisely that – my ability to concentrate and manage my attention is not neurotypical. I personally wouldn’t call it a “disorder,” necessarily, because it feels very normal to me, and I don’t think it’s actually a “deficit” compared to what other people experience. Rather, it’s a few steps closer to the end of a spectrum instead of being right smack in the middle. Sustaining focus and attention for long intervals with no physical movement or immediate reward is painfully difficult for me. That being said, I’d like to believe that I’m relatively skilled at lateral thinking, thinking quickly, processing multiple sources of input, and managing multiple tasks simultaneously in a way that many other people seem to find exhausting. To use an academic setting as an example, what this means is that I can finish a test quickly and with a perfect score but can’t for the life of me sit still and look at the desk while waiting for everyone else to finish (as opposed to drawing on the back of the test paper or checking my phone, for instance).

To give another example, although I can’t sit down and read one book for an entire hour, I can sit down for an hour and read ten books, and I can do this every day until all the books are read. As a result, I read more books than almost anyone else I know (I keep track of this on Goodreads, if you’re curious), usually with good retention and recall. A problem only arises if you give me a book and expect me to have read the whole thing by tomorrow – in which case I would say that’s your problem, not mine. In other words, the “problem” is often the arbitrary framework for a task, not my ability to handle it. To be blunt, the way I work only becomes a “disability” if someone deliberately goes out of their way to make it so by refusing to accommodate diversity.

This becomes tricky, however, when I have to set a task for myself.

Specifically, how am I supposed to maintain my attention and concentration for long enough to write the epic fantasy novel I’ve been outlining for the past year?

Based on my previous experiences with fanfiction and my academic monograph, I think that, in order to complete a significant writing project, I would need:

– the project to be of a manageable length,
– the project to occupy a manageable timeframe,
– the project to receive a manageable level of feedback,
– the project to have distinct and manageable milestones, and
– the project to have room for me to step away between milestones.

Instead of writing the story I’m envisioning in the form of a giant singular manuscript, perhaps it would make sense if:

– it were divided into a series of novellas
– of roughly 30k words each
– with roughly ten main chapters each
– and roughly 2,500 words per chapter.

I know this isn’t the traditional publishing model, but Tor recently started to put out novellas of approximately this length. (Silver in the Wood is a good example, I think.) Many of the Tor fantasy novellas I’ve read during the past year have been a lot of fun, and I’m given to understand, based on reviews and sales rankings, that a number of them are doing quite well in both digital and physical editions. What I’m envisioning might be possible, then.

In any case, I think it might be worth talking to an agent, but…

…I’m totally broke, I’m very shy, I only have a moderate following on social media, and I don’t have any useful connections in real life. If you combine my inexperience with the publishing world and the way my ADD workstyle functions best with external structure and feedback, I think it’s clear I would need a lot of guidance, and I don’t even know where to begin looking for help.

Maybe it’s still a bit early for all of that, though. For the time being, it would probably be best to start by cleaning up my outline and getting to work on a formal pitch. Once that’s taken care of, I can figure out where to go from there.

Anxiety in the Age of COVID-19

This week I invented a fun “adult” game to play with my partner. It’s called:

“Can you please sit on the couch with me and help me write emails because I am riddled with anxiety and have somehow managed to convince myself that every single word I write is bad and will cause everyone to lose respect for me and hate me forever.”

I’m currently struggling through a wave of anxiety, and it’s both intense and completely irrational. For example:

– An amazing colleague sent me a nice email expressing admiration for something I published recently, and I think I’m going to die.
– Another amazing colleague wrote to ask if they could put an unpublished essay of mine in a book they’re editing, and I think I’m going to die.
– I got a few new submissions to a zine I’m editing, and they are wonderful, and I think I’m going to die.
– A stranger who seems like a cool and interesting person sent me a message on Instagram inviting me to submit a comic to a zine they’re putting together, and I think I’m going to die.
– Someone sent me a message on Etsy telling me that they love my art, and I think I’m going to die.
– An artist I admire tentatively accepted an illustration commission for a novel I’m writing, and I think I’m going to die.

