Writing about Special Needs

I knew from an early age that I wanted to write.  Something about the process of it felt “right.”  The act of putting words on a page satisfied my need for purpose and order in what was for me a chaotic world.  Little did I know…past would become future, causing me to write this.

Time and time again, I had to explain.  I was asked–over and over–about my disability.  I always gave the same answers, but there were always so many new people who just really-really had to know!  Something had to be done.  So, I decided to work out short summaries and give them away like a sales pro would hand out flashy brochures.  That’s really how it started…for me.

Years ago, I had a conversation with my father about his experience as a parent.  He recalled what it was like to learn about vision impairment at a time when there were not a lot of books for sale on the subject.  When it became clear to him that I would someday be working with words, he hoped I might write “some-or-other” that would be useful for parents of visually impaired children.

He wasn’t wrong, my first book on the subject of vision impairment is among his favorites.  For many years, he’d mention little things to me that he thought would be important for “a book,” or “that book for parents,” when he wanted to mention it.  There are quite a few books in print today that have been written by parents of special needs kids, though not as many as you’d think are produced by those of us who “live the life.”

It doesn’t really matter which side of a challenge you are on, as long as you speak clearly.  Say what you mean, mean what you say.  I’ve always tried to present my thoughts as problems and solutions.  If possible, I make my point in a historical context because times change.  What was once unaccepted may now be the most normal thing in the world, so…

Moms, dads, or those of us who have to make our peace with “it” will always have face trauma or tragedy of some kind.  For some like me, that can be eye loss, or worse.  Anything you choose to write about your experience–and the solutions to your problems–would be helpful to anyone who reads your work, because it proves that there is hope.  You did it.  They can, too.

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The Challenge of a First Novel

Writing and publishing are not the same thing.  The plain and simple fact is that I’ve completed more projects that I’ve actually put in print.  Some were never followed through on because somebody beat me to it, meaning they put the idea in to circulation before I do–so I didn’t.

As many times as I do this, I’m still remembering my first-first novel.  The very first book I wrote to actually get in print was harder than I though it would be.  Looking back on it now, yes: I would definitely do things differently.  Even so, I still think of it as good experience, because it taught me a lot about what my future “style” would be.

When I tell the story of how that book came to be, it will sometimes sound like a trial of the Spanish Inquisition because I was miserable and suffering from start to finish.  I made the mistake of carrying that story around in my head for a number of years before actually putting it on paper, causing it to be over-developed when I did spill it on to an outline–which I did do before getting in to the guts of it.

Years before that, I had a chance meeting with a well-known author who advised me to write my first novel and burn it.  He was being funny and serious at the same time.  Fact is, I had already done that three times.  Three failed starts took me some time to recover from because each defeat was a kick that took some time to get over.

I’m all for telling a story, or laying out the nuts-and-bolts of how to do something (whatever that is).  While there is no one right way to do whatever you want to call this, books do not write themselves.  They need your time and patience as much as any children in your family.  In some ways, the characters you create become part of your life.  When you don’t care (because “it’s just a story”), that will be apparent to anyone who reads your work.  Plot holes and/or a lack of editing tell the terrible truth every time.

My first novel taught me quite a bit about my future style, it also gave me a reason to be focused and disciplined.  My thinking changed when I saw what it could be as a finished product.  It was the kind of book that I did want to read.  Yeah, I’d buy that.  Not so sure about the choice of author photo, but hey: we all make mistakes.

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Your Creative Process

How do you write a novel or short story?  Depending on where you went to school, what you read, or who you ask: there are at least six different ways to do this.  The bottom line is…with or without a plan, based on what you know about the genre and your own style.

 

Some people will choose to write in a genre without knowing as much about it as they could.  I do this more often than I admit, just to walk around in somebody else’s shoes.  None of it ever sees the light of day, all of it is given a burial in some undisclosed location–but–I have been known to sail in uncharted waters at inhuman hours in the depths of winter.  Just to see what it tastes like.

 

Then, of course, there is “the plan.”  That’s usually a structured outline of some kind, or a list of bullet points to be used like a roadmap when all else fails.  Some people do write off-the-cuff, making it up as they go along in what’s called Stream of Consciousness.  I plot and scheme, or plan–whenever I can.

 

A lot has been said about better ways to use your time.  Some people grind away for no more than thirty minutes before doing other things.  If the shoe fits, wear it.  That’s what I say, even if it means keyboarding for hours at a time.  It’s not unusual for some people to count their daily word output.  I won’t confirm or deny any guilt in this matter.

 

As long as you know what your goal is and how you are getting there, everything else takes care of itself when all of the writing is finished.  No matter when that actually happens.

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Write What You Know

Everyone has a preference for something, even if they don’t know it.  It’s not unusual for authors to write what they like to read–or–in genres that made an impression on them at some point in their lives.  I am no different.  As a child of the Cold War, I grew up with the Space Race on television.  Books and movies were thick with those themes.

See: YouTube for more.

The fiction writer’s pend (or keyboard) allows them to say things that no historian or conventional commentator can–because–they are telling a story that doesn’t have to be “real.”  That simple fact grants some leeway when dealing with touchy subjects.  Today’s taboo is likely to be tomorrow’s tedium, so much so that scholars in the next century are going to wonder what we were thinking.  Our words matter, because they will speak for us when we’re not here anymore.

Any of the characters were create can have meaning, whatever they say and do in our imaginary worlds can imply more than meets the eye.  Anyone who doesn’t understand the reference or get the joke will only read a story, everyone could…you get the idea.  Even when we try to be direct and to the point, we still risk being lost to the sands of time because words won’t mean the same thing in a hundred years.

The important thing is this: don’t be afraid to write what you know, make it work for you.  Build it in to any story you want to tell.

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