• Sofiya Pasternack

What I Wish I'd Known When I Started Writing

That the Characters Are the Key

If you read my "How I Got Started Writing" post from last week, you know that I started writing when I was about 6 years old. So I guess what I wish I'd known when I really started writing was like... how to use a computer. How to synthesize a solid plot. What a metaphor was.

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For the sake of making this blog post uhhh useful for adults, I'm going to skip ahead to when I was 25 years old and I started going to my first writing critique group. I met some of the coolest people and most insightful writers at this group, and even though I haven't been able to see them for quite a while, I still hold all of these people in a special place in my heart.

Not only because they're cool people, but because they taught me amazing things about writing:

Connection to Characters is Paramount

Sometimes Your Reader Wants to Know What the Room Looks Like

Trust Your Reader

Connection to Characters is Paramount

I focus really hard on character arcs in my writing now, but I didn't always.

There's a piece of ADHD that not a lot of people understand: Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria (RSD). People with ADHD can experience emotions more intensely than neurotypical (NT) people, which can look on the outside like mood swings or even bipolar mania and depression. It isn't! It's just that people with ADHD feel feelings in a more feely manner, and it can take longer for us to come down from those intense emotional experiences.

Where RSD factors into this emotional reactivity is that it makes actual or perceived rejection from other people physically painful. When I describe it as being on the level of being punched in the chest, I'm not speaking metaphorically. It literally feels like someone hit me in the chest with their fist.

And if someone punches you, that causes an emotional reaction, right? Yes it does. So when my RSD was triggered by something, my emotional response was oftentimes defensiveness or outright anger. And I was pretty embarrassed and ashamed of being not in control of my emotions. So my RSD would get triggered, and I'd get angry about that, but then I'd feel ashamed of being angry, and then angry that I was ashamed, and back and forth until I either binge ate cookies to make myself feel better, or I would explode on the person or people responsible for the RSD in the first place. I didn't realize I had ADHD, and I definitely didn't know about RSD. So I just thought I was a crazy person. I legitimately thought I had bipolar disorder for a while, because of my "severe mood swings."

For a long time, I avoided interacting emotionally with writing because I thought other people wouldn't understand the intensity of the emotions I felt, because I thought those emotions were wrong or bad. Writing about very emotional things also causes those emotions to well up in me, and sometimes I was so emotionally overloaded from living life that I just couldn't fit any more feelings inside myself.

What this ended up doing was stunting my characters emotional connection to the story and to each other. I was trying to write characters like "normal people," and to my ADHD alien brain, "n