I feel awful, as if I’m an asshole for tricking these people. Like, they don’t know that I’m actually a terrible person, but they will find out. Nothing bad has happened, but bad things may potentially happen in the future.

When I was at my previous job, my older male department chair asked a female colleague to sit me down and tell me that anxiety doesn’t exist, and that it’s just a matter of me changing my attitude (or something). I keep thinking about this in an attempt to explain to no one in particular that I don’t actually want social interaction – even positive social interaction – to make me feel like I can’t breathe and might need to go to the hospital.

Emotionally I want to communicate and connect with people, especially friendly people doing cool things who it would be fun to work with. Intellectually I know that the worst thing that could happen is me making a silly typo or me eventually having to apologize for submitting something a few days late. Physically, however, I feel like I’m watching a grisly scene in a horror movie, except I can’t close my eyes until it goes away because this is my actual life.

Despite feeling like I’m on the verge of a coronary event, I’m going to ask my partner to sit on the couch with me and help me respond to some emails like a normal adult. This shouldn’t feel like I’m walking into battle, but it does and I hate it.

I’ll get through this, of course. It might take me a bit longer than it takes other people to respond to emails when I’m dealing with anxiety, but I’ll definitely get through this. I’m grateful to have a partner who supports me, and I’m very lucky that my colleagues (and students!) in my new department are accommodating. I’ve started being honest and upfront about what I’m going through, and everyone has been surprisingly kind and understanding.

I’m sharing this in the hope that it makes someone out there feel less weird and alone. There’s so much ambient stress and bad news in the world every single week, and I think a lot of people are experiencing this sort of anxiety at this level of intensity for the first time. It’s normal to feel physically sick, and it’s normal to feel mentally paralyzed. After experiencing wave after wave of negativity, it’s totally normal to have this sort of reaction even to positive events. So be kind to yourself, and let other people help you! You can get through this.

Live Your Best Life

I ended my post about theme park fandom with a question concerning how someone gets a job as a theme park journalist. I don’t have any serious interest in theme parks, so what I really want to know is how to get paid for doing what you love. It was mostly rhetorical… but also sort of an actual question.

Do you have to have your own YouTube channel? I am not telegenic and hate the sound of my own voice, but maybe it’s something to consider.

The talk I gave at Otakon last Saturday wasn’t great. I mean, it wasn’t bad. I’m going to say that it was a solid 6/10 performance.

This was mainly because of the platform. The way we had it set up, I couldn’t see the audience (which was virtual anyway), I couldn’t see the chat, I couldn’t see the producers, and I had no way to communicate with anyone. I didn’t even know if video was enabled while I was presenting. Basically, I was sitting at my desk and talking to a dead screen for half an hour, which was super awkward. Afterwards, I could barely hear the questions I was given, even with my laptop’s speakers set at maximum volume. There was no way to gauge reactions, which meant that any sort of humor (including even the most basic crowd work) was impossible. I was so nervous!

I’m definitely not blaming the producers, who did excellent work given the timeframe and limitations, and I’m doing my best not to blame myself. This was the first time I’ve ever given a virtual talk, after all. I spent a good two and a half hours editing the slideshow afterwards, and I also put together several pages of notes about what I can do differently in the future, including how to make humor work and how to be more engaging for an unseen virtual audience.

Still, I’ve been having these weird PTSD flashbacks to the talk during the past week. Like, I’ll randomly remember a word I stumbled over or a name I couldn’t remember off the top of my head or a typo in one of my slides, and I’ll experience an intense moment of physically palpable cringe. Then again, this sort of reaction is normal for a lot of people who give live performances of any kind. It’s difficult at first, but you gradually get used to it. I no longer have any problems with teaching or presenting in person, but this sort of virtual talk was an entirely new experience for me. Thankfully, now that I’ve done it once, it can only get better from here.

