Elise Carlson

A Fantasy Author's Adventures in Fiction & Life

After nearly 38 years of life, and having seen many success stories on Blue Sky, I’m stoked to share my main ADHD challenges in life before and after starting ADHD meds and the wonderful difference they’ve made.

Challenges -Distraction & Focus

Neurotypical brains produce enough dopamine to allow them to filter out excess sensory information, subconsciously. Apparently, they don’t wander into the classroom and immediately think of five different things they should be doing, and actively try to push four of those things away so they can focus on and complete one thing at a time. And they don’t check their email, and get distracted by a random email that isn’t important right now, or check the digital notice board and get distracted by another non-urgent thing. And interrupt setting up their Reading session with setting up their Writing session. Then get distracted getting a resource for an individual child, then get distracted by packing up something they forgot to put away yesterday, then get distracted by asking a colleague a question, etc.

My entire work day is me using vast amounts of energy trying to push all the non-urgent things clamouring for my attention away, so I can attempt to focus on and complete one thing that needs to be done now at a time. You know what requires even more of my energy? Not forgetting everything I’m not doing in that moment but do need to do sometime, and keeping track of it until I actually do it. This is made harder by the fact I can remember a thing, fully intend to do it right that moment, then get completely distracted by something else and not remember whether I actually did it or not (half the time I didn’t).

Related Challenge: Keeping Track

Diaries and calendars and apps are no good, because if I can’t see everything I need to be doing in front of me at all times; I forget to check the reminder and half the things its reminding me of, for up to a few days. So at work and at home, every incomplete digital task that needs doing in the next two weeks is an open tab (I always have the max number of tabs open). Everything I can’t do right that moment at work gets written down.

I often don’t have the time or headspace to check if I already wrote it down, and sometimes the mere idea of checking what I have recorded is stressful because I’m already overloaded. So there are multiple to do lists, some things duplicated across them, others not yet recorded.

Welcome to the world of hyper active and inattentive ADHD! (Unmedicated).

Challenges -Noticing and Meeting Basic Physical Needs

With all the above going on, who has room in their brain to notice incidental things, like being hungry, tired, needing the bathroom or being sick or in pain? Other writers are doodling their characters and making Spotify playlists for their works in progress, meanwhile I forget multiple characters names, where my characters are or what they’re doing.

I’m also running out of clean clothes because I haven’t noticed the washing basket is overflowing. There’s a small pile of clutter building on the side of my bed, because if I interrupt whatever it is I’m struggling to remember I should be doing to clear that pile, I’ll forget that thing I can hardly remember I’m supposed to be doing.

Challenges: Urgency and Never Stopping

Everywhere I walk at work and in my house, I’m clinging to memory of multiple things I should be doing but haven’t written down yet. Meanwhile sights, sounds and people talking about other things are all around me, clamouring for my attention, all day, every day. And while I struggle to batter away everything that isn’t essential, and at the top of my to do list, all the less essential things that still need doing keep itching to be done.

This is why I was often found at school, half an hour after most of my colleagues had left, rushing around my classroom completing literally five end of day pack up, and next day set up tasks at once. This is why my to do list had to be a physical piece of paper on top of my (messy) desk in a bright colour that screamed for my attention and no other form of task management worked.

The tendency to be distracted, to interrupt my own thoughts, let alone my own task completion created a sense of ongoing urgency. I need to do this —right now—before I forget. Then I need to do this right now —before I forget. And all the other things visually, or auditorily distracting me? I need to urgently block them out to urgently get anything done.

Challenges: ADHD Brain Jam

I assume its somewhere around here that fellow humans with ADHD work too hard, too long on something and experience burn out. I’ve rarely, if ever experienced ADHD burnout. But I’ve had days at work where I’ve taken in so much information that I forget what I learnt today, what I knew yesterday and pretty much everything I need to be doing is melting out my ears. A point where I simply can no longer hold onto or process information. The only solution I have found is drop everything (usually between 4-5pm), and take the rest of the night off.

I started having multiple days of brain jam/ cognitive overload in a row, worrying about meeting deadlines, and just plain feeling far too tired and drained on an ongoing basis in 2023. That’s because I don’t just have ADHD, I also have a chronic illness (courtesy of long covid in 2022). Fibromyalgia was steadily eating my stamina, and ramping up my chronic fatigue, pain, and in hindsight; brain fog, by the end of all four 2023 teaching terms.

This is the point that made me re-evaluate my 2020 decision not to get my ADHD diagnosed because it was clear my ADHD does impact me significantly at work and was making my life harder; possibly A LOT harder.

Self of Elise wearing a long sleeve, blue patterned shirt, with sun dappled, thin, pale trunked gum trees rising behind.
Neurodiverse me, hiking on Mt Macedon, 2023.

Diagnosis, Medication & Clarity

Having waited six months for my appointment, and another two for the follow up, and another two to see a psychiatrist to back up the GP, I got diagnosed with ADHD early in 2024. Only with that diagnosis, only with the psychiatrist explaining to me how lack of dopamine impairs an ADHD brain’s capacity to filter out excess information, only after starting medication did I have the clarity to write the above.

For a contrast of my clarity prior to both, read the jumble that is my blog of ‘I Think I’m Neurodiverse, ADHD? Autism?’ I tried to put it some kind of order, in a way that meaningfully sequenced the content, but having written and edited it before starting meds, I kept losing track and wasn’t sure if I succeeded in sequencing and structuring it well.

Want to hear the really interesting part? I’m writing this blog having not taken my meds for two days. Because after four days on a helpful dosage; I have the clarity to clearly, meaningfully organise and structure my thoughts. This is the clearest my head has ever been while writing. The only other thing that can trigger a state of mental clarity like this, as opposed to chaotic, highly distractible chaos, is the two or so hours after running 4 kilometres (which I still do daily, because even with ADHD meds, it still helps).

I’d like to take this moment to tell people in the US claiming the number of people taking ADHD meds is a ‘problem’ to educate themselves and stop talking shit.

Medication: The Journey

My doctor gets his patients to start ADHD medication gradually, with written instructions on how to mix the powder inside the capsule and water to get 10mg (the starting dosage) up to 70mg. Its a trial and error process with guidelines, where you figure out what works best for your brain and body (and consult your doctor if problems arise).

Day One: Dosage 10mgs, Notable Difference

My mother noticed hardly anything on a low dosage. I noticed a difference within one hour. I could pause the big thing I was doing to do other small things, like make a phone call or brush my teeth. Then I could return to what I was doing.

This is BIG. I can easily forget to reply to emails, messages or phone calls for a few days. Then I can wait hours after feeling hungry before dragging myself off for food. I often run of an evening when I’d rather run by daylight during winter.

This is because it takes me hours to focus my attention on big things, like writing or editing novels. If I’m nearly focused, I don’t want to give up the hours I spent getting nearly focused to interrupt myself (writing at home lunch ‘breaks’ can last three hours due to distraction). So if I was kind of focused, I’d opt to be hungry for an hour or two as I tried and get something done.

I also found I could choose when to get off social media and just get off it. I didn’t need the dopamine I always need it to provide to help me focus.

After three hours: I could switch off and zone out. That’s something I normally manage perhaps every few weeks, even months and am TERRIBLE at as an adult. My ‘holidays’ are as busy and jam packed as work days, they’re just fun and adventure busy instead of work busy. The ability to mentally switch off is HUGE.

Day Two: Dosage 20mgs, Again, Good Differences

I was more aware of hunger and needing the bathroom. My brain wasn’t fighting off umpteen other distractions, so it was becoming possible to do that thing neurotyoicals apparently do all the time: listen to my body.

Started my day eating breakfast at the kitchen table so I could talk properly to a housemate. I NEVER do this. I always chat briefly, then rush off to finish the thing I don’t want to loose focus on. Not only could did I focus on the conversation for over an hour, at the end I still remembered to bring in the clothes horse I’d noticed mid-conversation was outside. Normally I’d have to fix the thing I notice so I don’t forget it, and can then focus on the conversation.

The other difference is, instead of urgently rushing to start the day’s proof reading (the clock was ticking, I had to upload a finished novel to online bookstores soon), I was able to take stock. Clear some dirty dishes and put a few things away, instead of zoning out everything but today’s big task.

This was the beginning of a less cluttered, less messy, calmer and nicer environment to live and work in. Again -not a small thing!

Day Three: Dosage 20mgs; Inconclusive —External Factors

My doctor’s advice was if you think its having an effect, stay on that dose for three days. So I took twenty milligrams again. This was the day we learnt our landlord was selling the house and we’d have to move out in two months. It was hard to tell if it was the meds that had me so hyper focused I couldn’t get off my computer to exercise, and so agitated I had to run to calm down. I got none of my main task done this day.

Also, my whole body and heart rate were slowing down so much that that night I went to sleep easily despite not exercising. Only when I’m sick or with chronic-illness-levels of fatigue can I normally do that.

Day Four: Dosage 30mgs: Meh!

In hindsight I should have gone back down to 10mgs, but I wanted to get past the wonky I was feeling, so I went up. I felt like I could focus, but lacked the spark and impetus to do anything. Only listening to music got me editing my novel, and I soon became distracted.

I also felt very flat. I’m normally full of energy, smiling and on the go. But that day I just sat there, not feeling like doing anything, just kind of watching the hours tick past. I had to wait for the meds to wear off and go for a run before I got some of the day’s big task done (starting at 9pm, not ideal).

Day Five: Dosage 40mgs: I’m Me AND Focused!

The ADHD urge to rush on to the next thing was strong, so I went up to 40mg. That was when the magic started. My heart rate picked up, my energy levels reset to normal and I felt more like me. I also read the opening chapters of my novel aloud to proof read them, something I have NEVER previously found the patience to attempt. This marked another significant increase in focus, and interestingly; focus on something that normally bores me (which usually requires vast amounts of discipline to attempt, and is usually completed with impatience and frustration).

Time was the other big thing. In the weeks before starting medication I was highly distractible, often staying up to between 2am and 4am. During the day the hours would rush past and I had no idea what I was doing in them. Now, I was focused enough that I was getting the main task done, and looking up to see it had only been tens of minutes, not hours that had past. Time had slowed RIGHT down, which made me feel much more in control of my day.

Day Six: Dosage 50mg ???

Whoops. This should have been day two at 40, followed by day three at 40. All I noted was that I felt settled within 15 mins, much faster than other days.

Day Seven: Dosage 60mg; Brain Jam Unlock

Oh dear. I was now 20mg’s up what I should have been on because it had become too many days in a row to A. re-read dosage instructions, and B. do so correctly.

And yet, before I even took my meds that morning, I was remembering and noting the sort of things my brain jam normally locks up until that blessed ten seconds of quiet when I turn out the lights at night, then recall multiple things I forgot to do. My brain was decluttered of its usual excessive information input overload, and functioning better than usual as a result.

And yet, my heart rate was too fast. I was becoming more distractible throughout the day, didn’t get much done until after my evening run and then still had trouble sleeping. Oddly, my distractibility seemed to be getting worse, to the point it kept me awake until I think 3am. This dosage made my ADHD worse overall.

Day Eight: Dosage 50mg; Not So Good

I remembered myself here and dropped back 10mg, helped by the fact my heart was still beating too fast. It continued to beat too fast and I remained somewhat distractible and didn’t get much of the main task done until after running again in the evening this day.

Day Nine: Dosage None

Having hardly slept the night I uploaded my novel, I wasn’t in a good state to accurately mix meds, so I skipped them.

Day Ten & 11: Dosage 50mgs -Not Right

My heart was still beating too fast for someone sitting still. My focus wasn’t as good as the meds had made it earlier. The next morning, I still didn’t like my heart rate (long covid wreaked havoc with it for weeks and I suspected high dosages of AHD meds were an issue because of this). So on day eleven, I took a break to ensure the incorrect dosage was fully out of my system.

Day 12: Dosage 40mgs -Might Be Good?

This was another day of big external factor. My book was live at online stores, I was posting on all my social media and my friends were congratulating me on getting the whole 360k trilogy out into the world, despite long covid and the chronic illness it caused throwing spanners between book 1’s release and book 3’s.

I let myself make quality launch day graphics, splurge on social media, drank wine, ate chocolate pudding and had a good day. And despite all those other dopamine factors, my heart rate seemed more settled, and I felt better overall.

Day 13 & Beyond: Dosage 40mgs – What is This Magic?

Often when I finish a big project, like the end of a school year or releasing a book, I take time out, take stock, do some cleaning. The strange thing about releasing my third book was; I was up to date with housework, and grocery shopping, and cooking and baking.

But I forgot what else I needed to be doing, so I made a To Do List in a Google doc. Then I attempted the most boring thing I ever do, successfully, for hours. I deleted 500 screen shots from my desktop. Then I organised every file on my desktop into folders, combining four different folders for book files into one. (My computer files haven’t been this organised since since I graduated from high school in 2004, and maybe 90% of the files on my computer now didn’t exist then).

The next day I deleted all duplicate images from my downloads, and sorted images I will reuse into my folders. Then I went through my third party inbox, my personal inbox and cleaned out nearly 1,000 emails from each. I even organised receipts into a folder for this year’s taxes (never done that before).

Then I filled in forms left on open tabs and closed half my many tabs.

30 Mgs

Things were going MUCH better, but I was still hyper focused on organising things and not stopping to eat meals or exercise as often as I wanted throughout the day. And my resting heart rate was still fast. So I went down to 30mgs. This time, I had a good enough handle at 30mg on my focus, not getting distracted and still had energy. I made a call and headed and headed back to work; casual teaching.

I can’t quite focus as well on boring organisational things at this dosage, but my overall focus and organisation are quite good, and distractibility is down. There’s now a calendar with all my pre-booked teaching days, days and times I’m inspecting houses to rent and multiple appointments. I’ve NEVER had the headspace, calmness or clarity to put some much on a calendar.

What Did the Meds Change?

My dopamine levels were now at a stage where my brain filtered out excess information, letting me focus on what I chose, even when the task was so boring (aka so dopamine depriving) I wouldn’t normally attempt and would never otherwise succeed at it.

My To Do List was getting added to, then rearranged into priority order, then subdivided by topic. It was double the length I would ever normally write down, because brain jam and being overwhelmed weren’t holding me back anymore, because they stopped! In other words, I can record and effectively keep track of EVERYTHING I need to be doing, for the FIRST TIME in my life, without being stressed or completely overwhelmed on a regular basis.

I’m also less frustrated by technology. Slow loading pages used to stress me out, because by the time the bloody things loaded I’d thought of three other things I could be doing and had no idea why I was on that page. Now, I can wait. Stay on the slow page, get the job done, move on the next.

Time has slowed. I can take breaks, pause, take stock, tidy things, not just rush through the day with hours flying by, barely getting that day’s main thing done and not touching most others. I feel much calmer, more focused and actually in control. This means I don’t have to go side ways, or risk leaping ahead or involuntarily falling behind as was common when everything was too much to track and process. I can actually keep up with other people in life. Maybe even get ahead, something I rarely aspire to, let alone achieve, for more than a day, or a week.

I feel like a different person. One whom life has become MUCH easier for!

What Didn’t Meds Change?

Initially, this almost put me off diagnosis. I’m a sociable, bubbly, energetic and creative person with lots of ideas. What if medication changed those things? As you may have noticed, for me a too low dosage did suppress those aspects. A too high dosage also mucked them up.

But my goldilocks dose of 30-40mgs leaves me energetic, still sociable when I choose to be (as opposed to permanently too often on social media) and as prone to smile as I normally am (which is a lot more than the average person). I still feel like me. I just have this drastically increased ability to organise and focus.

Going running has been fascinating. I’ve added around three plot ideas to my novels, or three marketing ideas for my books to my list on multiple runs recently. Its like my brain, which was in recent years struggling with the strain of teaching and life to have new ideas, is now having FAR MORE ideas for novels. Because its no longer straining with the effort of compensating for its partial information input filtering and accompany severe distractibility and resulting forgetfulness.

On the whole, I feel far more organised and able to keep track. I have more ideas and feel more creative than ever. I’m still energetic, upbeat and my old self. And I can’t wait to start writing my fourth fantasy novel with the benefit of ADHD meds!

Blue edged, pink, orange and yellow rainbow scroll with text: Get blogs in your inbox & updates from Elise every second month. Join my Fiction Frolics. Select this image to learn more.

Related Reading

I Think I’m Neurodiverse, ADHD? Autism?

Managing My ADHD

Simple ADHD online Test by Clinical Partners UK.

ADDitude (lots of great ADHD blogs, resources etc).

Writing Diverse Characters Part 1: Problematic Rep to avoid (especially neurodiverse and disabled).

