52 Weeks of Editing: Week 4—Editing A Novel vs. Executive Dysfunction (A Story About Neurodivergence and Chronic Illness)

52 Weeks of Editing: Week 4—Editing A Novel vs. Executive Dysfunction (A Story About Neurodivergence and Chronic Illness)
Photo by The Halal Design Studio / Unsplash

I don't know how to start this.

This tab has been open on my browser for days. Originally, this week was going to be about characterisation. I'd had some ideas about Io and thought I should write about that.

But I hit a wall.

I shifted back to plot, because I read a couple more chapters of the first draft. "I'll make this week 'part two' of what's probably going to be a multipart series on working through the plot," I thought.


Then I thought I'd make it about theme, because at the same time as I was thinking about plot points and scenes, I was also thinking about character, and both of those were being underpinned by theme.

Again, nope.

I didn't do any of that.

I got halfway through posts and abandoned them, leaving them as unscheduled drafts. I've done a few things in terms of actual editing, but mostly I've done what I usually do when I'm overwhelmed: buy a bunch of random shit (stationery, this time) and watch YouTube videos when I should be writing blog posts.

I've Been Marking

Marking is possibly the hardest job I've ever done, and I say that as somebody who has been a plane loader, bussed tables at an airport café, and even worked on an assembly line printing t-shirts until 2 o'clock in the morning.* I try to think of marking as an opportunity to really work with students one-to-one and help them learn the craft of writing an academic point but...

You put a ton of effort in and they don't read the feedback anyway.

At least, not the students you want to read the feedback.

Also, I suspect by this time next year, I suspect AI will have taken over my job as well as the role of writing essays, so the computers will all be marking their own work.


Marking has this huge cognitive load to it, which crushes me for pretty much everything else I might want to do in a day. I usually have a couple of good hours in me at best—maybe four if I've slept really well—but marking means I can barely think straight for the rest of the day.

Most of my life, I've given myself the hardest of times. I assume that because most jobs require an eight-hour day, then surely I should be able to work eight hours a day. Then edit my novel and write blog posts and do research.


I wish.

The reality is that most days I work for those hours, then I recover for a few hours, then I'm done. It wasn't until I got my autism diagnosis and began looking into symptoms that I realised my dream of being a productive workerbot were never likely to come true. They're probably not realistic for most allistic or neurotypical people either, to be honest.

But it makes it all the harder to think through the brain fog to get anything done. I want to be able to show up for this blog. Over the last several years, I've started so many things and abandoned them halfway through. My Medium site is a patchwork of things I've started and never finished. There was the whole comic I was working on back on the Patreon site I couldn't keep up with because I got another horrible streak of depression in 2020 and didn't get out of bed for a month.

So... yeah

This is what annoys me about hustle culture, about grindset culture, that trickles into even the most well-meaning books of writing advice. I got a book this week about writing, one which is meant to be helpful in a deeper and more meaningful manner than your average guide.

Except that it quotes E.L. Doctorow saying that only writing is writing. Ahem. Citation very much needed, my good buddy.

I much prefer something I read from Jenny Diski on writing, several years ago, where she provides a counter-argument that there is so much not writing that goes into writing. My problem is that I can't find that article, but it was in the London Review of Books, and if you have time, you should read Jenny Diski.

I took this to heart because at the time I read it, I was obsessed with the idea of sitting down and writing, following the Doctorow philosophy that it didn't count if I wasn't actually putting words on the page. Writing with a capital W. But I didn't have anything to write. I didn't have anything which required putting into words.

Or, which is possibly worse, I couldn't put into words the things I did have. Which is also another story entirely.

Writing is what happens at the end of a very strange series of activities. The more we tense up thinking the only moments that count are the ones at the end, we never make it to the bit where we do the writing in the first place. And before you freak out and worry that this is giving people permission to just stare out of the window for the rest of their lives and never get on with That Book They've Always Wanted To Write...

I shrug. I'm going to turn 45 this year and I'm all for staring out of the window. It's no less valid or meaningful, and it can be very beautiful way to spend your time indeed.


I'm thinking about putting some of this material into Amnar. Whenever I'm knocked out by executive dysfunction, when I can't plan, when I show up for meetings ten minutes late or not at all, it's a reminder that not everybody is able-bodied or able-minded and even if you get brain fog every other day for the rest of your life, maybe you deserve to have a story with your lived experience in it.

And don't tell me it won't be exciting. Life without executive function in a world that's all about planning is one hell of a rollercoaster ride, let me tell you! Ha!

So that's it.

This is all for now, because I'm writing this late and I'm only just recovering from a very long day that ended with me getting what turned out to be worryingly strong glue on my fingertips. But this is the reality of the process of editing (and writing) in the world right now. At least, it is if you're neurodivergent or have a chronic illness, or both. You're going to show up some days in a fog.

Sometimes, you just have to appreciate the fog.

*Also, for all those jobs I was paid the princely sum of £1 something or other an hour because these were the days before guaranteed minimum wage.