I’m wondering if I might be able to make short videos for my class this semester. A general rule of thumb is that, unless you’ve got a lot of text on each slide (which you really shouldn’t), you should spend about one minute on each slide of a presentation. If you’re reading aloud from an essay, one minute is about one double-spaced page. I can definitely make a five-slide presentation and write a five-page “script” to go with it every week. The problem would be recording, as I have exactly no equipment and zero experience in video editing. This would be the point pre-semester when it would be good to go to campus and ask a specialist for assistance and advice, but… you know.

So I guess I’d have to wing it, and maybe keep access to the videos limited to my students. If I’m going to do this, there’s no time like the present. Once I get the hang of it, maybe I can re-record everything and put it on YouTube…

Or not, actually. I mean, we’ll see, but I think it’s important to listen to what my anxiety is telling me. Right now, my anxiety is telling me that this isn’t a good time to teach myself to do something that I won’t enjoy and that won’t be rewarded with positive feedback or financial compensation.

What I actually enjoy is making slideshows, and I also enjoy making zines. Maybe, instead of trying to make videos that I will hate and (let’s be real) no one will watch, I could adapt my slideshows into zines. Printing isn’t that expensive, but it isn’t cheap either, so what I could do would be to make free PDF zines and then, once my finances are a bit more comfortable, print one or two that I think might attract interest. A zine based on my class session about urban legends might be good, for instance.

I don’t think making zines out of my lectures is going to win me fame and fortune, but you know what?

If your dream job doesn’t exist, perhaps you just have to make it yourself.

It Never Happened

It Never Happened is my second zine of horror-themed flash fiction. It collects fifteen very short stories, as well as a spooky comic (that you can find here) by the artist Frankiesbugs.

This is the zine description:

This zine collects fifteen short stories about finding oneself in strange circumstances and adjusting to a new normal. Nothing that takes place in these stories actually happened, of course. Most of what transpires is a little creepy, but it’s important to remember that none of this is real. If you read these stories, you might not be real either, but don’t let that stop you.

I love autobio comics, and a lot of these stories came from my failed attempts to write comic scripts. What I realized during this process is that it’s very difficult for me to talk about myself. Although I obviously have no trouble sharing my opinions, I never know what to say when I try to describe my own life. All of the stories in this zine are based on real experiences; but, as the title suggests, none of this ever actually happened.

Or rather, that’s not entirely true. One of these stories is 100% factually accurate, but I’m not going to say which one.

If you’re interested, there are still a few copies of this zine (on Etsy).

Social Media Self-Care

During the past few days, I deleted about four hundred posts on Tumblr:

Posts where I reblogged people’s stories, meta, and art with supportive comments and tags, posts of original art and stories and jokes I made for people’s ideas and headcanons, and reblogs of people’s creative projects and commission info.

I applied the same level of attention to weeding my blog on Tumblr that I’ve devoted to developing my island on Animal Crossing, and it was incredibly cathartic.

I don’t need to see a snapshot of myself going out of my way to be kind and friendly to someone who thought it would be a good idea to send me a message asking if they could commission me to drink an entire bottle of NyQuil and pass out with a plastic trash bag over my head, for example.

I was never friends with any of these creeps. It never happened.

For me, the purpose of Tumblr is and always has been to create a small garden of things that make me happy. I scroll through my own Tumblr when I’m stuck in a waiting room, or during some impossibly long train or car ride, or when I’m exhausted but can’t sleep. “Interesting but relaxing” is the vibe I’m going for, and I think I’ve gone a decent job, for the most part. After all, I’m fairly skilled at catering to myself as an audience of one.

I’ve never been comfortable with the expectation to behave like a brand; and, regardless, activity on Tumblr has declined rapidly during the past month or so. I’ve gone from getting well over a thousand notes a day at the beginning of the year to getting less than a hundred a day during the past three weeks, and it only takes me about fifteen minutes to scroll through an entire day’s feed – if I even bother, which I mostly don’t.