Identifying as Nonbinary

Living with Longcovid —My Experience

Its not easy getting started on new social media platforms, getting post interactions, finding your people etc. It takes time. Then platforms with algorithms (not Blue Sky or Mastodon) tend to punish your visibility when you don’t post or interact regularly. Twitter’s death has scattered a lot of communities, some of us onto multiple platforms. Meanwhile posting and running on any platform has its own issues, which I will unpack in Avoiding Social Media Burnout.

In your quest to seek your communities, interact personally and freely promote your books/ art/ products; are you paying enough attention to each platform’s usability, personal fit and comfort? I’ll unpack these factors to help you select platforms to ditch, to assist in avoiding social media burnout.

Because; do you actually need to be on SO MANY platforms? Can you integrate your creative and personal pursuits onto a smaller number of platforms where you engage more often, more meaningfully and are actively part of the communities you seek? I’ll offer suggestions on platforms where this can be effectively achieved as well.

I know, especially with the Twitter Writing diaspora (no this post isn’t dated, I reject the name change), its easy to get FOMO. To wonder about creatives and people you’re not connecting with or reaching on other social media platforms. So some people use an app to schedule posts on multiple social media, more than they have time or energy to interact on, which has its own problems.

I hope you don’t use an app which auto-posts: ‘I just posted on Insta’ or ‘just pinned (whatever) on Pinterest…’ because I’ve unfollowed people for that. If I follow you on Blue Sky (Bsky) or Mastodon, its because I want to see your Bsky or Mastodon content.

Then there’s the issue of audience differences. I prefer to manually post on Bsky/ Mastodon and Facebook. My FB is mostly people I’ve known personally from all walks of life, including far less people from the diverse communities I interact in on Bsky. So if I scheduled the same posts for Bsky and Facebook, they would resonate with my Bsky community, but not my FB contacts, or vice versa, OR compromise too much and not resonate with either.

And that’s not the biggest problem.

Sure, there will always be those kind people who like and comment on your post, even when you don’t reply or even like their comments (I’ve seen it happen).

The problem with posting and running is it feels like rockstar status. Like you’re saying, “I’ve got things to do (as if my followers don’t). I want engagement from you and I’ll give you nothing/ little in return.” Alternatively “I think my time is worth more than yours.”

I don’t expect any writer/ creative to be Neil Gaiman on Bsky (how much that guy posts but also interacts with other people’s posts is AMAZING! When does he even write?!) But when Neil Gaiman interacts with his followers and others don’t (I don’t just mean life gets busy so you disappear or are hardly present for a bit, I mean post and run is your modus operendi) it feels like snobbery.

If people comment on your posts and you don’t reply, it will feel to them that you’re not really there. Like you’re talking at them, but not listening to them. You’ve taken the ‘social’ out of social media. So why follow you on that platform?

Which brings me to, if you’re on more platforms than you have time to connect with others on, if all you’re doing is posting and running… does that build a following?

Sure, there are people who post frequently, have interesting things to say and gain lots of followers. I follow one on Blue Sky who posts multiple times a night on multiple topics, in such a way that many people feel a connection to him. He’s also entertaining and has an unusually large number of followers for Bsky. (And I bet its his main platform, which he gives most of his social media time and energy to).

But most of us don’t present in ways lots of people frequently feel so connected to. Its people who feel like they know me who tend to regularly interact with my social media posts. And while they may feel that from reading my posts often, they get to know me far better if we talk to each other. That’s what gets me the most engagement.

So if you’re posting and running, do people feel like they know you on that platform? Do they connect with what you’re saying? Do they interact with you? Or are you shouting into the void? And if so, would letting those accounts go dormant (or deleting them) lose anything? Or would it gain you time and energy/ spoons for other things?

As an indie author, I took the advice to be where my readers are. I tried to post there more often than once in a blue moon when it wasn’t somewhere I didn’t have the motivation, time or spoons to interact. And I learned that reciprocity is important to me not just as a writer and author, but as a social media user.

I don’t want to post and run. I don’t want to be that person who’s always taking and never gives anything back. Who wants engagement and interaction but never returns it.

Learning this about myself made it much easier to decide to let my Tik Tok and Instagram accounts become dormant, to only use my Pinterest to pin a link to my latest blog and to mainly interact on my Blue Sky and Mastodon accounts. I just have a Facebook profile for anyone who isn’t on the former two (because I hate the fan-style set up of FB pages).

But if you are comfortable interacting only with those who reply to you or posting and running…

This can get overlooked among the ‘be where your readers are’ advice and the temptation to be everywhere to ‘reach as many readers as possible’.

This is a simple way to cut down your platform presence.

At one point I had writer groups on Facebook. It was clunky and disorganised. Posts didn’t display in chronological order. The display order of posts kept changing. It wasn’t easy to organise by topic. I found myself not wanting to interact in FB groups I created, because every time I did they frustrated my impatience to interact swiftly and effectively.

So when Facebook shut down Australian community groups without warning during a 2020 lockdown and I moved my writer groups to Discord and found it had ten times better functionally, I all but stopped using Facebook to interact with writers.

When it comes to usability, is there a platform where the notifications, functionality, layout, the way posts are organised (or totally disorganised) frustrates you? That makes things more time-consuming to use?
How much frustration does it cause you or how much of your time does it take up across a day, a week, a month? Is it worth it?

(On these grounds alone, Twitter was a monumental waste of my time by mid 2023 and its dis-functionality was right up there with its antisemitism in driving me to Mastodon and Blue Sky.)

I liked the idea of Instagram. I enjoy travel and nature photography and sometimes write poems. Its also popular with the target audience of my YA Fantasy books: fifteen to forty-somethings (I don’t think YA readership stops at forty, though I know far less fifty-something+ are on Insta). In theory it was a good place to promote my writing and have a social media presence.

But Insta never worked out for me. Posts were bigger and took longer to scroll than my preferred text-based platforms. The algorithms showed me populist posts instead of people I actually knew socially, or fellow writers. The relentless plague of bots commenting on my bookish posts and spamming my inbox was ANNOYING. And I’m still convinced half my followers are men treating Instagram as a dating app…

Then Insta started imitating Twitter with blue tick offers, increased ads and populist post and follow suggestions clogging my feed. This was a feed I wasn’t going to interact on because it just didn’t fit me. It was my post and run platform. And every time the algorithms changed, my posts got seen by less people and slowly dropped from an average of 40 likes to around 15.

I thought, what’s the point? I’m not going to reach readers here anyway. I could use the time and energy I spend on Insta writing my newsletter or blog… even my books! So I let my Insta go dormant.

Avoiding Social Media Burnout (For Writers/ Creatives)

Do you have a platform you feel the same way about? What could you achieve for your books/ art/ newsletter/ blog/ business if you ditched that platform?

Sometimes, the place your readers/ viewers/ customers hang out ISN’T a good place for you. I don’t just mean you find it tricky or aren’t too sure how the platform works. I mean you’re there because you feel you ‘should’ be and are fighting that little voice in your head telling you ‘this is UN-comfortable.’

For me, this is Tik Tok. I write YA Fantasy. Book Tok sells books. I ‘should’ be on Tik Tok. But my Tik Tok feed is to my ADHD like someone running their nails down a blackboard nonstop. Its audio and visual sensory overload. Its also constant change and unpredictability because every few seconds its a different person/ place/ colours/ sounds/ music/ volume level etc. Tik Tok is sensory HELL for my neurodiverse needs.

Because of the above I have zero desire to interact on Tik Tok. I could just post book promo videos there. Maybe a few author friends would be generous and interact with me even though I never interact with them. Maybe on the right hashtags and with the right sounds my videos would sell some books.

I did make a few personal videos (because I hate just being salesy anywhere). I paid my cover artist to make one animated book cover and reviews video. Then I lost interest, motivation, spoons, time and didn’t go back.

If you’ve got that account your readers hang out on and you ‘should’ be on but you don’t feel comfortable or dislike the platform, maybe the best thing for your comfort/ energy levels/ not spreading yourself too thin is to let that account go.

If you don’t approve of hate speech, you wouldn’t want to give it the thumbs up by having an account on a social media platform that enables hate speech, would you?
So have you deleted your Twitter yet?
If not, please read ‘Delete your Twitter’ below. (Yes, its more sympathetic than what I wrote above).

You may also want to consider social media platforms where misinformation is rife, given how that can fuel social division, the climate crisis, maintain the status quo by keeping marginalised communities and people marginalised, etc.

Tik Tok may give you pause because of its Chinese ownership and China and human rights…

For more on my personal stance on Twitter, Facebook (and KU/ Amazon) ethics, see Author Ethical Dilemmas.

I assume you were on social media before you had books/ art/ products to sell. That you partly use social media to interact with friends and family, with fellow creatives and possibly with groups who share your interests or facets of your identity. So in this next section I’ll talk about social media spaces that meet your social, personal AND indie needs. Those are the ones I suggest prioritising with most of your time and energy/ spoons.

Let’s say for example you’re a SciFi nerd and you’re on Tumblr for that. Or you love bird watching and follow FB groups for that. Or like me you’re queer, neurodiverse, chronically ill or otherwise disabled. Let’s say sharing life experiences in those communities is affirming, informative and beneficial to your wellbeing.

But communities and interests can be on different platforms, which spread you thin and can wear you out. So where can you integrate your interests, social groups and personal interactions?

The Old School option was Facebook profile to interact with friends/ family, and FB groups for writers, other communities and your interests plus your author Facebook page. As I’ve mentioned, I’m not fond of Facebook functionally or ethically. Technically I’m still in FB groups for writers (I almost never look at them) and Wide for the Win as an author (I always mean to look at that more —on its own platform).

But if you are a FB user, it does integrates lots of groups and interests in one space (and likely a lot of your personal contacts if you’re Gen Y or older.) Limiting yourself to it (and few others) is an effective way to avoid social media over-stretching and burn out (and time suck).

I love Blue Sky because I can connect with writers, get and give writerly and authorly advice, help others AND do the same things as a neurodiverse, queer and chronically ill person. I can check in on the latest news, the latest archaeological discoveries, find historical articles, its all there in one place. Individual posts are even organised topically so I can browse feeds by topics that interest me. And it hosts Twitter’s writer chats (see my Bsky Newby guide for details).

Bsky can integrate your interests and communities (in my opinion with better functionality and organisation than Facebook) —and without Musk or Zuckerberg! These are some of multiple reasons its my favourite social media.

From what I understand, Reddit is another good option to engage with particular interests and topics. It also categorises posts and includes categories you can share shorts, poetry etc in to build your audience on social media.

Yes, you could browse Twitter or Instagram, or Mastodon or I don’t know what else by hashtags to explore your interests. In my experience (of Twitter) people often forgot to use relevant hashtags in their posts, or they overused them (especially on Instagram) and this is not nearly as effective in connecting with your people as Facebook groups, Blue Sky Feeds or what I’ve heard of Reddit.

But if Instagram or Mastodon are where you personally connect with people, your creative community (via Mastodon prompt hashtags or Instagram challenges), and where your other interests and communities are; by all means connect there by hashtag. And make either your main social media base that gets most of your time and energy (bonus if it fits where your readers hang out!)

In the author interviews I’ve done (all linked on this page), ‘build your writing community and do it early’ or ‘I wish I’d done it sooner’ is something writers say A LOT. So in prioritising social media platforms, the first question I suggest you ask is; where is my creative/ writing community?

If it’s always been in Facebook groups or on Instagram, this is easy to answer, and I’d stay active in your community. But if your community used to be Twitter…

The time has long passed to beat around the bush about this.

I had 16k Twitter followers. I introduced writers to each other by genre. I critiqued pitches, ran query letter and Pitch Party DM groups. Then I started an Author Platform DM group, an SFF one, a Querying Writers DM (then moved them all to Discord).

Twitter’s #WritingCommunity was my home and I knew literally hundreds of writers by name and could tell you off the top of my head what genre tens of them wrote. But everything I loved about Twitter’s #WritingCommunity was already dying when Musk started breaking Twitter.

We’re not uncertain what kind of transphobia-promoting, fascist-enabling hellhole Twitter could become. [Twitter’s safety measure cuts are now documented, as are statistics on hate speech tweets not being removed and people not being banned for tweeting them. Spoiler, the latter statistic is ZERO)]. We’re also in no doubt how many staff will be sacked and how dysfunctional and unusable the site will become.

Twitter is dead.

True, by leaving, I lost friends (who didn’t go to Blue sky/ Mastodon/ Facebook/ Discord) and that’s sad. I hope they’ll become active on Blue Sky or Discord one day. But I haven’t regretted deleting my account or departing a discrimination-enabling, rage-bating platform once.

Let it go and move on —preferably before fascists start seeing your continued presence as support of their beliefs.

By now you’ve either settled into algorithm-less Mastodon, or found it not a close enough clone of Twitter (writers, check out #WritersCoffeeClub if you’re still settling there -that’s where the #WritingCommunity is!). Or you’re feeling more comfortable on algorithm-less Blue Sky or on Threads. Or you’ve settled on Discords or into Instagram’s creative communities.

Have you noticed how hard it can be settling into one creative/ writing community? Building connections among creatives in one space? This is why I suggest sticking to ONE main creative community on ONE platform. Go there with your experiences, questions, learnings, random thoughts, memes —everything. Let fellow creatives get to know you and get to know them. Make friends and build ONE proper creative community.

Ideally, do it on the social media with your queer community, your bird watching community, your BIPOC community, your personal contacts —to minimise your platform spread, build strong connections and get the most out of the time, energy and spoons you invest in social media.

I’m active almost daily on Blue Sky AND Mastodon. Its do-able because Mastodon’s writer prompts give me a topic to talk about and other people’s responses to interact with on the same hashtag. It makes getting to know and meaningfully interact with a group of writers effortless (and when time’s short I skip Bsky that day or do two day’s Mastodon prompts the next day).

Discord or Facebook may be like this for you. You go in to the group —and on Discord go to the topically relevant channel— ask your question and get it answered. Or you look at what other people are saying (again on specific topic channels that interest you on your choice of Discord servers) and reply —when it suits you to do so.

If you get what you want from the platform quickly and easily, as rarely or as often as you want WITHOUT putting much time, effort or energy into it, you may find Mastodon/ Discord/ FB Groups sustainable —on the side of your main creative community.

Ideally you’ve got ideas on where you can interact as an author/ artist/ other creative and person and with your creative community and potential readers/ viewers/ consumers on one or across two, possibly three platforms.

I’m not saying necessarily delete everything else (exception Twitter). Consider what I did on Instagram: say you’re going elsewhere, leave links for people to find you and let the account go dormant. That way anyone who finds it can connect with you where you’re maximising and integrating your social media presence.

And if they don’t?
I wonder how many more people you’ll reach on the few platforms you make your online homes, by being present, by effectively connecting and being a part of the community. Good luck!

Blue edged, pink, orange and yellow rainbow scroll with text: Get blogs in your inbox & updates from Elise every second month. Join my Fiction Frolics. Select this image to learn more.

Related Reading/ Links Shared Above

My Writer Discords

Blue Sky Newby Guide

Social Media For Writers (general platform introduction —don’t forget this blog’s advice!)

Twitter, KU & Author Ethical Decisions

Becoming an Indie Author

Author Newsletters

Publishing Paths, a Multi-Author Interview

Like many writers, I liked the sound of working with a literary agent, receiving editorial feedback and signing with a (big) traditional publisher, who would help with marketing. The dream was write full time and earn a living from it. But with the pandemic, the publishing industry catching fire, supply chain issues, the great resignation hitting editors etc, let’s just say 2020-2021 was a particularly bad time to be querying.

What about small presses? Many querying authors only query literary agents, so the competition would be less extreme. I wouldn’t have to pay out of pocket for cover art or editing and they may still offer marketing advice. But querying was such a passive, SLOW experience for me, and as an active person whose ADHD has two speeds (FAST and sleeping) querying was a terrible match for me. And so I began my indie authoring journey. I’m two books in, with book 3 of my trilogy on preorder. I haven’t had time (or the health) to promote or sell many books yet… though I still love being indie.

But I’m just one person. We all bring different life experiences, skill sets, brains (mine being neurodiverse), temperaments, personalities, needs, expectations and goals to the process. How can you be sure which publishing path is right for you (or for a particular project)? I pursue that by interviewing 5 authors on different publishing paths about why they chose that path, how it meets their needs, why it’s working for them and what turned them off alternatives.

Which publishing path are you on?

