Confession time: I’m not neuro-typical. In fact, I’m on the Autism spectrum.
Years ago, I would say I have aspergers syndrome. The people who know about these things decided that it wasn’t a useful distinction so now I’m considered a high function autistic adult.
Either way you look at it, my brain doesn’t process social information the way most people do. Most people can see a smile and know, without thinking about it, if it’s a happy one or pained. They can take in people’s body language and know the social context of the room. Most people don’t think about these things, it’s just part of life. So they don’t know how they know. I don’t have that luxury.
I remember the first time I noticed that something wasn’t working for me. The first day of third grade and the school required a parent to drop all students off so the parents could meet the teachers. My mom walked me to my third grade classroom and gave me a nudge to go talk to my friends while she went to talk to the other parents.
This shouldn’t be too hard, right? Except I knew most of the kids in the room and still didn’t know which ones were my friends. The kids were sorting themselves into groups, but I couldn’t see the pattern. I didn’t have a clue which group I belonged in. So I chose and got it wrong.
Even though more of the kids in that group played with me in 2nd grade, in 3rd grade girls don’t belong in an all boys group – I guess. I still think that’s wrong, but I learned that there are rules and then there are real rules and you have to know the real rules if you want to understand the rules. The classic example of rules vs real rules is this:
Rule: No running in the halls.
Real Rule: Don’t get caught running in the halls.
After that embarrassing start to 3rd grade, I learned to analyze social situations consciously. It takes me a while to assess a room because I have to think about it. Along with my natural shyness, this habit gets me labeled a “wall flower.” To some this is an insult, but I don’t really care. I do cling to the wall and wait until I understand before I participate. Experience has taught me that my chances of getting it wrong are significantly higher than other people.
You might think I’m complaining, but really I like living like this. Well, not the socially awkward part, but there are plenty of reasons for social awkwardness and enough other people who have that problem that I know I’m not alone. What I like is that I have had to learn to analyze social interactions.
For a writer, this is an invaluable skill. I’ve been practicing it almost as long as I’ve been writing (I started writing fiction in 2nd grade and that’s a whole ‘nother story). I’ve been looking at the details of how different smiles pull at the lips differently. How some only pull at the lips and others reach all the way up to the eye brows. I learned that sarcasm usually comes with an askew expression, while people being serious have a straight expression.
I could tell kids who were lying to me by where their eyes pointed. I can still tell. People who are in love walk a little lighter, while someone trying to hide their anger tend to raise their shoulders. None of this is unknown, and most of it can be learned with a little research into scientific studies about non-verbal communication. The difference is that I’ve been observing such things for so long, it comes as second nature to have my characters do them.
It has served me very well in my writing right up to the sex scenes.
I don’t get much chance to observe people having sex. Go figure.
So I took a class in how to write erotica. The instructors kept saying you have feel turned on to write sex scenes. “If you aren’t getting wet from your writing, neither will your readers.” Except I’d written a sample to get into the class that they said was very hot, but I wasn’t turned on by it.
We read other works and the whole class talked about how this piece really got them going or that one didn’t. I didn’t feel anything like that while reading. I knew it was another aspect of my ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) that I hadn’t noticed before. I wasn’t going to let it defeat me. There had to be a way for me to analyze hotness without getting a physiological response.
One of the instructors took me aside and we ran through all kinds of scenarios. It took a long time, and I’m grateful she stuck with it until we found the key. I don’t have a physiological response to the written words, but I do have a mental one. There is a very distinct kind of focus that shows up when something I read is turning me on.
That opened a whole new world of reading and writing for me. I can read my own writing now and know the difference between technical tab P in slot V writing and the kind of heat that gets the kind of praise I crave from writers I respect.
I may have a different process, but I know I can produce the kind of stories that turn people on. Now I just need to find the people who want to be turned on and convince them to read my stories.