What has ultimately come out of my social experience of fandom on Tumblr are lowkey but lasting friendships with professional artists and writers who have mostly moved to Twitter. I understand the value of online anonymity, but I think there are benefits to allowing yourself to be a real and fully-rounded person online. There are also benefits to being able to mute people, as well as being able to choose never to see certain tags and keywords. I’m not saying that Twitter is a good platform, because it’s objectively awful, but it’s become a much easier place to manage the social aspects of fandom.

To be honest, it’s because of Twitter that I no longer think of “fandom” as a discrete area of my life that needs to be contained and concealed as a shameful waste of time. I am a writer who writes reviews and critical essays about media. Sometimes I write fiction and draw comics. This is who I am, and I’ve found it much easier to interact with people when I don’t have to hide aspects of myself. I’ve also found it much easier to pick up the sort of high-quality freelance assignments that enabled me to quit the soul-crushing job that was making me sick.

Maybe it took me a little longer than other people to find my voice and surround myself with a supportive community, but I’m happy I’m here now.

Emotional Intelligence

What with one thing and another, I’ve recently been wondering if I’m prone to misreading people. I was worried that I might have low emotional intelligence, so I took two online tests.

One test hosted by Berkeley shows you a picture of a model’s face and gives you a choice of four related emotions indicated by their expression. I scored 15/20, which is average. This makes sense to me in a roundabout way.

One image shows a woman blushing and looking down with a coy grin. She’s using her index finger to point at her cheek, and the only way she could be broadcasting “kiss me, you handsome devil” more strongly is if she were wearing the words on a t-shirt.

The emotion I’d assign to her pose and expression would be “flirtatious,” but apparently the answer is “embarrassment,” as people who are embarrassed often touch their faces. All right then.

In another image, there’s a man making a classic “oh no they didn’t” face by smiling with his lips closed and pulling his head back while looking sharply to the side with his eyebrows raised. The emotion his expression conveys is a very specific combination of secondhand cringe and prurient interest, which I might describe more generally as “amusement.” The correct answer is “guilt,” because guilty people won’t meet your eyes. Okay, sure thing detective.

So I guess this test proves that I have enough emotional intelligence to read people’s expressions but not enough emotional intelligence to understand what the people writing the test consider to be the correct answer, which was probably decided by committee vote.

An average level of emotional intelligence, in other words.

A longer test hosted by the website for Psychology Today magazine presents you with scenarios to imagine and a range of possible responses to choose from. I got a score of 86/100 on this one, which is average. This also makes sense.

One question asks what you would do if you went to your mother’s house for dinner and she made a snide remark about your table manners in front of her friends. I know the test wants you to say that you’ll talk about your feelings with your mom after the other guests have gone home, but that’s silly. If your mother is still talking shit about how you don’t use a napkin when you’re a grown-ass adult, that’s a manifestation of a long-term dysfunction in the relationship that is well beyond your ability to repair. Your job in this situation is to smile, make an equally snide but still loving joke at her expense, and then let the matter slide. Are you going to hang around the house and wait until you’re alone to say something? Fuck no, go home after dinner like an adult and let your mom have her wine time with her friends.

Another question asks what you would do if a friend just broke up with their partner and called to ask for your advice. The answer to this question is obviously “they’re not calling to ask you for advice, that’s just a hook to get you to hear their story, and you both know that, so just listen to what they say and ask considerate questions until they start winding down, by which point you should know what they want to hear, and that’s what you’re going to tell them, except that’s also what their mom would tell them, and you know they have a difficult relationship with their mother, who never approved of their partner to begin with, so you basically have to repeat what they told you back to them in a way that doesn’t sound like their mom.” This is clearly the correct answer, and I would gladly have chosen it, but it wasn’t an option for some reason.

Another question asks what you would do if you caught your boss embezzling pocket change. I think the answer is supposed to be “be a good citizen,” but let’s be real. You didn’t catch your boss embezzling pocket change. You didn’t see anything at all, in fact, and that’s why you’re not going to say anything. One day, when you do not embezzle pocket change, your boss will similarly not see or say anything. We do not hold moral responsibility toward corporations, Karen.