Head and shoulders shot of Adam in a red shirt, smiling, seated on a couch with a house plant in the background. Adam had short brown hair, a short beard, blue eyes and is caucasian.
Waist up shot of Maggie wearing a purple, blue and pink scarf wrapped around the lower half of her face, black glasses and her light brown hair half out, half tied back.
Black and white portrait of Megaera in a coloured, checked shirt, short hair combed to the right, wearing dark lipstick, with pale skin contrasting with the black background.

Adam J
Currently pursuing traditional publishing; I have queried once, in 2021 (unsuccessfully), and plan to query another book this year.

Maggie Stone
Pursuing traditional publishing. I only sent a few queries for my first book before pulling back to retool, then switched genres and landed an agent with my second book.

Megaera Lorenz
I’m publishing traditionally with a small press, CamCat Books. I sold my debut novel to them without an agent about a year ago. 

Headshot of Mara wearing a big toothy smile, natural pink/red lipstick, long brown hair flowing over shoulders and a green, embroidered top.
Head and shoulder shot of Joyce (caucasian) wearing a blue brimmed hat, glasses, blonde hair tied back and a bright blue shirt.

Mara Lynn Johnstone

I’m going the indie route for the foreseeable future.

Joyce Reynolds Ward
I am a hybrid writer. While I’m not actively on submission at the moment, I have published around thirty short stories in various anthologies and magazines. My novels, however, are strictly self-published. I had one minor flirtation with small press publication and…it did not go well. I was fortunate enough to get reversion letters for both books before the publisher crashed and burned.

What Appeals Most About Your Publishing Path?

Querying Agents

Adam J: I like the notion of having a team to work with (an agent, editor, cover designer, publicist) with experience in the publishing industry, who can guide me and my books forward. Also, there is a certain repute in having your book chosen by the various gatekeepers of publishing. While I realize that’s mostly bunk — the true judges of any book are its readers — there’s still that little voice in my mind that says I want my book to be good enough to make it through those gatekeepers.

MS: Echoing everything Adam said. I’m not equipped to do this myself, either in skill or in financial resources. Being in a team, a network, gives me the drive to keep going instead of growing anxious over the small details.

Small Press 

ML: love the collaborative, personalized nature of working with an indie press. The CamCat team has been very supportive. They’ve worked with me closely or at least gotten my input on just about every aspect of the publication and production process, including developmental and line editing, finalizing the cover design, creating a marketing plan specific to my book, and even selecting an audiobook narrator.

Indie Author

MLJ: I like being able to take my books from idea to finished product at my own pace, without having to wait years for other people to decide they’re worthwhile. And I also like having the final say over my own covers. 

JRW–Short stories can gain a lot of visibility for any novelist, depending on the market. Novels are where I really turn myself loose to write what intrigues me.

What do you find most challenging about it?

Querying

Adam J: As much as I’d like to say it’s always the quality of the book that makes it worthy of traditional publication, a major element is luck, whether that’s with timing, finding the right person, or hitting the right trend (and sometimes, sadly, luck supersedes quality). There is also a massive time investment often with very little return, and it can be quite a mental struggle to overcome the sheer volume of rejection.

MS: Again, Adam’s beaten me to what I would say. Having a good book isn’t good enough. You have to have a good book that fits what a publisher is looking for now – not that you have to write to a publisher’s specifications, but if they’ve recently acquired (e.g.) two workplace romcoms, they might not be looking for another one right now. Rejection is bad. You can help mitigate it with the right support group, but it’s still going to hurt.

Indie Author

MLJ: Definitely getting the word out. Building an audience is slow when you don’t have a publisher’s advertising budget. 

JRW–Market churn for both the short stories and self-published novels. I tend to say that marketing changes every quarter–that is definitely true for self-publishing, and sadly these days it seems like the magazine market is much the same way.

Which Skills or Life Experiences Help You On Your Chosen Path?

Querying Agents

Adam J: I’ve worked both as a professor at a large institution and as a government consultant, so I’m used to things moving far slower than they really need to (oh, bureaucracy) and I’m also used to rejection, as in consulting you don’t win every contract you bid on. I suppose these impart upon me a certain measure of patience and a thicker skin, both necessary survival traits for the world of traditional publishing.

MS: Also a government person and used to things moving slowly. But I also had a previous life as a musician, so balancing love of creative arts with the (unpleasant) practical aspects of that life (rejection and whatnot). Also, dealing with mental health issues for decades means I’ve built a library of coping mechanisms for when rejections come.

Small Press

ML: I have a lot of professional experience writing educational copy for a general audience, which is an advantage when putting together succinct, snappy pitch materials (such as query letters, blurbs, synopses, and elevator pitches). I’m good at boiling complicated concepts down to their essentials.

Indie Author

MLJ: I’m good at organizing and planning, all that meticulous stuff that’s stereotypically not always part of the artist brain. I’m very glad that I can keep track of everything that needs doing! And my secondary interest after writing has always been visual art, so I’m working on levelling up my skills to where I can reliably make my own spectacular book covers. I’m getting there.

JRW: A couple of years working as a complex securities litigation paralegal as well as ten years of special education case management has helped with the organizational piece.

Why did you prioritise this path?

Querying Agents

Adam J: Admittedly, when I started writing, it was the only way I knew existed. I’ve learned much since — including that marketing kidlit through indie publishing is one of the hardest paths to take (kids don’t buy books online). As I write middle grade, I’m sticking with traditional publishing for now.

MS: This path, if successful, would be most compatible with my skills. I’m not a marketing expert/business manager. Obviously, even with traditional publishing, there’s housekeeping stuff I’d have to take care of, but traditional publishing puts me in a network with shared resources, and has a wider distribution network than I’d be able to establish on my own.

Small Press

ML: I prioritised traditional publishing as opposed to self-publishing because I knew it would help me a lot to have the support of a team that understands how the industry works. I’m a good writer, and I enjoy certain parts of the marketing process, but I have very little business acumen and almost no budget for things like advertising, hiring a professional editor and cover designer, and so on.

Indie Author

MLJ: My original plan was to get an agent, and seek fame and fortune in traditional publishing. But after fifteen years of querying, with multiple novels and many near-acceptances, I finally decided that I was better off self-publishing the many books I’d written in that time.
The current state of the publishing industry made it an easy choice: I’d been active on Twitter at the height of publishing activity there, and I saw firsthand how many editors got laid off from the big publishing houses during the pandemic, how many agents had to leave the industry due to burnout or unsustainability, and how many trad pub authors weren’t getting any more support from their publishers than the average indie writer got from their friends. Self-publishing is a far more viable option than when I first started querying.

JRW: While my short stories have found homes, my books generally received rejections along the lines of “love your voice, love your work…can’t sell it.”

If you haven’t already said, why did you choose against
alternative publishing paths?

Adam J: I’d love to make writing my full-time job, but I know I still have a lot to learn. I also know that the best way to make money (as any kind of author) is with a back catalogue to build a following on. If I go for indie publishing now, and fail, my chances of making it into traditional publication are even less, and I don’t have many books to market. But if I go for traditional publishing first, and fail, I’ll have a back catalogue of books that I think are publishable to turn around and market as an indie author.
I’ve set myself a milestone: if I write ten publisher-ready books and still can’t get a publishing deal, then I’ll turn to indie publishing.

ML: Mostly due to the reasons I mentioned above. However, I was always open to alternatives if the traditional path didn’t work out. I had a three-part plan: try querying agents first, then go directly to small presses that accept unagented material, then do self-pub if the other options didn’t work out. I’d been querying agents for about six months when I saw that CamCat was having a pitching event on Twitter, and I decided on the spur of the moment to toss my pitch into the ring. They liked it, I sent them a query, and a couple months later I had signed with them. I couldn’t be happier with how it worked out.

MLJ: I found that the support I’d been hoping to get from an agent and a publishing house wasn’t likely to live up to the hype, while I could get similar support from a network of writer friends. Better, in some ways! 

If you haven’t already said, what do you see as the main advantages of querying agents, querying small presses, self-publishing or a mix?

Querying Agents

Adam J: There used to be more that traditional publishing could offer over indie publishing, but it’s fairly balanced now. One of the nice things about traditional publishing is that your primary investment is time — even if you don’t get a large advance, you still do not have to pay people to edit your book, design your cover, or (sometimes) run a marketing campaign.
And there are still connections to bookstores, school visits for kidlit, or major conferences that traditional publishers can get, which indie publishers may find more difficult. However, with indie publishing, you have full control, and everything can happen much faster: when you are ready to publish your book, it gets published.

MS: A benefit of having an agent is that I no longer have to focus on a sub list. She reaches out to editors, checking in with me on the way to see if I have input, and handles all that. It takes a load off of me so I can focus on writing, and leaves open the possibility of landing a contract that will be more financially beneficial to me.
Small press, while it means me still handling my own subs, has a faster turnaround time. There are also smaller advances (or sometimes no advances), but the contracts are often one-book, meaning you can easily change your mind after your first book if the experience doesn’t work for you anymore. Indie gives you complete control, if that’s what you’re looking for.

Small Press

ML: The main advantage of working with an agent is that they help authors navigate the complexities of the publishing process and also give them opportunities to get their work in front of publishers and editors who wouldn’t otherwise look at it.

Querying small publishers directly cuts out the middleman and spares authors the agony of finding an agent (not just any agent, but the right agent), which really is a brutal slog. For books that don’t necessarily fit the mould of whatever mysterious marketing trends agents are currently looking for, this can also be a good alternative.

Self-pub gives authors the most control over every aspect of the process, from book design and editing to income from sales.

Indie Author

MLJ: Agents can (hopefully) get you a contract with a big publisher, who will (theoretically) spend a lot of money on making your books famous. Small presses are more likely to accept your manuscript than the big publishers. Self-publishing gives you all the control you could ever want over your own work: you can publish a book any time you want, with no gatekeeping in the way. Doing a mix of both can get you the best of both worlds.

JRW: mixing both provides me with more visibility and flexibility.

Again, if you haven’t already said, what do you think are the cons of querying agents, small presses, self-publishing or a mix of both?

Querying Agents

Adam J: The downside to traditional publishing, aside from there being so much luck involved, is the timescales. Querying will take months, then subbing may take months after that, then your book must be slotted into a publishing schedule, and maybe your book comes out two years after you actually decided it was ready to publish.
I exaggerate a little, and certainly smaller presses who accept unagented submissions can move faster, but the timescales are still quite long.
For indie publishing, the biggest downside is the huge investment in both time and capital required. That’s not to say you can’t get lucky and become a runaway success, but if you truly want to make money, you need to put money in, for a good editor, cover designer, marketing campaign, and anything else you feel would give you and your books a boost in such a crowded market.

MS: I accidentally put a couple of cons in the last question, but really Adam hit a lot of what I’d say. I’ll add for agents that if after you sign with an agent, you decide you want to write something that’s outside of what they represent, you could find yourself looking for supplementary representation, or possibly looking for a new agent, which takes time you could spend writing.
Smaller presses can also sometimes be a total unknown, or collapse after years of success if the wrong person leaves.
Indie can be a huge gamble, particularly if you don’t have a good support network to guide you away from bad decisions that are marketed as easy solutions.

Indie Author

MLJ: Agents have more writers clamoring for their attention than they could ever take on, and your odds of getting an acceptance are low, even if you do everything right.
Small presses have a smaller reach and smaller budget than the big publishers; sometimes all they’re saving you is the hassle of putting the book together into a final product yourself.
Self-publishing comes with no one to tell you no – for good or ill. If you publish a book full of errors with a terrible cover, because you didn’t get enough feedback from others (or didn’t listen to it), that’s all on you.
Going the hybrid route can be both time-consuming and tricky to orchestrate, with far more balls in the air. Best of luck, everybody! Make your choices with eyes open. 

Small Press

ML: ​​Querying agents is a slow, agonizing process that requires a lot of time and mental/emotional energy. Even if you do get a yes from an agent, they might not be the right fit for you or your book. I’ve known several authors who went through multiple agents before finding a good match. As gatekeepers in the publishing industry, agents are also going to filter out books that they don’t think they can sell easily in favour of whatever they see as marketable and on-trend. This means a lot of interesting and innovative books will never make it out into the world if querying authors decide to shelve them instead of trying alternative paths. 

Working with small presses directly can have pitfalls for authors who don’t have access to legal knowledge or resources. Without an agent, you’re more likely to end up signing an unfair contract. (I strongly recommend using the Authors Guild’s contract review service if you go this route.)
And of course, small presses have more limited resources than the larger publishing houses that agents tend to work with. That translates to smaller advances and less of a marketing/production/distribution budget for your books. However, not all small/indie presses are created equal in this regard! Some of them offer an impressive amount of support for their authors in all those areas.

Self-pub requires a ton of time and business smarts that not all authors necessarily have (looking significantly at myself, here). If you want professional editing, cover design, advertising, etc., you’ll need a significant budget, too. Some of the horror stories about Amazon pulling the plug on KDP authors and holding their earnings hostage for inexplicable reasons also give me pause, although I know KDP isn’t the only player in town when it comes to self-publishing.

Indie Author

JRW: The effort required to stay current with recent publishing trends in both magazines and self-publishing is not very different, and striving to gain visibility without spending my life on social media is sometimes a challenge.

Has ‘marketability’ of your writing influenced your publishing path?

Adam: You can get: ‘amazing book, wonderful, but too different and we don’t know what to do with it.’
If you don’t fit the definition its very hard to market. If you have runaway success they all want it because there’s a market for it.

JRW: I have run into this with indie competitions. ‘Excellent writing, different take on this concept, we’re cutting it in the first round.’
These are the competitions dealing with reviewers. They don’t seem to be interested in stuff that’s all that different from trad pub.

Do you identify as marginalised and has that influenced your publishing path?
Does the level of innovation in your writing influence your path?

MLJ: I write my characters inclusive to resonate with everyone as much as I can. I don’t have to care if an agent resonates with it.

JRW Gay couples, lesbian couples, bi couples, throuples, I write them all.

Adam: The fun of writing fantasy is you get to just play and be as representative as you feel like. This is the yellow civilisation, this is the green civilisation —we don’t have to do this anymore. My first book had a female lead and people said ‘you can’t do that.’ -doesn’t apply now.

Have Publishing Industry changes impacted your choice of publishing path?

MLJ: I self published because I gave up on that long list of agents. Everything I’m hearing about the industry now is not what I was told it would be previously. So I’ll self publish while all that is going on and wait till things change.

Adam: I started querying in 2020, first book, so I don’t know any different.

JRW: I started in the 90’s. You could directly query a lot more publishers. I did nonfiction for local journals, just before electronic submissions kicked in. Still the same thing, ‘love your voice/ work/ can’t sell it.’ Jamie Ford sat me down at a workshop and said, “You’re 90% there. You should be trad publishing.” I was going to query, but it was 2020 and we know what happened next.

ML: I came into this right before Twitter fell apart, summer 2022. Started to establish myself in Twitter #WritingCommunity, was finding all these agents and writers, then it crashed and burned. I slid in right before that happened, finding my publisher through a Twitter contest.
A friend was doing one pitch contest on Discord -DVPit- but it was impossible to keep up with and it sounded terrible.

JRW: That’s the element of luck. I was all set to do a big break through reading. A few day’s before the ceiling of the bookstore fell. There is such an element of luck.

Did any Other factors influence you?

JRW: I went to an editor panel with several friends, small press, self pub, all in between, all middle aged ladies at a convention in 2012. We walked out at the end going, “New York does not want us” in 2012.

Were there any surprises on your publishing path? Good? Bad? Did they affirm your choice, or did you stick to your guns despite them?

MLJ: I was a little surprised how hard it was to get an agent since everyone was saying I was doing everything right. I was surprised how little support publishers were giving.
The promise was you would have more people on your side who would make you more successful. Then a big book got 4k for a year to get by and I thought really? That’s not the dream I was promised! So maybe its not that different to go it myself.

JRW: If you can crank out two books a year, in the 90’s, it was a nice living. A friend’s joke was, “Oh that’s Conan the Hot tub. That’s Conan (elsewhere).”
A friend of mine was part of a group of later, middle-aged women midlist writers who reliably turned out 2-3 books a year and hit their deadlines. In about 2008 they decided to form an indie co-op that became the Book View Cafe in order to promote their work. Shortly after Kindle, Smashwords, and then Draft2Digital kicked in. That was when self publishing really took off.

MLJ: All those new indie options made it professional and easy at the same time. Before all the authors had to be on Tik Tok or whatever. Nowadays even the trad authors are pressured to self-promote just like the indies, so the publishers can save some money.

MS: Now if your book is indie its no longer true its dead to trad. If its not identical to 90% of what’s out there -women’s/ romantic comedy- they won’t take it. Most people don’t have the money to make a self pub book popular enough to be taken on by trad publishers.

