Permission to Speak

Four days into NaNoWriMo, and I have a grand total of… zero words. Some notes and prompts, yes, but no actual writing.

Kittlen is frustrated at me because I’m not writing. But she forgets just how easy it is for her to conjure up words, and how hard it is for me.

Part of that is from my childhood. I’ve always been quiet. I didn’t even start to speak until I was 4 to 5 years old, and that was with help from a speech therapist. I was put into a remedial class at primary school because I was having trouble learning language, writing and maths. The last one was particularly problematic.

I got lucky when I turned 10—my then-headmaster was able to pull some strings and help me get a bursary to attend an independent school where I could get more intensive teaching. The only downside? It was a boarding school, on the other side of England from where I grew up.

Still, it worked, kinda. I finally grokked maths, and when the school opened its computer lab, I was immediately hooked. But my writing fell by the wayside, as did my artistic skills outside of some stuff I made in woodwork and metalwork classes.

I did eventually get my art going again later on in life when I got given a cheap second-hand copy of Photoshop and subsequently got roped into doing artwork preparation at my then-workplace. I forced myself to learn Photoshop, Illustrator, CorelDraw and other software, and gradually refined my techniques so I could make artwork that would print or display correctly on whatever medium it needed to go. That got me into video editing, DVD authoring and basic web design as I was asked to take on more roles.

My writing took longer to come back, but I did start blogging on-and-off in the early 2000s. But I stuck to talking about things in the news, mostly technology stuff. I didn’t put down on paper or screen any of the stories in my head. I think that, deep down, I was scared of being mocked and ridiculed. I’d been bullied during my school years, called a weirdo and a retard because I struggled with some subjects and was prone to daydreaming. (I now know that this was part of my autism, but at the time I’d not been diagnosed because it wasn’t as well understood and accepted.)

It’s only within the last few years that I’ve been able to start writing for myself, developing my own ideas. And that is still not easy for me. To paraphrase from the Police song ‘Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic’:

But my silent fears have gripped me

Long before I reach the phone.

Long before my tongue has tripped me.

Must I always be alone.

In that context, just announcing on NaNoWriMo that I have an idea for a novel is a significant achievement for me. It may be just a placeholder, a project file, but it’s something I can poke at when I get a chance.

As a result of being first a software developer and then a graphic designer, I’ve learned to start with an outline of what I want, then iterate on that, adding more and more detail, until I have something solid and whole. I do something similar in my fiction writing. Kittlen is the opposite, she dumps her ideas on the page, then later on figures out how to string them together.

And I have another means now to get my writing going. After a few false starts, I am writing in a personal journal. Well, it’s a collection of text files that are synchronised between my devices, but it is organised by year and month, and I’m forcing myself to write every day. I hope that I’ll get the habit to a point where it becomes more comfortable for me to capture my daydreams and random thoughts.

I am giving myself permission to speak.