This is what I'm going to do next. Yes, I'm terrified.

This is what I'm going to do next. Yes, I'm terrified.
Photo by Marek Piwnicki / Unsplash

OK, hello there, 2024. New year, same old me.

Or maybe not so much. I wasn't planning to write another newsletter the week after I finished the 52 weeks thing, but I'm incorrigible that way.

I think I do need to follow up on what I wrote back in November. Those last few posts were intense, and took a lot out of me. It was a part of my life I'd never planned to share. Some things are easier to keep hidden.

But even if you don't really buy into the whole "new year" schtick, there's something about new year vibes—they sort of get me every time. Now here I am to write with my whole heart again and try something new for this year. So maybe, this time, it is "new year, new me".

Way back in 2014, I finally came up with the solution to my "I'm stuck on benefits and I can't stand it" problem. I have to note here that there isn't actually anything wrong with having to live on disability support. It was the toxic culture I lived in. Every six months, filling out the forms, being made to feel so ashamed that I was sick.

It just made everything worse.

My life was a total lie. I couldn't tell anyone I was on benefits because I was afraid they'd judge me for it. If I summoned the strength to go to an event or do something, travel even, people would see me and assume I was fine. I'd mask for as long as it took to get through it, but then I'd collapse for weeks afterward.

Then I had the wild idea that I could get off benefits by going back to university and doing another PhD. It was an environment I understood, one where I felt reasonably safe.

This was the radical plan. In order to get out of the disability cycle via the university route, I needed to be claiming a specific set of benefits (which I was). Then I had to ask my parents to pay for the fees for me, which they very kindly did.

I read up on how to go back. You have to prove dedication, by doing a PhD in the subject. This meant doing a Master's first. I didn't think I'd get 1 + 3 funding, which covers the complete cost of the Master's and the PhD. I also didn't want to wait for the funding round to start.

With my parents' help, I was able to apply to do a Master's, initially in Medieval Studies. I swapped to Classics and Ancient History in Fresher's Week, which is a completely different story. The Master's was part time. Back then, I had to spend three to four days out of seven in bed, so I had to reduce the load.

Even then, it was a rough ride. It took extra time because I broke my ankle in 2016, so a two-year Master's ended up taking three.

I didn't tell many people that this was the plan, or what the motivation was. If I'd told anyone how small the chances are of getting full funding for a PhD, or that I hadn't managed it the first time around, everyone would've told me I was crazy.

I told one person, while I was waiting for the outcome of the funding application in 2017. They said, "What's your plan B?"

"I haven't got one," I said.

I did apply for two different funding options, which was as close to a "Plan B" as I ever came. In order to do the PhD I wanted, I also had to spend the entire time between application and starting learning Ancient Greek—I had to pass an exam in Ancient Greek that summer before the PhD started.

I was offered funding in the end. Being able to call the benefits office and tell them I was coming off benefits felt like a bigger achievement than a Master's and a PhD put together. The guy on the other end only knew about "stipends" because he'd been to a workshop about them the previous week.

That was a weird conversation.

Now, here we are at the end of that huge journey and into another one.

But we do need to be real here, as we say on the internet. I went back to university and picked a subject I thought would be acceptable to the world. I'd been so burned by the world telling me I couldn't do what I really wanted to do that I hid it.

I pretended I was fine. I was moving on. I wasn't going to do Amnar any more. I wasn't going to talk about it or write about it. I would leave it in the dust and be sensible. I would be realistic.

Having said that, I suspect that everyone who ever reads this will probably want to know where I got the idea that signing up to do a second PhD was in any way "realistic".

For a given definition of "realistic", let's say.

Now I have to figure out what's next. What's now.

For the last few weeks, I've been in an escalating battle with my own mind. Well, that's not entirely accurate. I've always been in a battle with my own mind, but it's been getting worse and worse. I've been trying to focus on academic work, marking essays and editing.

My brain doesn't want to. My brain wants to go back to Amnar.

I grew up surrounded by people telling me I couldn't be a published author. I believed it, but that meant constantly fighting with Amnar, with this imagined world, to hold it back and stop myself talking about it.

Some autistic people are fascinated by dinosaurs, or trains, or Star Trek, or baseball stats. I live in my own imaginary world. But I panic every time it pops up because I'm frightened of what people will think of me for saying it.

It's only in the last day or two I've dared to speak the dream out loud. Then I watched this (video below). It's by one of my favourite creators, How To ADHD. I wanted to share it because it spoke to me. The power of being unrealistic and setting huge goals.

This isn't an "I'm going to get published this year!" kind of an announcement. I'm still in a shaky place about even saying those words out loud—and that applies to both fiction and academic publishing.

I have signed up to do a workshop to write my first academic paper. I'm terrified. Not gonna lie. Absolutely gibbering wreck under the desk with a side of fries terrified.

I'm using that as a way to gently confront the fear I have of putting myself out there. For real, not in a newsletter read by possibly three people (thank you, people!). Because to me, to my brain, it's different.

I am psychologically twinned with Beaker. That's how I feel about being published.


But also... I want to do it. I want the ridiculous challenge of it, as How To ADHD says.

I've been frightened to write and talk about Amnar for a very long time. I've struggled to keep this website going. Every time I've set up a goal I've run away the first chance I got. This means I have to approach it cautiously, without panic. Or with panic, but not so much panic that I run away screaming.

This week, I signed up to set up a new proper author website. It's got to stay offline for a while, so I'm staying with this for a bit. Part of dealing with the terror I feel when I even think of attempting this again is doing little bits here and there. Yesterday evening I put together a "books page", with all the Five Empires titles.

That was enough. It felt huge.

As huge as it felt to show up at the university at 9am for my first Latin class, back in 2014.

No, huger.

It's definitely huger.

Just writing this post is taking forever because I keep distracting myself. Also my cat keeps distracting me, but that's something else.

I can't really promise I'm going to be published by the end of this year, either academically or, er, fictionally. But I'm going to work toward that goal next. On the fiction side, I'm currently working on the Maali project I was busy with in July and August. I've been editing it and trying to polish it so it doesn't run aground at 80k words.

As a way to help me reconnect with the lost world of Amnar, I'm also going to participate in Lore24. This is a challenge in the world-building community of DIY RPG designers, described here by Spriggan's Den. I found out about it through the Story Engine account on Threads.

The core challenge is to post a bit of lore from your world every day for the whole of 2024. I missed the first four days, but I will be joining in. Not every day. That's too much. But once a week.

I've also been experimenting with Hero Forge to produce better visuals. This is what I've managed to do tonight. This is Dolja, a major character in the Maali project I'm working on.

A woman in fantasy warrior dress with a bow and a small dragon popping out of an egg.
SDM Dolja

Dolja is the Senior Dragonmaster for the Guardian Defender Ashad Amin in 4635 AIA, which is when the Maali story takes place. Xe (Amnar uses a single ungendered pronoun) belongs to the Dragonmaster–Warrior class, works with a dragonlord called Dorgarac, and is profoundly deaf, so xe mostly speaks in Amnari sign.

Close up of the woman in fantasy dress with dark skin and bright red curly hair.
Dolja up close

Next up, I'm going to do a very basic explainer of the structure of the Amnari world and a little of its history. I'm going to try to carry on writing and thinking about Amnar more and more, to loosen up and release the fear.

So, basically, 2024 is the Year of the Dragon. Welcome, and atashé uyadan (happy new year).