JRW: Some are spending 9k to make 10k. That’s the deep dark secret of 20BooksTo50k.

MLJ: Amazon does prioritise books that sell better to show up more in ‘you may also like.’

Adam: Its never been easy. Entrepreneurship has always been hard. Some paths will cost money and be better than others but there are paths.

Querying: what is or would be your limit of queries sent before you shelve a book? Is that a factor for you? Or is how many books you shelve a factor?

Adam: ‘10 books. If I have 10 books that haven’t made it, I have 10 books to publish.

MLJ: I didn’t have a limit because 15 years ago I thought that was the way to go. So I didn’t consider change till I heard how the industry was changing.

MS: I don’t have a set number for sub. When I’m done I’m done.

MLJ: I never had a set limit for querying, since the plan was to keep going until I got there. I sent out hundreds of queries, for multiple novels. It was only in the pandemic era when the publishing industry started visibly changing that I decided to switch gears and throw all my efforts into the indie side of things.

What advice would you give on choosing a publishing path for a particular book/ series?

MLJ: I’d tell my earlier self to seek out more writer friends earlier, and do more networking. I didn’t have writer friends. I didn’t know there was a writer club in town until I’d published my first book. The friends I have now across the internet would have been so helpful earlier on. Yes you’re good at writing. But getting someone else’s feedback is always helpful. There will always be people who know stuff you didn’t realise you needed to ask and who have suggestions you wouldn’t have thought of.

Adam: Read more. Read 50 books a year. I did it last year, MG books. If you don’t read you will not know what works and what doesn’t work. I’ve seen a marked improvement in my writing since reading those books. Like a lot of people I thought I’d read them all. I read all the genres.

MS: One piece of advice that always make me cringe a little bit is read widely in your genre. It gets pushed so hard the genres collapse in on themselves. You can tell when you’re reading a romance book by someone who only reads romance books and they always sound alike. I would say its equally important to read outside your genre and to be aware of your genres conventions.

JRW: Ask yourself what you really want–and decide which path is most likely to provide that option

ML: I would say to start by checking out resources like this that break down the different paths so you know what the different options really entail before you get started: https://janefriedman.com/key-book-publishing-path/.
And be cautious about some of the advice that’s out there in the various writing communities online, which can be misleading. For instance, one thing I come across a lot is this notion that getting an agent or going self-pub are the only viable options. Hardly anyone is talking about the route I went, selling directly to a small press.

Head and shoulder shot of Joyce (caucasian) wearing a blue brimmed hat, glasses, blonde hair tied back and a bright blue shirt.

Joyce’s Website

Twitter: JoyceReynoldsW#1

Blue Sky

Blue edged, pink, orange and yellow rainbow scroll with text: Get blogs in your inbox & updates from Elise every second month. Join my Fiction Frolics. Select this image to learn more.

Related Reading

Querying Your First Novel

Why I Chose to Self Publish

Becoming an Indie Author Part 1
and Part 2 (Book Launch).

Signing With an Indie Publisher (a multi author interview)

Indie Authors on Indie Authoring

To write diverse characters, you need to consider which diverse identities you’re including, why and how to naturally indicate that a certain character is diverse/ marginalised and in what way. You need to include characters respectfully, without alienating that character/ identity. But also to consider and show ‘normal’ as that character experiences it, including situations in which their behaviour will ‘normally’ not conform to what ‘most people’ are doing. And in all of this, you need to be mindful using inclusive language in your writing.
This blog will unpack all of these things, but first, some general notes on writing marginalised characters from Vaela and Micah. (If you missed my post on avoiding problematic representation, maybe start there).

Stay In Your Lane -Defined by Vaela & Micah

Every book should have diversity. Every book that shows our world or a world like ours, should have it. And that’s why it’s important to distinguish between – writing a marginalized character vs – writing the struggles of a marginalized character.

Basically, write your Black or Indigenous characters, but don’t write their oppression and their struggle against it unless you are a member of that group. If you haven’t experienced that struggle, it is not your place to portray it as though you know it. You don’t.

You might know what their oppression looks like from the outside, but don’t try to tell stories that quite literally aren’t yours. That’s not diversity, that’s appropriation.

Even when simply putting marginalized characters into your books, it’s a good idea to hire a sensitivity reader of that character’s community. Sensitivity readers can stop glaring flaws and offensive depictions, and can enrich and add to a marginalized character with their own experiences and input.

Research is of course always important. And here it’s necessary that it’s not a matter of “how much research is enough,” but rather that research is a process. Learning about other identities is a continual process, and one that is usually never finished. But it’s well worth it.

You can read Vaela and Micah’s full thread here.

Know Why You’re Writing This Marginalised Character

Before we dive into the writing of diverse characters, I think its important to be clear about which diverse identities you’re including and why. Intent gives you purpose, and guides how you go about completing a task. So consider: are you writing a marginalised identity to:

Have people in your story world resemble the diversity of humanity in real life?

Have marginalised readers pick up your book and see themselves on its pages? And realise this isn’t yet another book about other people, its actually about them too?

To spread awareness (of any particular?) marginalised people’s existence and or to normalise their presence in fiction?

To give non-marginalised people the chance to emotionally connect with/ relate to/ sympathise with marginalised people they may not interact with in real life? (This is easier when you’re writing own voices, but likely if you’re an empathetic writer, though I’d recommend a sensitivity reader if this is part of your purpose or inclination.)

To subvert, challenge or destroy stereotypes with more rounded, more authentic representation of a certain identities? (Great, though again I suggest a sensitivity reader to help you with the ‘authentic’ part).

Write Inclusively

When you first plan characters, think outside the box of your own identities, life experience and upbringing. Every character who sets foot on the page is an opportunity for diversity. That assistant might use speech to text technology to make notes because they’re dyslexic. That autistic side character may hesitate to join the party because bright lights, loud music and crowds make them deeply uncomfortable. The friend your MC confides in may bounce from one topic to another at great speed in conversation, because they have ADHD or are in a hyper stage of bipolar.

Job one on my writing diverse characters list is: look for opportunities to incidentally reveal that a character is in some way a marginalised person. If you do this for multiple identities, you could tick the ‘writing a world as diverse as our own box’ —even if only minor characters in your story are diverse. You’d also be raising awareness of and normalising the existence of people with these identities, and letting marginalised people glimpse themselves on the page. Sure, this is surface and entry level stuff, but if you’re new to writing diverse characters, this is all it takes to get started.

Writing Inclusive, Non-alienating Descriptions

To ensure you do write inclusively, its good to monitor if there are any times in your story when a marginalised character is singled out or alienated from the other characters (or the reader). Some of these times may reflect prejudice, bigotry and or discrimination in the world of your story, as you intend. But some may not.

For example, describing the appearance of people of colour and not white characters. Not commenting on white characters accessories, but being sure to point out the character wearing a turban or hijab. Or not describing what the white kids eat at lunch time, but mentioning the ‘strange’ meats in sauces and green or purple, crumpet-like bread the African kids are eating.

If you only describe the appearance and culture of characters who aren’t like you, you’re positioning them so its obvious how ‘other’ and ‘different’ and ‘not like us/ the other characters’ the marginalised characters are. You’re positioning them to be isolated from fellow characters and the reader the moment you introduce them. So when it comes to describing marginalised characters, try to evade double standards in what you do and don’t mention about appearances and culture.

Write Fully Rounded Diverse Characters,
Not Defined by their ‘diverse’ identity

Focus on the big picture of your ‘diverse’ characters —initially. Consider their family, friends, foes, hopes, dreams etc. Don’t let what makes them different define the way you write them. Give them strengths, weaknesses, backstory, aspirations, fears, loves etc —like your other characters. And don’t let how they are ‘different’ define their aspirations, fears, backstory etc. Let characters exist beyond the manner in which they are marginalised.

What this Means (in part) for Disabled Characters

Yes, if your character is disabled/ neurodiverse, this may mean researching assistive technology and or strategies/ adjustments/ treatments that enable your characters to pursue their dreams despite the limitations of their disability. Don’t just write them off because they’re vision impaired, or ‘its too crowded for an autistic person to function’ or ‘all soldiers must depend solely on brute force to survive battle’ —must they?

I would love to see more disabled characters finding ways to work with/ around their disability, at the heart of stories action. So often in action movies, fantasy, SciFi even in romance you see the muscular man. The thin woman. Physically ‘attractive’ people with 20-20 vision, all of their limbs and senses functioning at full capacity, unimpeded by chronic illness or disability, their brains mostly co-operating with them.

There’s a saying, ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’. And I’ve seen so few fictional characters readers with disabilities can aspire to be. So please include disabled characters in your books! (But not to inspire or motivate other characters/ the reader. There’s a lot of issues with that, explored unapologetically in this article by a disabled author.)

Write Your Diverse Adult Characters as Adults

Certain marginalised identities get infantilised. My open, honest expression of ADHD excitement and impulsivity often leads people to view me as 15-20 years younger than I am. Sure, I can be a big kid by nature (and enjoy doing so). I also hold the views of the highly educated, extensively life experienced adult that I am. But people who stereotype me because of my ADHD, or mistake my unfiltered ADHD behaviour for lack of intelligence, are oblivious to my adult capacity.

Asexual people can also be infantilised. Like they aren’t ‘grown up enough’ to want to have sex with other people, or to be sexually attracted to other people. Just in case anyone is confused: having sex with other people is not a milestone of maturity that must be crossed to claim adult status. A tiny minority of the population do not experience sexual attraction to other people (or don’t unless they’re already emotionally intimate) and may not wish to have sex with other people *waves in asexual*.

Then there are disabled people or older people, particularly those dependent on carers to, for example, get in and out of the shower. Just because a person’s physical capacity is reduced does not mean they lack the maturity, life experience and knowledge —the intellect— of the adult they are. (Alzheimer’s and Dementia being more variable, grey categories here).

Then there’s white characters longing to save poor, ‘helpless’ people of colour —the white saviours I warned you to avoid writing in my diverse characters big don’ts blog. I suspect all white saviours are infantilising people of colour.

So even if your marginalised character appears to you ‘child-like’ in some way, don’t lose sight of the knowledge, experience and intellectual capacity they also have as an adult —and write it.

Know the Specific Identity
& Write It Authentically

Stop assuming (anything). Step out of your shoes. Put yourself in your character’s shoes. This is where you start researching the particular identity/ marginalisation you’re representing.

What May be Normal for That Identity?

Once you’ve tried to step out of your life experience and the expectations it and your upbringing, culture etc have given you, its time to research what may be normal for the diverse identity you are writing, so you can imagine their world. I stress ‘may be normal for that identity’ because as they tell us in teacher training, ‘if you have met one person with autism, you have met one person with autism.’ People’s experiences will vary, even among people with the same diverse identity, especially if that person/ character is marginalised in multiple ways.

Possible Examples of Marginalised Identity ‘Normal’

-always eating with your hands (some people of colour).

-using assistive devices to read/ write/ view/ move (some disabled people).

-carefully pacing yourself with physical activities and balancing them with rest every day. And avoiding prolonged standing or sitting (disabled people with chronic/ invisible illness, particularly chronic fatigue and long covid).

-a preference for uncluttered, neutral coloured, quiet living, working and digital spaces (actually autistic and ADHD people).

-a predisposition to assume they have done something wrong, or their company is unwanted (some forms of anxiety).

-struggling to get out of bed or perform physical activities because you’re so weighed down by the pointlessness of everything (one experience of depression).

-characters buying and wearing clothing and accessories irrespective of their biological sex (many trans and some nonbinary people).

-being attracted to and dating people of the opposite or multiple genders or being in a romantic/ sexual relationship with more than one partner (LGBTQIA+).

-not being sexually or romantically attracted to anyone, period (some asexual spectrum people).

How Might A Marginalised Identity
Not Conform to Majority Expectations?

As marginalised characters live different versions of ‘normal’ than non-marginalised characters, there are times when marginalised will not behave the same way as other characters. They may not even behave in ways many people expect, or defy other character’s (and the reader’s) expectations. So in showing each diverse person, consider the contexts in which they may present/ feel/ think/ behave differently to non-marginalised people.

A Disabled example of Nonconformity

Your characters attend a public event where everyone is expected to stand. It may be a person in a wheel chair who remains seated. Or maybe its someone with an invisible illness like long covid, chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromalgia limiting their stamina and making prolonged standing (more than a few minutes) painful, uncomfortable and or impossible. (I really should have got medical exemption from yard duty and standing during assembly when I had long covid).

A Gender Diverse Example

Its a special occasion. Men are wearing suits and women are wearing fancy dresses. But do all women want to wear dresses? And what are nonbinary people wearing? Are there feminine and masculine suits? Suit jackets with skirts? Is the gender of everyone’s formal clothing matching their biological sex (assigned at birth)? And as a nonbinary person, let me tell you that gender diverse people’s clothes may not fit their figure as well as cis people’s —where our gender identity expression and biological sex don’t match.

Asexual Spectrum Example

Your characters are teenagers and everyone is gossiping about their boyfriend, girlfriend or whoever they have a crush on. Except the asexual, aromantic character. They don’t seem to ‘like’ anyone in the same way people ‘like’ them or that their friends ‘like’ people of the opposite/ same sex/ both. (*waves in asexual aromantic*)

First Nations’ People Example

Its the characters national country day. Everyone is celebrating the public holiday with family meals. Except the country’s First Nations people, who are holding a national day of mourning and commemorating being invaded and colonised. (*jabs finger at Australia and tells their country to get its shit sorted*).

ADHD Example

Technology is being a nuisance in your characters office. Everyone is logically trying to problem solve it, aside from the wildly impatient ADHD character. They keep leaping between multiple solutions, forgeting what they’ve tried, why it didn’t work or what to do next. And get frustrated because tech is moving so slowly they’ve forgotten why they had that tab open and the three things they planned to do after it. Because when things move slowly they swiftly become bored, then distracted by multiple other things. (*waves in ADHD*)

Mind Your Words

Two Wrong Words about a Nonbinary Character= BAD

Without context and knowledge, you can incidentally, needlessly slap marginalised readers in the face. I experienced it in a review of my debut. The reviewers clearly, sincerely wanted to encourage nonbinary main characters. But in reviewing my book, they criticised the ‘gender reveal’ of my nonbinary MC.

If you know anything about current transphobia, you’ll know that since 2008, ‘Gender Reveal Parties’ have celebrated how a baby’s biological sex ‘reveals’ their gender identity. You’ll know such a perspective erases the existence of trans and nonbinary people and recognise ‘gender reveal parties’ as the transphobic practice they are. But if you didn’t know this -words matter, history matters and context matters.

I can give you additional context here too. No-one ever refers to the ‘gender reveal’ of a male or female character. Because we know the character will be male or female. We expect it. Its ‘normal’. And sometimes we forget nonbinary people exist, and they’re never main characters, so when we come across one as a main character its like, ‘Oh yeah! Nonbinary people exist (and can be characters, even main characters). I forgot! What a revelation!’

Here I am, being referred to by the wrong pronouns (by people who know my pronouns) and mis-gendered by strangers everyday in my real life. And people are reminding me in writing that most people forget I exist.

That’s how easy it is as a non-marginalised person, ignorant of context, to blunder in and accidentally slap a marginalised reader with a mere two terrible word choices.

Research Your Words

So if you’re about to describe a marginalised character… stop.
1. Did you research respectful terms to describe them first?
You’ll find plenty in White Writers Writing POC and for not using ableist language; (after the list ableist terms) this list of better alternatives.

2. Did you Google the adjective you’re considering describing a marginalised identity by and that identity’s name together? This is a simple way to get context you may lack from not having lived as a marginalised character, or not belonging to the same communities as they do.

Inclusive Fiction Examples

Shallan (PTSD rep) and Renarin (autism rep) in the Stormlight Archives. These are interesting because they are point of view characters, and Brandon Sanderson didn’t write either as own voices. He did however do his homework and wrote both the impact of Shallan’s experience of PTSD and Renarin’s autism sensitively.

Lupin (Netflix) has a male main character who’s black. He’s French (as is the show), street smart (tough upbringing), charming, clever, highly capable and a loving (ex) husband and father, countering many negative stereotypes of black men.

Locke & Key (Netlix) has a secondary character who is a double amputee. Yet how he lost his feet isn’t mentioned, because this isn’t a story about his experience as a disabled person. Its a fantasy story in which he ends up playing an important role.