(I suppose this begs the question of whether I’ve ever stolen from a low-wage job. The answer is yes. Of course I have! Mostly toilet paper and food that was going in the trash anyway. I’ve also witnessed people shoplifting and done nothing to stop them. Do you want to be the monster restocking the shelves at Walmart who feels compelled to say something to the woman who comes in after midnight and gently nudges a pack of diapers into the back of a baby carriage containing an actual tiny living human being? Of course you don’t, and neither did I.)

(I also still have a box cutter that I stole from the warehouse stockroom of a big chain bookstore. I used it just last week when I was unpacking from my recent move. It’s a good box cutter, and I regret nothing.)

Anyway, my score on this test proves that I’m emotionally intelligent enough to know what the right answers to these questions are supposed to be, but I’m too lazy to bother lying on an online quiz administered by a pop psychology magazine. So, in other words – average.

I imagine that almost everyone thinks this of themselves, but I really do believe that I’m totally average, or at least within a normal range of standard deviation.

I don’t think this is a bad thing. I would actually argue that one of the most enjoyable elements of being a writer is having an intuitive perception of the emotional baseline of any given character and then pushing it as far as it will go just to see what happens, at least according to the specific parameters of your understanding of human behavior. If every character you write starts off and ends up as perfect and unique, that’s not much fun for anyone involved.

Summer Writing Plans

Between on thing and another, I’m in something of a difficult place right now. Thankfully, I finally have room to maneuver, so I’ve been trying to take a step back from “productivity” and figure out what a healthy and sustainable workday looks like. I think that, for the time being, I might like to experiment with less work. Specifically, how would it feel to focus on fewer projects?

I think I’d like to have two “tracks” in a day. I don’t want to say “a morning track” and “an evening track,” because I’m not that big on set routines, but something like that – two sustained periods of writing during the day, each devoted to a different project.

Here’s what I’d like to spend the rest of the summer doing:

Track One

– I’ve been invited to contribute a 6,000 word essay about The Legend of Zelda to an edited volume on JRPGs. If I write 2,000 words a week, this will take three weeks, plus another week to edit.

– When I’m done with that, I need to return to the essay about the Hiromi Kawakami story I translated. It’s mostly finished, but it needs more research. Assuming that I write 1,000 words a week and edit as I go along, this should take about two weeks to finish.

– Once those two projects are squared away, I should get started on a public lecture I’m supposed to give about The Legend of Zelda in the fall. I’m aiming for this to be around 5,000 words, so I think the rough draft will take about three weeks.

Track Two

– I’m going to write Chapter 40 of my fanfic novel Malice. I’d like for this to take two weeks, but it could take three. There’s no need to rush, after all. After this is done, thus concluding the fourth (of five) story arcs, I’m going to put the novel on hiatus. I’ll leave a note at the end of the chapter saying that it will be back in the fall, which is probably true. I’d like to have the novel finished by the end of the year.

– I wrote an original short story a few years ago that I’ve been thinking about a lot recently. I’d like to return to it and see about submitting it somewhere. My style has changed significantly, so I’m going to say that it will probably take about two weeks to edit properly.

– I want to write a short horror story based on The Tale of Genji. I’ve already got a rough draft, but it’s a mess. If I write 1,000 words a week (emulating Heian prose is not easy), it should take me three weeks to reach a solid length of 3,000 words, and then I’ll give the story a week to rest before I edit and submit it.

And after all of that?

WIND WAKER BOOK! WIND WAKER BOOK!!

What Happened

During the past week I updated my CV, my website, and all of my online profiles to reflect the fact that I’m moving to a new job. I’ve been holding off on doing anything with Facebook because I know it’s going to result in people asking me what happened, so I should probably figure out what to say. Okay, here goes:

What happened is that I was offered a part-time position with full benefits, an amazing salary, and a lot of research perks at an Ivy League school, and I accepted. This is partially because I’d like to buy a townhouse in Philadelphia, but it’s mainly because I want to be able to devote more time to writing without having to worry about participating in university administration as tenured faculty.