People To Help You Write The Other

Listen To People

Your writing community (on whichever social media/ Discord servers you talk to writers) is a good place to listen to people marginalised in the same way as your characters. Try searching hashtags like: #neurodiverse, #actuallyautistic, #ADHD, #ChronicIllness/ #longcovid, #disability, #BLM etc.
On Blue sky, hear what life is like from posts by people living it on; neurodiversity, chronic illness, disability, LGBTQIA+, BlackSky.

If you’re a children’s fiction author, you may be able to talk to marginalised people by submitting a form to Inclusive Minds, a paid service connecting children’s book authors to marginalised people, whose experience and advice can help you write their identities authentically.

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More Resources to Help You Write Neurodiverse Characters

Writing Diverse Characters Part 1: Big Don’ts

I Think I’m Neurodiverse (ADHD?)
Managing my Neurodiversity —ADHD

List of Neurodiverse Definitions and some behaviours by Best Resources for Achievement and Intervention re Neurodiversity in Higher Education.

Writing Characters With Autism by Disability in Kidlit.

Salt and Sage Books Incomplete Guides book series on writing asexual, black and autistic characters, fat positivity and sexual assault, written by own voices authors.

Writing ‘Diverse’ Characters 1: How Not To

I assume you’re here because you’re interested in writing diverse characters and inclusive books that represent the human diversity of our world. You probably aim to write a range of identities and character backgrounds sensitively, respectfully and in a way that prompts diverse readers to be thrilled to see themselves in your book’s pages (as opposed to hurt by offensive, ignorant, prejudiced representation). This two part blog, written by a white, nonbinary, aromantic, asexual, neurodiverse, chronically ill/ disabled author, aims to introduce you to or help you evaluate your knowledge of common pitfalls in diverse rep. It contains many links to further reading (by more qualified authors in the case of BIPOC rep) along the way.

Why Write Diverse Characters? -My Identity Reasons

I first drafted this blog around 3 years ago, thinking, ‘I’d like to write more diverse characters. I’d like to not perpetuate the myth that ‘everyone’ is white, and cishet, able-bodied and neurotypical in my books —by only writing those characters. I need to educate myself about many marginalised identities.’

Guess what? As a 90’s child, where ‘queer’ meant gay, lesbian or ‘transexual,’ and ADHD and autism were ‘boy things’, it turned out the world I grew up in was so ignorant and devoid of diverse representation that it hadn’t allowed me to recognise my own diverse identities.

I am one of many people who grew up knowing they had ‘quirks’, which I later realised neatly fit under ADHD. Who thought the differences between ‘man’ and ‘woman’ are vastly over exaggerated and mostly mythical —easy to think when you’re nonbinary). And who thought most adults are obsessed with sex and fixated on romance —easy to think as an asexual who doesn’t experience sexual attraction and an aromantic who’s never been ‘in love’.

I grew up almost NEVER seeing who I was in ANYONE else. To such an extent I didn’t have the words or labels to articulate to other humans who I AM. To this day, many people are mystified by the fact I don’t have a romantic partner. I’m the first nonbinary person most people I’ve met have met. And people frequently underestimate the extent to which my ADHD and, courtesy of long covid, my chronic illness (fibromaylgia) impact my life on a daily basis. This is why I think it would be awesome to see more diverse characters in books.

Writing ‘The Other’ Complications

Our challenge as writers is having been raised in a society built on foundations of racism, white supremacy, ableism, sexism, misogyny, homophobia and transphobia. A multi-generational hangover of deep-seated prejudices makes it so easy (and likely) for us to have internalised unconscious, ignorant bias. And because of that, we’re at risk of perpetuating harmful stereotypes and of alienating and hurting the people we’re trying to include in our stories.

Be concious of how, when and why you set diverse characters apart. I assume we arrived at calling people of colour, first nations, queer and disabled people (including chronically ill, neurodiverse, and people facing mental health challenges) ‘diverse’ because they’re ‘different’ or ‘other’. Different to what? To white, heterosexual, cis and binary gender, able-bodied, neurotypical; aka ‘normal’ people?

Historically to be ‘diverse’ was to be ‘abnormal’, to have something ‘wrong’ with you. Enter white supremacy, sexism, ableism, homophobia etc and prejudice-packed, lying narratives they spawned, like supposed superiority of white, male, cishet, able-bodied, neurotypical people. If you leave diverse your characters out, or highlight their traits -but not those of ‘normal’ characters- or treat diverse characters differently, could prejudice could be in play? What do your critical readers think?

On top of that, you may never have had a face to face (or digital) conversation with one (let alone a group) of individuals sharing many identities you’d like to include in your books. Even if you have, you may never have heard them share, with uncensored honesty, their personal experiences as a ‘diverse’ person.

And while focused on diversity and not representing people offensively, you could fall into the trap of losing sight of that character as a fully rounded human -not limited to and defined by their diverse identity- and fail to write them as that fully rounded human.

How Do You Begin Writing A Marginalized Person Whose Identity You Don’t Share?

Every stereotype we don’t notice, every prejudiced or biased view that was ‘normal’ and ‘mainstream’ when we were growing up is at risk of perpetuating itself in our writing. So what do we need to know to avoid that?

Learn What Problematic Rep Looks Like,
—then don’t write it

Physical ‘Abnormalities’ Are ‘Evil’
Sexism, Ageism, Fatphobia & Ableism

Be conscious of traits you give human antagonists. Consider that in fairytales the villain is often an ugly old witch —and you NEVER saw kindly, wise, older women who were positive characters. Or the villain was wicked, jealous stepmothers —so much so I’ve had primary school students ask me why fairytales portray all stepmothers as evil. And nowhere do such stories comment on the systematic sexism and misogyny that disempowered and made women vulnerable historically, and so often the hero is a man. The message in these tales seems to be, ‘any woman with power is evil’ and ‘all good rulers are men.’

What sort of message does your villain tell readers? If the message is ‘being an arsehole is bad’ —you’re fine. But if the villain is the only person of colour, the only older woman, neurodiverse, disabled or the only plus sized character? (See Dudley and Vernon Dursley for fatphobia). What does that say about those identities, traits and people?

Be especially conscious of traits. Have you noticed how often baddies in films have skin defects, physical ailments or other forms of disability? And until very recently other disabled characters tended to be non-existent in fiction? Looks like a pretty clear message that disabled people are bad.

Have you ever seen villains who move their hands, feet or engage in other rhythmic, repetitive ‘weird’/ ‘scary’ movements? (Especially in cartoons). My (autistic) mother recently pointed out to me that this is stimming, a behaviour autistic and sometimes ADHD people use to regulate our emotions and or bodies when we’re under or over stimulated. So don’t make your only stimming, and by extension, your only neurodiverse character the villain!

(For disability stereotypes to avoid, see this post from the Disability History Museum.)

Marginalised Characters as Villains

If you’re worrying you can’t make marginalized characters villains, please don’t. I’d like to see a lot more neurodiverse and disabled characters represented at all —let alone as main characters— before I feel the world is ready for us as villains (without continuing to stigmatise us).

But if you have neurodiverse/ disabled characters as baddies AND gooddies AND neutral characters and the character who’s technically good but also kind of an obstacle? And you’re representing all your (quite a few) marginalised characters as fully rounded identities? —It follows that some of them may be villains, like Desire in The Sandman (a nonbinary character whom I as an enby viewer loved).

Or you may write deeply flawed/ morally grey characters who also happen to be marginalised. For example, Klaus in The Umbrella Academy, who’s initially a barely functional drug addict, but I LOVE them too. And they’re also a hero —again, balance matters. Or Victor in the same show, again, a deeply flawed character who (spoilers) the world, and also happens to be trans.

Just be careful that ARE writing villains who HAPPEN to be queer/ POC etc. NOT villains because they are gay, or black or a (woman). And this needs saying because writers are STILL getting it wrong. Take the 2016 film Split for example. Mental health challenges make you a serial killer? No, they fucking don’t! LOADs of people combatting a whole range of mental health challenges are NOT murderers. Please don’t blame extreme violence in your writing on ‘mental illness.’ Which leads to the next section.

Mad = Bad & Ableism

How many times have you heard opinions you vehemently object to in recent years and called the person, ‘mad’, a ‘lunatic,’ ‘blind’ or ‘deaf’? Sorry, you’re guilty of ableism 101, differentiating between you and people you disagree with by implying those you disagree with are disabled (I’ve also been guilty of this). I know, it’s so tempting to call Trumpists and TERFs crazy and stupid, and blind to the way the hands they worship bite, rather than feed us all. But it isn’t maddness, and it isn’t blindness. These people are NOT disabled. There’s nothing neurologically different in their minds (with the exception of Trump and narcism).

The difference is that covid minimizers, climate change deniers, TERFs etc are wilfully ignorant. They choose not to know. They choose not to believe. But when we call them ‘mad’ alongside ‘bad’… we’re insulting everyone and anyone who’s ever genuinely struggled with their mental health. We’re insulting people who fight their own mental health to function, by lumping them in the same category as people who are too cowardly or too lazy or too gullibly believing Murdoch media to bother facing reality.

So when your characters describe or respond to your book’s equivalent of MAGA characters, please don’t write them doing so in a way that insults actual disabled people.

Ableist language is still rife in the western world, so for a list of common ableist adjectives to avoid and for more accurate, non-ableist adjectives and terms, see this list from Augsberg University. And for how to respectfully write neurodiverse and disabled characters, see part 2 of this blog series.

Bury Your Gays/ Sad Gays

There’s a history of that one token gay character dying in chapter/ act one, while the cishet characters live on. (For details of a bunch of problematic gay and lesbian rep see ‘Bury Your Gays‘ on TV Tropes, a useful resources for identifying tropes, stereotypes and among them, harmful ones).

If you have a minor character who’s going to die quickly —don’t make them gay. Don’t make them your only queer (or otherwise marginalised )character either.

Yes, a book in which loads of people die and some of them are queer can be fine —provided you DON’T kill off ALL the ONLY queer side/ main characters/ couples. Some of them need to survive, just as some of the cishet ones will —see Bury Your Gays for why this is historically and contextually important.

And don’t just write the ‘sad gay’ who’s sad because of ‘the struggle to be queer’. In looking for competitions I could enter my book in, I was astounded that I, queer author of a queer MC didn’t fit the criteria of an LGBTQIA book competition because… I wrote a civilisation (in an epic fantasy) in which being queer is normal and queer joy is a thing! Life can be shitty for LGBTQIA+ (especially trans) people in the real world. Can you give us some queer joy in fiction?

Queer Rep Resources

For why Queer rep is needed, why queer struggles need to be shown in literature but also why queer people like myself want to see some queer joy, this article on Queer Rep in Media is a good (and brief) summary.

More resources with details of problematic queer tropes:
No Bisexuals and Hide Your Lesbians from TV Tropes.
You’ll also find problematic tropes mixed in among common, unharmful queer stereotypes (all linked to explanations of each trope on the list) on Tv Trope’s Queer As Tropes and Homophobia Index.

White Saviours & Racism

While reading to clarify my understanding of ‘white saviour’ for this post, I came across an article (Content Warning on this one!) about a real life white saviour. A story about a modern white person so convinced of their own good will and superiority that they decided to administer medical treatment to Ugandans (via a charity), despite not having any medical qualifications. Yes, their actions killed patients as well as ‘saving’ them. No, this white ‘saviour’ faced no legal ramifications.

In the articles I browsed, white saviours seem to have in common the desire to help BIPOC, often via charity/ foreign aid (as much to make themselves feel better as to benefit others). This may not be a problem, if white saviours didn’t also believe in their ‘superior’ ability to help BIPOC, whilst ignoring how being heirs of white colonialism and supremacy benefits white people on one hand and failing to see how systems built on both systematically disadvantage BIPOC on the other (as mentioned in this article.)

My current thoughts on white saviours is their racism and white supremacy corrupts, can impair and severely limits their capacity to ‘do good’. So if you’re writing a white person who wants to help others… be careful you don’t unintentionally write a white saviour.

(For more examples of how white saviours may present, see an extensive list of them on Wikepedia.)

White Saviours & Racism Resources

As a white writer living on the land of the Wurundjeri people, land that was never ceded and always was and always will be Aboriginal land (aka as an heir of racist colonialism), this is where I point you to BIPOC people to tell us how to represent them.

But first, if you’re unsure, unclear or feeling ambivalent about how racism may have tainted the perspective you’re writing from, I highly recommend the book White Women, Everything you already know about your own racism and how to do better by Regina Jackson and Saira Rao. (Men and nonbinary people, this book will also give you insights into sexism from a cis women’s perspective, which I found educational as a nonbinary person).

For many resources citing potential pitfalls of white people writing POC, see White Writers Writing POC.

For racial stereotypes (and advice on positively writing POC), see Writing With Colour.

Next in This Blog Series

Writing Diverse Characters Part 2: Gives advice on and provides more resources about how to naturally, respectfully and authentically include neurodiverse and disabled and some POC characters, with inclusive language.

Part 3: will focus on Writing LGBTQIA+ characters, and be published in April.

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Further Reading/ Resources Linked Further Above

White Writers Writing POC

Writing With Colour

Ableist Terms and more accurate, non-ableist alternatives.

Disability Stereo Types to avoid

Queer Tropes to avoid from TV Tropes: Bury Your Gays, No Bisexuals, Hide Your Lesbians and Homophobia Index.

Twitter’s slow death has made 2023 a hard year for authors to celebrate our books, with many of us (myself included) losing our biggest platform. Meanwhile, many diverse authors are still finding the surest path to get our books out into the world is going indie. But without financial backing or publisher connections to promote our books, indie books of even the highest standard risk languishing in obscurity.

So as a queer, neurodiverse, chronically ill indie author of fantasy worlds, the logical thing was to showcase SFF worlds, diverse characters and key themes fellow authors of other worlds have written here. Most of the thirteen books in this post are first in a series, and all come with a Goodreads link to bookmark for future reading if you wish.

Genre: cozy epic fantasy set in pre-medieval times.

Cast:
Asexual spectrum rep (ownvoices). and gender non-conformity.

Major themes:
blind fear & hate vs. good, love and friendship in day-to-day life.

Short
Blurb: in a world where dragons & their riders are feared & killed, the life of one devout village huntress is changed forever when she meets a dragon hatchling.

Series info: book 1 of 3, all out now.

Goodreads: link

Book cover
Title: DragonBirth
Image: young woman kneels before grey baby dragon, between two broad trees in a forest.

Genre: Victorian Steampunk

Cast: includes black & queer characters, variable socio-economic backgrounds, a talking cat.

Major themes: capitalism, equality, and societal expectations.

Short Blurb: Solving crimes is hard enough with secret societies and criminal chocolatiers to contend with, but add to that Dexter the talking mechanical cat, and it’s safe to say John Sinister is not having a good day.

Series info: stand alone, out now.

Goodreads: link

Book cover
Title: Dexter & Sinister, Detecting Agents
Image: grey and white cat wearing goggles on its forehead and a green scarf sits looking up and out at the viewer, on a red background.

Genre: Scifi/ Mystery/ Comedy -recent past Earth & alternate dimensions.

Cast: bi main character.

Major themes: friendship, maturity, growing older.

Short Blurb: They’re not detectives, but they have to become detectives in order to figure out who’s telling people that they’re detectives.

Series info: book 1 of 3, all out now.

Goodreads: link

Book cover (mostly blue toned)
Title: Duckett & Dyer, Dicks for Hire
Image: one detective raises an arm to their neck and looks uncertainly at the other, who thumbs up's the viewer with a crooked, uncertain smile Between them stands a dark, yellow eyed bull flanked by hands with eye balls instead of finger tips.
Bellow the title, a gun shoots a blue squiggle and sparks.

Genre: epic, portal, YA fantasy with beginnings in Australia, but mostly set in an alternate world (Umarinaris).

Cast: nonbinary and aromantic asexual leads (ownvoices), other queer, neurodiverse and BIPOC characters.

Major themes: found family, friendship, optimism and visionary leadership vs. adversity and war.

Short Blurb: King Kyura doesn’t want to invade Tarlah. Heir Ruarnon doesn’t want their people invaded and Aussie Linh has no desire to visit another world. But this book isn’t about getting what you want, it’s about people doing their best under exceptionally challenging circumstances.

Series info: book1 of 3 (1-2 out now, 3 on pre-order till April 2024 release).

Goodreads: link

Other Worlds -SFF Books Showcase

Genre: YA fantasy alternate history set in 1600s Viking and Spanish settled Canada.

Cast: First Nations / Indigenous rep, queer rep (after book 1 including ownvoices bi rep and lesbian, gay, trans, ace/aro rep.)

Major themes:
anti-colonialism, anti-racism, climate change, elemental/ nature-based magic, people’s lives diverging within parallel worlds diversity.

Short Blurb
: A rebellious heroine faces a colonial world coming unstitched: in a region tainted by prejudice and on the brink of civil war, 17-year-old Kateiko has to decide what’s worth dying – or killing – for.

Series info: book 1 of 4, all out now.

Goodreads: link

Book cover
Title: The Call of the Rift, Flight
Image: A teenage girl walks alone through a dim, misty rainforest, carrying a spiked flail and magically lifting tendrils of water from a creek. The girl has brown skin, long brown hair blowing in the wind, and an arm tattoo of a bird and flowers. She wears a brown belted tunic, green leggings, tall fur-lined boots, leather bracers, and an embroidered red cloak. A line at the top says, 'The wind dies a thousand deaths, and still it returns.' "
and thanks so much, by the way!

Genre: gothic horror/dark fantasy-ish set in 13th century Eastern Europe in the fictional country Tristanja.

Cast: Bi & pan rep, demiro, polyam, and PTSD (ownvoices for the queer rep/polyam and PTSD).

Major themes: overcoming/healing from PTSD, rediscovering your sexual self after sexual trauma.

Short Blurb: Meya is Lord Deminas’ latest chambermaid and favourite source of blood to drink. To avoid being his next servant to vanish, she must uncover all of Castle Tristanja’s dark secrets.

Series info: 1 of 2 related books, both out now.

Goodreads: link

Book cover
Title: My Lord
Image: naked young woman kneels in a bare stone room, strange red markings on the floor around her, a gold goblet before her, her hands raised and long, dark red hair flowing over her pale skin.

Genre: dark urban fantasy set in modern times (the 90s-present years) in small American cities.

Cast: includes a trans man, mental illness/ disability and DID rep (ownvoices).

Major themes: religious trauma, reversing the light vs dark narrative (dark’s good, light’s evil), angels & demons.

Short Blurb: Follow a trans man trauma survivor from childhood to adulthood as they face not only an evil angel, but also a sinister entity in their own head.


Series info: book 1 of 2 out now.


Goodreads: link

Book cover
Title: Everything is Wonderful Now
Image: upwards angle at a stone statue of a bare chested man, one hand raise to stone, wind blown locks, eyes wide, mouth open to cry out.


Genre: Dark Paranormal Fantasy set a few 100yrs from now in a post-apocalyptic world.

Cast: includes a lesbian and many POC characters.

Major themes: simple living, with money, rulers & religion no longer tolerated.

Short Blurb: An eviction. A stolen gemstone. A hidden network. Will retrieving her precious obsidian get Tricky killed.

Series info: book 1 of 2 out now.

Goodreads: link.

Book cover
Title: Dead Lake
Image: wooden slatted side of a house before golden, sunlit lake waters, a thin tree rising on the right.

Genre: YA sci-fi Futuristic setting near future (2165)

Cast: A plus size Jewish protagonist (ownvoices).

Major themes: a morally gray hero, how where we grow up influences our choices and perspective.

Short Blurb: Jorden Lund isn’t the chosen one, he’s the guy who volunteered. His suicide mission: build a bomb, destroy a space ship and save the world. Falling in love was not part of the plan. Now completing his mission means sacrificing the girl he loves.

Series info: book 1 of 2 out now.

Goodreads: link.

Book cover
Title: The Goodbye Kids
Image: space background, planet in sky, silhouette of girl and boy leaning towards each other in foreground, with full body silhouettes of them running hand in hand across a platform, a burning ship in space beyond them.

Genre: Scifi/Fantasy set in the US – 2,000 years from now.


Cast:
Black, Latino and queer leads.

Major themes:
accepting oneself/found family, bringing down corrupt govt/upsetting the status quo.

Blurb:
In the distant future, the United States is long gone… the Realm stands in its place… and one peasant woman will become the catalyst for a revolution. The Serrulata Saga is a speculative dystopian sci-fi adventure you won’t want to miss.

Series info: book 1 of 5 out now.

Goodreads: link.

Book cover
Title: Gathering of Four
A young black woman with short hair stands in a red dress, her hands raised either side, flames burning from them. A young woman stands with a revolver raised in her right hand on the left, two men standing on the right, one holding a raised sword.

Genre: Dystopia/Sci-Fi World/Era: Near future Earth and alternate universe intersecting with it.

Cast:
mental health rep (own voices), lesbian lead.

Major themes:
What is a human? How much impact can one person have on the world? Bigotry & othering.

Short
Blurb: Local dumpster fire has her ex come back into her life. Plot twist — the ex is an android.


Series info: book1 of 2 out now.

Goodreads: link.

Book cover
Title: Kotov Syndrome
Image: a young woman's face, anime cartoon-ish style, her face framed with a long brown fringe on both sides and over her nose, her eyes glowing red, her mouth tiny and open.

Genre: urban fantasy/Sci-Fi set in the multiverse.

Cast/ Major themes:
include Dissociative Identity Disorder, Autism, kink/body positivity, and being transgender/queer by a trans, neurodivergent POC author with DID.

Short Blurb:
Years after a senseless murder, an autistic transgender man and his young teen nephew hope to finally find closure. Instead they are whisked away into the vast multiverse where a mentally unstable robot is set to activate the Mortal Engine.

Series info: book 1 of 2 out now.

Goodreads: link.

Book cover
Title: Mortal Engine
Image: a man with glowing red skin and a black beard stands with fanged mouth open, swathed in a bright blue, interior glowing red cloak, with neon lines waving around him.

Genre: Future, alien planet

Cast:
LGBTQA+ main characters (except the gorilla, though apparently no one’s asked him 😉 ).

Major themes:
good vs bad, interplanetary culture clash.

Short Blurb:
When space poachers release Earth animals on an alien world, threatening a fragile new alliance, they anger the wrong people: a veterinarian, an accountant, and a furious sign-language-fluent gorilla are coming for them.

Series info: stand alone, out now.

Goodreads: link.

Book cover
Title: A Swift Kick to the Thorax
Image: floating manuscript pages over outer space background, pen floating below, bite mark in bottom right corner of pages.
Blue edged, pink, orange and yellow rainbow scroll with text: Get blogs in your inbox & updates from Elise every second month. Join my Fiction Frolics. Select this image to learn more.

SFF Author Interviews:
Mara Lynne Johnston (Swift Kick to the Thorax -Comedy SciFi).
Debbie Iancu Hadad (The Goodbye Kids, YA SciFi)
Natalie Kelda (YA SFF)
Elise Carlson (Epic YA Fantasy)

Manipulator’s War: Origins

Most of my blogs about authoring are practical advice, save my my decision to self publish. I’m now at a stage of outlining thoughts on other big (in this case ethical dilemma) author decisions; which social media and advertising platforms to use as an author. This is not an advice blog and definitely not a ‘how to make money as an indie author blog’. It’s why I chose to leave Twitter, opt out of Kindle Unlimited and delete my Facebook Author Page. It may help you reflect on your choices and what’s right for you as an author/ reader/ person. (And maybe we can lament the demise, death and zombie status of Twitter together).

Amazon, Libraries & No Thanks Kindle Unlimited

When you’re an emerging Indie Author and readers don’t know you from Adam, entering your book in Amazon’s Kindle Select program (into Kindle Unlimited -KU) is very tempting. It has lots of readers, your book is discoverable and you will get some page reads (even if you don’t market much or aren’t very good at it). Conventional author wisdom seems to be that its a wise financial and discoverability move for a first time author. But my books are not in Kindle Select (despite that at the time of writing I’ve only published 2/3 of my debut trilogy).

Growing up, I was the child of a single parent. Money was tight. We got most of our books from the library. I like libraries. I like that they’ve always made access to books, digital resources, the internet, printing and apparently now recording studios, an equitable experience. So when I published my first book I wanted libraries to have access to print AND digital copies. But no library could have digital copies in their catalogue if my ebook was in Kindle Select (KU).

No matter what research I did, or advice I considered, for me it was the ethical point that got stuck in my head. I’m a full time teacher and can pay off a home loan on my own salary (which is great because I don’t have a partner and am not inclined to want one). I’m privileged enough not to depend on writing to earn a living. Which is awesome, because as a debut author breaking even financially is a challenge. So I’m in a financial position to stick to my ethical guns and make my ebooks available to libraries.

Non-Amazon Stores

Then there’s stores. I don’t like Amazon. When I got long covid, I got banned from having books available on pre-order on there for a year. That’s because Amazon’s highest priority is customer experience (read ‘profits’). Authors don’t matter to them. I’ve heard of authors having their accounts deleted, their books taken down (before I left Twitter, more on that below). It doesn’t have authors’ backs.

So I researched bookstores and looked at alternatives. I discovered (I’m Australian so neither of these is really a thing here) that Barnes & Noble have a reader subscription service (Nook) and Kobo has Kobo Plus, and unlike Kindle Select (KU), neither of those subscription services is exclusive. So you can have your ebook on Nook, and Kobo Plus AND in libraries.

And there are so many other (non-exclusive) ebook subscription services online (Scribed & Hoopla for example). Sure, these services don’t make your book as visible as Kindle Unlimited, but they have less books for yours to get lost competing among, so I figured why not?

Cover of fantasy book Manipulator's War, purchase icons for ebook: Kindle, Apple, Nook, Kobo, Booktopia, Scribd, Vivlio, Smashwords, Indigo, S24, Thalia, Bucher De, Angus & Robertson.Paperback purchase icons: Barnes & noble, Waterstones, Booktopia, Angus & Robertson, Bucher De.

The above isn’t all the digital stores my first book is on, its just the main ones. If I was in Kindle Unlimited, you’d only see the first two ebook icons. That’s quite a few stores of difference.

Eggs in One Basket

I also don’t like a ‘put all your eggs in one basket approach’. Not just in terms of one basket, but also an American and far from global basket. Of the icons above, the blue icon is a French store. 24S is a Spanish owned subscription service. Thalia and Bucher De are German, and the green Rakuten Kobo is Booktopia, Australia’s biggest online bookstore. Not everyone will choose to buy from an American company when they can support stores in their own country and not everyone is fond of Amazon.

But the biggest problem of putting all your eggs in one baskets is it leaves me vulnerable, should the basket break. Which leads me to Twitter.

Goodbye Twitter, Hello Mastodon & Blue Sky

Perhaps a pressing author ethical dilemma for many authors of late has been the demise of Twitter. Twitter’s #WritingCommunity was my first social media home as a writer. Privately I was on Facebook (which I’ve never liked). On Twitter I found a space to network with, befriend, learn from and help my fellow writers. It grew beyond that. When I identified as both queer and neurodiverse, I saw great overlap between the writing community and those communities.

Twitter was a space where I could listen to voices I’d never heard before. Among them were, black people in America, BIPOC the world over, people with chronic illness, mental illness, neurodiverse and gender diverse people. It was a fabulous space for both professional growth as an author and personal growth as a person. Then Musk bought it.

True, algorithms always made your visibility and how easy it was to find friends on your feed variable. But Musk’s take over mostly made me feel more invisible than ever and made a concerted attempt to banish familiar faces from my feed. Familiar faces and good friends started leaving or stopped tweeting. The TERFs, transphobes, Trump supporters, and raging anti-science tribes started sounding louder. Twitter seemed to be competing with Truth Social to become the leading social media hate space.

Time To Go

I thought it would be transphobia and homophobia that drove me off Twitter. I’m the kind of person whose inclined to tell people where they can stick their shitty opinions. And I didn’t want to go on Twitter to be outraged or get angry or to argue. But that wasn’t the final straw.

A tweet about who was profiting from every fifth tweet (now a paid ad tweet) on our feeds stopped me tweeting. Fund the alt right? Fuck that! Sure, you can get an ad filter (which I did -and it helps a lot as someone with ADHD and visual sensory issues). But as Twitter became more like what I imagine Parlour or Truth Social stands for? I didn’t want to be associated with that place or its owner.

Hate Site

Since then and before publishing this blog @GasTheJews was revealed to be an entirely acceptable Twitter handle, when it was reported for hate speech multiple times, and Twitter claimed it wasn’t breaking any of their rules. Because did you know it isn’t hate speech if its in your Twitter handle instead of a tweet?

Text from tweet by Elliot Malin: Account @gasthejews6969 has not broken @X's safety procedures because 'gas the Jews' notably is not 'threatening violence against someone or a group of people' and definitely isn't 'celebrating or praising violence' whatsoeverAnd @ElonMusk wonders why advertisers left.Screenshot of Twitter's reply to a reported account: Hello, After reviewing the availible information, we want to let you know gasthejews6969 hasn't broken our safety policies.

The Kid’s Aren’t Safe

Then came the move (nearly two months after I ceased using my account), which persuaded me to delete it, cutting off multiple friends I don’t see on any other platform. My country’s Esafety Commissioner concluded that Twitter doesn’t have even the most basic child safety measures in place, to prevent not only child abuse but also child sexual abuse from occurring on it, and our Esafety Commissioner fined them accordingly.

Australian's ESafety commission fines Elon Musk's X $610,500 for failing to meet anti-child-abuse standards

Worried its only a matter of time before child abuse material is circulated on Twitter (if it isn’t happening already), and disgusted that every type of marginalised adult AND children don’t matter enough to Twitter (or its reputation) for them to even pretend to be doing anything to ensure user safety on the site, I deleted my account.

The Dilmena

How is Twitter being a hate site a dilemma? People seem to be staying because they personally aren’t attacked or aren’t witnessing marginalised people being attacked. People seem to be making decisions based on their personal user experience. And or indies are reluctant to give up sales from the site, when many of us indies struggle to even pay the costs of our business with our earnings, let alone MAKE any money (my cover art and editing costs are several thousand dollars more than I’ve earned so far as an indie author).

As for me, I had ten thousand followers on Twitter. I’d welcomed newbies, done threads to connect writers. I made lists, and gave extensive feedback on pitch party pitches over two years (and wrote this blog on writing a good one, still my most popular post.) That was my community. I had good friends on that platform who weren’t anywhere else, and dm groups -writer, author, queer and ND support groups that as a group didn’t want to move. Leaving meant losing my community and my platform as a budding indie author.

What’s an Author’s Place?

There was an interesting prompt for October on Mastodon: should writers post about politics or avoid it to avoid controversy? Should we publicly interact as if we are part of the world, or act like Ents, tending our books? Predictably, people who thought politics wasn’t an author’s place were white, cishet, neurotypical, able-bodied authors oblivious to their own privilege. They didn’t seem to notice that for others, eg. First Nations, Black, Asian, Queer, Neurodiverse, Chronically Ill, or Disabled people -existing IS political. (I’ll be blogging about writing diverse casts in Jan 2024 ????).

To me, a nonbinary, a-romantic, asexual, neurodiverse, chronically ill white person living in a cishet, ableist world, ‘should writers speak publicly about politics’ translates as, ‘should writers shut up and put up?’ My answer is ‘no and did I mention fuck no?’ I agree with writers who said they are part of this world, impacted by it and am writing my identities into a world that barely knows we exist and or doesn’t understand and or accept us.

My Place

As part of this world, how could I tacitly support for example, the idea that @GasTheJews as a Twitter handle is acceptable, by retaining my Twitter account or using the platform? If you think I’m going too far in saying that not deleting your account is publicly signalling support of Musk and all he and his bootlickers stand for, I’d refer you to Mene Wyatt, who said, “Silence is violence. Complacency is complicit.” (Source, a powerful monalog on the Australian Aboriginal experience, worth watching).

I’d also point to the blog one of a nazis who greeted Posie Parker (a UK TERF) on the step’s of my state’s parliament house with a nazi salute. In his blog, he referred to most people as ‘normies’ and presumed he and his neo-nazis were acting on behalf of ‘normies’. People like him can’t claim shit like that if you publicly signal that you DON’T support them and they DON’T speak for you.

So I see removing all association with Twitter as a way of making my disapproval of Musk and everyone and their hatreds he shelters and promotes undeniably clear. Do I value that over money and even friendships? Yes.

Mastodon

So where does a writer, author, and a queer, neurodiverse person seeking all of those communities go? Mastodon had the greatest appeal. It’s similar in terms of functionality. The main difference is the whole platform isn’t the plaything of a single dick who can screw it up any which way every time he throws a temper tantrum. Or persecute minority groups wholesale because he’s angry at one individual in his personal life, who happens to be marginalised in a particular way.

Each Mastodon instance has a different admin. Hashtags can display toots on hashtag feeds that bridge instances (#WordWeavers and #WritersCoffeeClub being my favourites). And the Fediverse has toots from every instance your instance hasn’t blocked. This means Mastodon can’t be destroyed by a single white man who scores zero points on the diversity scale and doesn’t give a shit about marginalised people. I also like that there’s no advertising or algorithms, just humans interacting, as opposed to glaring ethical concerns.