That’s not the question people will be asking, however.

What happened at the university I’m leaving is that it’s a large regional public school that doesn’t provide even basic resources for research or teaching (I had to make my own photocopies off campus, for instance). I put up with this because I liked my colleagues and students; but, in my second year, a seventy-year-old man became department chair at the same time a seventy-year-old man became president. Both of these men are aggressively awful, and the stress caused me to develop an anxiety disorder. This specifically affected my interactions with my department chair, who openly harassed me in front of my colleagues and in front of university administration, none of whom did anything to stop him. When I finally went to the Title IX Office to request a formal intervention, the university did a complete 180 from granting me substantial yearly raises in order to retain me to unequivocally denying my tenure case.

Essentially, I was denied tenure on the basis of a disability that was exacerbated by workplace harassment, so I walked away and accepted a better position elsewhere.

The situation is obviously more complicated than that, but this is the gist of it. In any case, I’m tired of talking about this, and I’m looking forward to putting all of this unpleasantness behind me and moving on with my life.

Congratulations, I Guess

My first monograph, Manga Cultures and the Female Gaze, was officially released yesterday, on April 1, 2020.

This doesn’t mean much, unfortunately. Amazon currently has the book listed as “out of stock,” and at the moment you can only get the digital version from the publisher’s website.

Last weekend I was supposed to have been giving a high-profile panel, promoting my book, and talking to presses about my second book project at the big conference for my field. I was also scheduled to give a handful of talks at universities up and down the East Coast during April. I’ve been working for the past four years to make this happen, and now it’s all just… gone.

This sounds like an inane thing to say during a global pandemic, but I can’t help but be upset.

I keep thinking about Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, which is about why certain groups of people seem to be magically successful while other equally worthy people can never seem to catch their big break. Gladwell’s conclusion is basically this: Sometimes, you’re just at the wrong place at the wrong time. Sometimes, entire generations are at the wrong place at the wrong time. And there’s nothing that you or any one individual can do about it.

I’m feeling frustrated and useless right now, and I’m also haunted by a strong sense of being “the wrong type of doctor.” I wish there were something I could do. Not about my stupid book about comics, but about the general state of the world. Given that my personal experience with the American university system has been so broken, I’m starting to think seriously about alternative routes to achieving broader and more accessible public education.

If nothing else, I guess I have time.

How to Make Classes Work, Step Two

Wear a suit to every class.

No exceptions.

Because of some weird harassment from [redacted], I had an intense panic attack at the beginning of the semester that left me so sick and weak that it was impossible to wear a suit for the first two weeks. Anxiety may be psychosomatic, but it’s still very much a physical illness.

You may be thinking that I must be some sort of crazy person, and you wouldn’t be entirely wrong, but I’m actually one of the most normal people I know. If you sat next to me on an airplane or met me at a wedding reception, you’d think I was normal too. I like to talk about normal adult things like pets and vacations and real estate and other people’s children. I’m even a little boring, but in a totally normal and average way.

So how does a normcore person like me with no history of health issues turn into a nervous wreck? Stewing in a toxic environment for a few years will do that to you, and at this point I’m having trouble imagining a more toxic environment than academia.

That’s by design – the university system is structured to consume so much of your life (see my essay about how tenure works) that you stop being able to imagine what the world outside looks like. This isn’t healthy, obviously. If I get tenure, one of the first things I’d like to do is to figure out a set of concrete actions that will help to enable the promotion of a culture of kindness, tolerance, and diversity. I genuinely believe that both professors and university administrators (myself included) would be much better at our jobs if we weren’t so stressed out all the time.

Anyway, I think the combination of my casual clothes at the beginning of the semester and the fact that I’m not a cisgender man may have led some of the students to arrive at the conclusion that I am fun.* I actually am fairly easygoing, but I’m always 115% serious in the classroom, and the suit helps convey that message with less room for misinterpretation concerning the level of effort and engagement I expect from my students.

 

* This conclusion is erroneous. I haven’t had fun since 2008.