Blue Sky

The issue with your single greatest social platform turning to shite is that the communities and contacts you’ve made there aren’t all migrating to the same place. They’re scattering to the winds. Spoutible and Post as well as Mastodon and Blue Sky and I don’t know where else. But writers in the DM groups I was in (DMs being about the only reliable space on Twitter to talk to people I knew at this stage) seemed keen on Blue Sky. Created by the man who created Twitter, also without algorithms or paid ads (yet) and most importantly, not controlled by Musk or Zukerburg or other bastards, as ethics would define them. (For more about Blue Sky, see my Blue Sky Newby Guide.)

The above is how I traded my largest social media account of 10,600 followers to 100 (and slowly counting) on Mastodon and 500 (also climbing) on Blue Sky. Not a decision you make to get publicity for yourself or your books. Not a smart financial decision, at this time. But why stay on a poisoned, sinking ship where decent people are leaving (or hiding in dms), when I could build a small community on platforms far better aligned with my values? Not to mention where people like me can interact publicly and safely, without constantly blocking those who hate us for not being cishet/ neurotypical/ able bodied or in other people’s cases: white?

Goodbye Facebook Page!

Before Musk blew up Twitter, Zukerberg was the bad name in social media. I cracked it at Facebook, (at the height of the Pandemic in 2020) when without warning they blocked Australian community groups (including emergency service warnings that literally save lives), without warning. (We passed some law, I think around journalism, that pissed Facebook off). So I closed the writer Facebook groups I’d made (I’d liked having publicly discoverable groups for writers) and moved them to Discord (all four are described here.)

Facebook rebranded as Meta, but I’d never liked the platform (I find it primitive now, especially the limited functionality and clunkiness of Facebook Groups compared to Discord) and I hated it for its lack of ethics. Yet all the indie author advice seems to recommend that if you want to minimise time wasted on social media and make more time to actually write books; at least have a Facebook Page. In fact, you can’t run ads on Facebook (or Instagram) without one. So de-activating yours is directly a financial and business decision.

But I deactivated mine. I hate the platform. It doesn’t have a great demographic for my books anyway (that demographic being educated, lefty/ liberal minded, teen to forty-ish or young at heart allies or queer folk -Mastodon/ Blue Sky seem most likely for them). I could still advertise on Amazon (yeah, that doesn’t appeal either -again, ethics, eggs, one basket- no thank you.) But having just a Facebook Profile (for over 50’s in my family and the few Gen Y people who actually post there) and inviting anyone wanting to follow me as an author also keeps my writing Facebook private from students. And technically I’m still on ‘the world’s biggest social media’. It’ll do.

Can You Be Ethical & Still Make Money Writing?

Now I’ve abandoned my biggest social media platform, deactivated my Facebook Page and not put my books in the easiest place for the biggest number of readers to find, read and review them, how do I make money as an author?

You may sell the occasional book directly via social media, but I’ve been watching this for over a year. It seems you either push hard with ‘buy my book posts’ that I feel must annoy people, or you sell to friends via conversations, small scale. Its seemed to me for quite some time (and yes, the authority on making money as an Indie Author, the Facebook Group 20BooksTo50K agrees), that you make money selling books by spending money, mostly on advertising, though in-person events like conferences can be great too.

There is one big advertising option I’ll consider ethically: Bookbub. Their features cost hundreds, but are well worth it. You have to apply and they’re hard to get. But like Facebook and Amazon, they also have ordinary paid ads, which I plan to start experimenting with. And their adds reach readers who purchase from many stores, in many countries, which I also like.

What About Community?

Having left the platform my online communities were on, I’m rebuilding, a little on prompt hashtags on Mastodon, a lot on Blue Sky and on my Discord servers. I’ve just created a Discord for Queer, and or Neurodiverse, and or Chronically Ill and otherwise Disabled Writers, which is getting as much interest on Blue Sky as my writing, and indie authoring Discords once got on Twitter. (More about my discords for writers here). I’m making new friends, staying in touch with the few old ones still on platforms I use, and rebuilding my writerly, queer and disability communities.

Blue edged, pink, orange and yellow rainbow scroll with text: Get blogs in your inbox & updates from Elise every second month. Join my Fiction Frolics. Select this image to learn more.

Related Reading

Getting started on Blue Sky Guide

Why I Chose to Self Publish

Writing Diverse Characters (coming Jan 2024)

Becoming an Indie Author (practical advice from ground zero)

Becoming an Indie Author part 2 (Book Launch)

Text: Manipulator's War (book cover)
Image: red glyphs outline a stone archway, through which fire arrows rain down on torch-lit battlements atop a castle, at night time. Spears in the foreground indicate an advancing invading army.Text: Secrets of the Sorcery War (book cover)
Blue glyphs in a stone arch frame a pair of tall cliffs, a ship sailing on bright blue water through the gap, into the sunshine of a natural harbour.Rebellion is Due Cover: portrait of young Urmilian, his hair braided back, eyes outlined with kohl, wearing fitted bronze armour, a bronze disc kilt, holding a helmet in their left hand and leaning on a spear with his right, a quiver of arrows at their hip.

I know, you’ve spent years making connections and finding your niche/ building community on Twitter, then Musk bought it and history happened. In this BlueSky Newby Guide, I’ll go through what features Bsky has and doesn’t have (yet), profile set up, using feeds to find your people and interacting tips.

Not another NEW Platform!?

Blue Sky (bsky) is basically Twitter. Look at my Bsky dashboard (below). It’s VERY similar. The general differences with Bsky include no algorithms, no sponsored ads, no trending topics (very little rage baiting), alt text is encouraged, and transphobes ARE NOT WELCOME —nor are fascists. (I rarely see either complaining no one will debate other people’s right to human rights with them because like most Bsky users —I’ve blocked them).

Getting Started: Profile Set Up

Be sure to fill in your bio so we know you’re not a bot. If you can find space, consider including alt text for your cover photo, as Bsky doesn’t have that option on the cover image itself (yet). Cover photos don’t tend to crop well. I ended up shrinking my covers on a larger background on Canva and uploading to Bsky multiple times, using trial and error to get this fit.

Bsky profile, with menu left, cover image of 'Ruarnon Trilogy' with 4 book covers against a dark sand dune and starry sky.Profile pic of Elise inset.Elise (they/them) *rainbow and 3 books emoji* Celebrating a book Launch!Elise's bio: Epic YA Fantasy Author. Teacher. AroAce, ND, chronically ill enby.
???????? *Aussie* on Wurundjeri country.
#IndieAuthorChat
host*rainbow, 3 books* ????????Fantasy Books elisecarlson.comIndie *3 books* ????Launch Support Discord: bit.ly/3vFvXGiNewSky Guide: bit.ly/BskyGuide

You’ll note my bio gets personal. I’m openly nonbinary, neurodiverse and chronically ill, and happy to present publicly as such and to discuss all three to raise awareness. Don’t feel you owe anyone this information. But do consider including your traits, interests etc —things you will post about, that will help your people recognise you as their people.

No Pinned Posts (Yet), So Instead…

Bsky doesn’t have pinned posts. If you normally have images, links or other in pinned, try to get them into your cover image and bio instead. As an indie author my pinned post is normally book one in my series, with a description or teaser and cover. So my cover photo is my book covers, and my bio explicitly states that I write epic YA fantasy. I’ve also included a link to the books page of my website.

(I don’t use Linktree because it looks like decision paralysis to me. And the advantage of my site page over BooksToRead is I can link my books on Goodreads, Storygraph and Bookbub, as well as stores and subscription services. And by linking my site —my site gets the SEO boost, and its still easy for people to browse my blog or sign up to my author newsletter.)

First/ Intro Post

Not everyone you knew on Twitter will be on Bsky, and some people on Bsky never had a Twitter account. There will be people in whichever communities, interest groups or fandoms you’re part of whom you don’t yet know. So assume we don’t know you, tell us who you’d like to hang out with in your intro post and maybe give us a question to answer. For example, my intro post is below.

BlueSky PostText: Hello BlueSky! Where are my fellow #Fantasy/ #SFF/ #IndieAuthors/ poets? Pantsers? Fellow queer and or ND people? Aussies?I'm all of the above, and writing my third epic YA Fantasy set beneath sorcerous skies, where a continent-wide war is brewing. Happy to talk all things writerly/ authorly!

Why bother? So when more of us know who you are, have interacted with you in a digital ‘meeting each other’ way and are more likely to interact with your posts.

Finding Your People: Following

The tried and tested method so far has been find your mutuals by looking at who friends you’ve found are following.
If you’re a writer and you knew me on Twitter, I’ve linked as many writer friends as I could by their Insta and Bsky handles and by genre, identity, country on this (view-only, master) spreadsheet. If you’re a writer and would like to be added, you can link your bsky handle in appropriate categories on this editable spreadsheet and I’ll paste them over to the master.

Finding Your People: Feeds

Bsky vertical menu
Text: search, Follow, OnlyPosts, Aussie Feed, Australian Media, Aussie & Kiwi Writers, Writerly & Authorly Posts (etc). More Feeds.

I won’t give advice on general posting yet. Because to understand post visibility, you need to understand how posts are organised on Bsky. You have many options in another menu in your profile here (right/ below). You’ll have a feed of everyone you’re following. Under that, you can pin feeds of any topic or community you wish to see (and ‘Only Posts’ which filters out reposts and replies of your followers, showing only organic posts).
Posts are displayed on feeds if they include the keywords or emojis described a the feed’s description.

Adding Feeds

So how do you find feeds displaying posts you might want to see, or get your posts displayed on?

1.Under the feed menu (pictured right/ below), select ‘more feeds’. That will display this menu.

2. Enter topics that interest you in the search bar.

3. To add a feed to your feed menu, select the plus symbol. (Select the bin to remove a feed from your menu if you change your mind).

Text: Discover new feeds, Search.
Two hands making a heart symbol beside: For You. Plus symbol (right).
Blye square with white flame on. What's Hot Classic, bin (right).

My Favourite Feeds

Writing Feeds

Writing & Authoring: picks up: ‘writer(s)’, ‘author(s), *hand holding pencil emoji* ‘(#Am)writing(community)’ by me.

SFF Writing -Fantasy, SciFi, general SFF and writing/ editing/ writer/ author, or *trident emoji* by me.

Writing Prompts – #vss365, #vsspoem, #whistpr, #mpotd and other vss by Helen Whistberry.

Querying Writers, by me.

Indie Author Life
by @larisa-a-white.bsky.social, whom you’ll need to ask to add you.

Book Sky

BookSky:
Posts with *blue heart & 3 books emoji*

Diverse Books
Posts with: *globe with the Americas & 3 books emoji*

SFF Books: Posts with Fantasy/ SciFi, SFF etc.

Queer Bookworms
Posts with *rainbow emoji & 3 books emoji*

Queer SFF
Posts with *rainbow, rocket & shooting star emoji*
(Or keyword combos, see its description).

Trans Books: Posts with #TransBooks365

Aussie Feed

Aussie Feed posts naming Australia or its capital cities.

LGBTQIA+ Feeds

LGBTQIA+ Posts picks up LGBTQIA+ and most queer identify words by me.

Asexual Spectrum picks up asexual, aromantic, aroace, asexuality, *a black & a purple heart emoji* etc. by me.

GenderQueer: picks up genderqueer, genderfluid, nonbinary etc, by @plutopsyche.nicomaramckay.com.

Disability Feeds

Neurodiversity: all ND posts.

AuDHD, ADHD & Autism posts and quote reposts.

Chronic Illness

Disability

Writer/ Wip Chats

These are just getting started. I’ll try to add more as they arrive.

Daily
#WIPSnips by Rosie J. Potter invites you to share a passage from your wip containing its prompt word.

#SmoreWords created by CK Knight and run by Daniel Aegan and Jude Graves invites you to respond to daily prompts about your wip.

Weekly

#KidLitChat by Bonnie Adamson
Open to Kidlit writers
Tuesdays: 9pm EST.
The chat is one question weekly posted by this account.
It looks like participation is by replying directly to that post, on the chat hashtag.

#HorrorWritersChat by Matt Mason
Open to horror writers
Wednesday: 7pm GMT.

#MomsWritersClub hosted by Sarah Read and Jess.
Open to writers who are ‘Moms, furball moms, other parental units, people who have moms… as long as you’re kind’
Wednesdays

#WeekNightWriters by Dianna Gunn
Open to all writers.
Thursday: 7-8pm EST

#WowChat by Talli Morgan
Open to all writers.
Friday: 7-8pm EST. Discontinued? (Hasn’t run for two months).

#SFFChat by C.J Subko
Open to SFF writers
Friday: 2pm CST (Aussie Sat EST 7am) Fortnight or weekly TBC. Same format as above.

#WITD by Payne Sillavan
Open to all writers, some prompts having a dark/ horror leaning angle. Same format as above.
Friday: 5pm central. Paused, possibly discontinued.

#LateNightWrite hosted alternately by Blackbird and Jo Bruehler
Open to all writers.
Saturday: 10pm central/ (Sun 2pm Aussie EST summer time). This chat has its own feed.

#MiddeGrade Chat by Ros Dando
Sunday: 5pm GST, for MG writers. Paused for 5 months. Discontinued?

Following Feed -Making it Easy to View

Your Following/ Home feed automatically displays posts by people you follow AND all replies to those posts AND everyone you follows reposts. If this is too much, you have a few options.

  1. Go to ‘settings’
  2. Select ‘Home Feed preferences’.
    Here you decide whether to see or hide all replies, to only display replies by people you follow, or to remove all reposts from your feed.
  3. Select right for ‘no’, left for ‘yes’ to change any of these 3 settings.
  4. Select ‘Done’ (blue button at the bottom).
Home Feed Preferences.
Show Replies (ser to 'No' to hide all replies.
Blue toggle button beside 'Yes'.
Reply Filters.
Enable this setting to only see replies by people you follow.
Grey toggle button beside Followed users only.
Adjust the number of likes a reply must have to be shown on your feed.
Blue toggle button beside 'show all replies.'
Show Reposts
Set this setting to 'no' to hide all reposts from your feed.
Blue toggle button beside 'yes.'

Following Feed Display -Content

Another thing about settings is it will default to not displaying adult content, which includes sexual content, violence, nudity (yes, a happy snap of a woman showing some cleavage will be censored as nudity), hate groups, suspected impersonation and spam. There are harmless emojis I can’t see in my followers posts because I can’t work out which setting in Adult Content Settings is bothered by it. So if you’d like to see things rated anything above G by Bsky:

  1. Select ‘Moderation’ (the handle symbol in your main menu, above settings)
  2. Select ‘Content Filtering’ and ‘hide,’ ‘warn’ or show to suit your preferences.

Posting & Getting Seen (Feeds, not Hashtags)

You’ve got 300 characters to play with. So how do you get your posts seen by your people? Hashtags don’t work the way you’re used to. You can select them to see a feed of what people are posting on them, but they don’t impact your visibility via algorithm.

Keywords (and sometimes emojis) are more likely to get your posts onto topically relevant feeds (only older feeds pick up hashtags specifically), with the exception of chat hashtags (tags for prompts posted regularly that have moved to Bsky from Twitter).

1. Go back to feeds you added above,

2. Select the 3 dots (top right of the feed name).

3. Select ‘about this feed’.

4. Check which keywords and emojis get your posts displayed on that feed.

5. Use any combination of relevant keywords/ emojis on your post to put it on multiple relevant feeds.

Note: you can put pairs of emojis ‘back-to-front’ and they still display on that feed.

Writer/ Author/ Book Visibility

Writers, our main key words are: writer(s), author(s), and any words containing ‘writing’ (this includes WritingCommunity, etc).
Book Feeds: see links under ‘Book Sky’ and ‘My Favourite Feeds’ above.

Alt Text

Alt text is big on Bsky. We want all users to enjoy content posted. If you tend to forget to add alt text to images in your posts, good news —you can adjust your settings so Bsky will not let you hit ‘post’ till you’ve added alt text.

1. Go to ‘Settings’
2. Accessibility (forth option down)
3. Flip the toggle beside ‘require alt text before posting’ to blue.

Sharing Links in Posts

If you paste a link into a post, a little box will appear saying, ‘add link card’. Selecting this will add a link card. Then you can delete the link text from your post, saving characters.
Be warned, if the link makes your post exceed the 300 character limit, Bsky may cut off characters over the limit, breaking the link. So always check your complete link has pasted.

NB: there are no algorithms on Bsky, so unlike on Twitter, posts containing links will not be penalised and are just as visible.

Bsky Lists

This is a new function that looks like feeds, but has key differences. Its a better way to display posts of and stay in touch with people you know, as opposed to following feeds by topic.

Differences With Lists:
-List Feeds don’t pick up posts by keyword.
-List feeds display only, but also all posts of people added to the list.
-You can create your own lists within Bsky (in the same menu that lets you post, view feeds, etc).
-You can add people to lists (go to that person’s profile and hit the 3 dots next to the ‘follow’ button for a menu to do this).
-The ‘about’ section of a list displays the profiles of every account that has been added to that list.

My Lists

I’ve made A LOT of lists. The screenshot below is a menu for them, and every list is linked into that thread. You can also view all of my lists by visiting my profile and looking at the menu under my bio (‘lists’ is on the right end).

If you’d like to be added to any of my lists, let me know by replying to my post below by selecting it.

Emoji flags or relevant symbols beside each keyword describing Elise's Lists:
????????Aussie
????????Kiwi
????????Uk
????????Euro
????????Merican
????????Canada????️‍????LGBTQIA+
Neurospicy
♿Disabled/Chronic illness✍️Writers
????Fantasy
????SciFi
????SFF
????Horror/Dark
????️Historic
????‍????‍????KidLit
Poets
????️Mystery/Thrill????Indie Authors
????️‍????Queer Rep/Romance/Themes
????SFF: trans, enby, asexual,????️‍????
BIPOC
ND/Dis

Functions That Don’t Exist (yet) & Suggested Alternatives

No AlgorithmsRepost

Likes have no impact on visibility. Re-post just shares posts with whoever of the reposter’s followers is on their feed at that time. I’ve found this means my posts get the most interaction in their first 3 hours (if America is awake then). Early Aussie afternoons, when America and Europe are sleeping (except the night owls) tend to be VERY quiet.
I doubt this will change, so if you see a post you think is helpful/ enjoyable etc -repost it to your followers! This is our main way for anything worth seeing to get seen —and if you quote repost with topical words, (add a comment to the repost) this will often repost to feeds too).

Pinned Posts -Jam it in your Bio

Whatever doesn’t fit into your bio has no real alternative to a pinned post (yet). This seems to be why when I arrived on Bsky there was a big trend of re-intro posts, as people’s original intros got buried below other posts on their profiles.

Bookmarking PostsRepost

As there isn’t an option for bookmarking (yet), the only thing to do to have a copy somewhere of posts you may normally bookmark is to repost them to your profile (which helped me add chats and feeds to this blog 😉 ). Long term, you’ll have to link posts elsewhere. (I link them in my writer Discords).

Direct Messages

There is no Bsky alternative for this (yet). Many of us tend to use Discord for direct messaging, or group private conversations, which, like Bsky, has the advantage of not being owned by Musk or Zuckerberg.

Ask Bsky Developers For Functions

There’s a ‘send feedback’ link on your profile (mine displays under my feed’s menu on computer). Selecting that lets you fill in a form to ‘make product suggestions.’ I’ve already made my case for adding pinned posts and requested bookmarks, so we can store things we want to refer back to, without those posts getting buried.

I hope this is all helpful as you get started. Welcome to Bsky!

Natalie was one of the last fellow fantasy author’s I was lucky enough to meet before Twitter imploded. We face similar chronic illness challenges, but are still making steading progress bringing our fantasy books out into the world. This Fantasy Author Feature Natalie Kelda talks about mental health, the theme of finding joy and belonging in her SFF books.

Tell us a bit about you. Where’s home and what’s your life like outside writing? 

I currently live in West Yorkshire, UK but I was born and raised in Denmark. I moved to the UK to study some 7 years ago and somehow landed a job through volunteering and love it here too much to leave. Outside my 9-5 office job I spend most of my time writing or talking my adventure cat, Barry, on walks. Due to some ongoing health issues I don’t hike or do any martial arts at the moment but I hope I can return to these activities eventually as they give me a lot of joy and I certainly miss them.

What drew you to your genre/audience age?

Worlds different to our contemporary one have always been what drew me to reading fiction so it makes sense I mostly write fantasy, sci-fi and historical fiction. I love exploring the other and getting a break from modern life and nothing is more immersive than creating those new worlds yourself. While I enjoy reading everything from MG to adult, my voice and the themes I usually explore lend themselves best to adult audiences. I have dabbled in MG and YA but find it difficult not to become too whimsical when writing for younger audiences and I don’t enjoy having to mind the layers and themes I imbue a story with. So basically, I enjoy as much creative freedom as possible.

What are some big themes your writing explores?

I tend towards the dark side of mental health and the human experience. I enjoy scrutinising humanity’s faults and weaknesses. Sometimes this means my main characters are very morally grey and stepping on the fine lines between good or bad. Other times the main characters are the ones fighting a corrupt and (often) incorrigible society that tries to kick them back down when they’re straining to stay upright. Most of my main characters have poor mental health. Not only are they fighting an unfair system, they’re also fighting their own inner demons and these can prove a lot more difficult to get rid of or live with than the crooked government.

Found family and a sense of belonging are secondary but almost as strongly recurring themes. The sense of being lost and directionless, of not having a place to fit in, of being other and different to everyone around them. Their stories regularly revolve around finding ‘their place’ and ‘their people’.

What drives your point of view characters? 

I think it usually boils down to finding happiness and a place to belong. Sometimes external forces trip them up but often they lay down booby traps in front of themselves, never even seeing the tripwires they need to dismantle in order to find that place of joy they’re searching for. They might know the end of the road they want to reach but can’t see what’s right before them. They’re also often fiercely protective of the people they call family – at least once they find those people. 

How much do your point of view characters resemble or differ from you? 

It varies between each character. I don’t purposely add something of myself as my main characters (and often most of the side characters too) appear in my mind like preformed people. Some will have one small thing – Merlon struggles with insomnia, Tara and Balfour with anxiety while Cali has my touch and noise sensitivity – others won’t really have much at all in common with me. Iolanthe believes slavery is fine and Torhildr thinks those who she judges unworthy deserve to be killed, obviously neither of those are things I would ever agree with. I do notice I have certain types of characters appear more often than others and this usually matches with my own personality. Most are depressed or anxious, many don’t like being the centre of attention and would be described as “reserved” or “quiet” if someone met them.

What influenced the settings they inhabit?

In my space fantasy series, Inner Universe, I have created a huge world with enough planets and galaxies I can take full advantage of all the travelling I have done. I have been extremely fortunate that I saved up enough (by working 3 jobs while studying) to move abroad, alone, at age 21 and from there on I worked in countries all around the globe. This means I have first hand experience with both Outback Australia and working outdoors during Canadian winter. I can pull on skills learned while doing martial arts and Viking reenactment when I write fight scenes and know what it’s like to forage your own food or live without electricity and running water for months at a time. I noticed a shift in my writing from before I had all those life experiences to after and definitely hope I’m not done raking up knowledge first-hand by going out there and doing the things most people only read about.

What do you gain from writing your books and what do you hope your readers will gain from them? 

This ties back to the main themes in my stories: mental health and belonging. I suspect I’m autistic and have never truly fitted in anywhere. I struggle a lot with chronic depression and moderate anxiety but the one thing that consistently helps and keeps me afloat is writing characters who keep fighting even when they face much larger challenges than I (hopefully) ever will. It’s my hope that my stories don’t just bring catharsis and healing for myself but also for other people who find life difficult – because it’s really bloody hard sometimes and it can be nice to read about characters who aren’t so different to yourself.

Where can we find your books?

Author hand-stamped paperbacks and my free short stories are available on my website(https://nataliekelda.co.uk/shop) while ebooks of River in the Galaxy and Outer Universe can be found on Amazon and they are available through Kindle Unlimited as well.

Fantasy Author Feature: Natalie Kelda

Author bio

Storytelling and inventing new worlds has been a part of Natalie’s life since before she could read or write. Nowadays she mostly writes in English but you’ll often discover hints of her native Danish or some of the other languages she has picked up along the way.


Website Twitter Bluesky


Blue edged, pink, orange and yellow rainbow scroll with text: Get blogs in your inbox & updates from Elise every second month. Join my Fiction Frolics. Select this image to learn more.

Related Reading

You’ll find more talk of fantasy characters, setting and world-building inspiration in:

Fantasy Author Features: Nikky Lee (YA SFF)

Debbie Iancu-Hadad (YA Fantasy & SciFi)

Mara Lyne Johnson (Comedy SciFi)

Nikky’s Interview Of Me

Ash Oldfield’s Interview of Me

Managing My Neurodivergence (ADHD & autism)

Managing your neurodivergence isn’t easy when you don’t have a diagnosis so didn’t know you were neurodivergent when you started developing strategies to manage it. But by the age of twenty I noticed that despite being an adult, there were things I did differently, or needed to do differently. Things most people seemed to find easy that I couldn’t do well, no matter how many times I had to do them or how much I knew.

Alongside the self discoveries I blogged about in I think I’m Neurodivergent, I developed strategies to manage communication and organisation, especially at work. In conversation with other’s who self diagnosed or were diagnosed as adults, I noticed habits that set my wellbeing and mental health in good stead. I share them here in the hopes it may help other neurodivergent (especially fellow ADHD and autistic) people and make us more understandable to neurotypical people.

Communication Strategies

Often I’ve been hyper-focusing on whatever I’m doing when a person walks up to me and asks a question. There’s a huge distance between the thing I’m super focused on and whatever they’re talking about. It takes time, and usually more contextual clues about what they’re talking about to cross that distance. So when a boss or parent approaches at the end of my teaching day with a specific question… I cannot answer immediately.

Processing time isn’t my only difficulty. If I haven’t had time to draft my answer to your question in my head. And I cannot look you in the eye, think what to say and say it. Usually the pressure of you standing there, expecting an immediate answer to what you assume is a simple question distracts me from thinking much at all, even when I look away. So I need strategies to manage professional conversations in particular, because those are the ones I don’t want to present as vague, ignorant or otherwise unprofessional in.

Strategy Number 1: Clarify (and play for time)

I don’t just need additional context because I’m neurodivergent. I rarely speak to parents, so I have little knowledge of them and their concerns. Even as a neurotypical person I might not anticipate what they’re asking about. So when they finish talking, I try to summarise their main concern and confirm it by asking, “Is that your concern? Are you also wondering about x?” Or, “So you’d like to know about Y? Is there anything else you’d like to know about that?”

Summarising and asking clarifying questions helps me ensure I have perceived the person’s main message (I tend to clutch at side points when I’m put on the spot), and gives me time to process. Only then do I stand a chance of recalling my usual answer to that sort of question (as an experienced teacher I’m lucky to have a bank of these from past experience). It also gives me time and mental space to connect what they are saying with what I know about the topic, to form my answer. Not to mention, clarifying what the other person is saying signals clearly that you are listening, interested in what they have to say and are keen to understand and help them, all good things to signal.

Strategy 2: Play for Time

If I’m having a casual one on one conversation, especially start of the day ones with students where there’s no contextual clues of what they’re talking about, again, I need time to process. I usually seize on a single piece of what they said, and comment on it, encouraging them to elaborate. While they elaborate, I’m processing, connecting the trip to Sydney to visiting their grandparents and that being why the child is excited. This isn’t a one off for me. It happens in MANY conversations where I’m not given multiple contextual clues.

Note for neurotypical people: If you’re ever chatting to someone and you think the point the other person chose to comment on is random, or not your main point, don’t go feeling misunderstood: elaborate. Adults are so time poor these days that I feel like we often start our conversations in the middle. Even a busy neurotypical person may benefit from, “You know how I was visiting my grandmother because she was sick last week? Well it turns out…”

Strategy 3: Ask ‘Stupid’ Questions

Sometimes in the staff room a colleague asks another, “Did you get those times sorted?” In most contexts that means nothing to me. “Times for what?” No, it doesn’t matter that the last conversation I had with that person was about times. That conversation was two hours ago and my head is full of the teaching I did in between. I need to be asked, “Did you get the times for little Jimmy’s parent-teacher interview sorted?”

I’ve always thought it was magic how most of my colleagues can answer questions like that with zero context, when I mostly can’t. When people ask me questions at a time and about a thing or in a location I don’t expect it, I need at least three contextual clues to know what they’re on about. And because teachers spend most of our time working with students, and many of our conversations are rushed between preparing lessons, meetings, yard duty, paperwork etc; my colleagues rarely give me context. So I’m learning to respond to questions with: “Are you talking about x?”

Note for Neurotypicals: Hyper focus makes context a necessity for me. Hyper focus means my focus is on my world building my novel set in a roughly Bronze Age era, fantasy world. So if you’re asking me about real world, modern day politics in America, I’ll first assume you’re asking about Umarinaris politics during Ruarnon’s reign. Then I might realise you mean modern politics, but modern politics has dickheads in every country (and I’m in Australia, so I may or may not assume Australia first), so which modern country’s political dickheads are you referring to? Give me context!

Processing Strategies

Strategy 1: Go With the Flow

Many writers joke about how much they procrastinate. But when I wake up on a Saturday morning, spend two to three hours bouncing around on social media, then go for a walk (possibly a drive first): I’m not procrastinating. I’m letting my restless, highly distractible brain do its ping pong thing. That involves letting it bounce towards whatever interests it, in any order, forget things, bounce to the next, then circle back.

I let my brain go with its flow. Then I walk and do housework to exercise off the physical restlessness and calm my mind. On Saturday night I watch tv or read, or ease into writing with a blog (like I’m doing right now) or a newsletter. Then on Sunday: I’m ready to write or edit some chapters.

This is what I mean when I say ‘go with the flow’. My brain isn’t linear. It may not finish one thought before it rushes to the next, and the next. It may have two lines of thought simultaneously.

Throughout the Day

But at work I HAVE to slow down. Through sheer will and discipline developed over years, I try to explicitly teach a single line of thought, to make learning accessible to my students. And during the day I force myself to, as much as possible, get all my lesson structure timings right and work to the school timetable and bells.

Once the kids go home, I let myself pack up and organise five different things at once. I forget the first, get distracted by the sixth, re-discover the first and so on. I’ve learned to keep looking around, and circling back each time I finish or get distracted from something, to see what else I’m still working on. Letting my brain go with its natural, chaotic flow when I’m tired takes a lot less effort than forcing myself to linearly do one thing at a time.

So with teaching and writing, I don’t fight or jam my brain into a neurotrypical mold. Wherever possible whilst actually getting things done, I let it march to the beat of its own erratic drum. Then I circle round to catch the things I got distracted from and forgot about before/ during completing them.

Strategy 2: To Do Lists

I laughed when people first mentioned these to me. What’s the point of a to do list? I lose the list LONG before I finish half the things on it. And I don’t remember to tick anything off, so I don’t experience the satisfaction of completing things, I just rush headlong into the next five. But editing the chaos of my novels and recalling the many jobs of different types juggled after hours in teaching was too much.

My new system is paper sticky notes. I don’t keep re-reading or ticking things off because that can get overwhelming and stressful. If I think I haven’t written something down, I just write it again and throw the notes in a pile so I don’t lose them. Once a week (there is a particular day where I have more time), I go over less urgent notes to do and cross their items off. Then I re-write the outstanding jobs in order of when they need to be done. That works for me.

For editing novels, instead of losing my edit notes, I type edit notes above each chapter in the draft. And I write notes that apply to the whole book before the first page, and re-read them periodically.

What Works For You?

For keeping track of things authoring and teaching, its been about listening to others, trialling things, identifying why things won’t work, figuring out what does, and being disciplined, stubborn, determined etc to plug the gaps. This is a good time to shout that its about figuring out what works for you and why, or what makes things harder, or stresses you out and why. And from there: what could make life easier for you?

Ideally we all got diagnosed as kids and had loads of strategies by adulthood, but the 90’s, naughties and earlier let us down big time on that front, so there are many women and nonbinary people and some men playing catch up. Good news though: its never too late to learn or to make your life easier!

Strategy 3: Ask For Help

I’m an impatient, adventurous but also a lone wolf type of person. I just want to dive in and get everything done fast (the best time for me to do anything was often yesterday, and sometimes last week. Failing that, its today.)

Sometimes I move too quick and overlook things multiple times. A classic example is supermarkets, where I can walk up and down the same aisle four times and not notice the item I want. Not only do I ask a staff member to tell me which aisle, but even how far down, or between what or even to point directly to it. I tell them, “I’m sorry, I have visual processing issues and I can’t seem to spot that one thing amongst the other stuff. Could you point to the shelf for me?” ‘Stupid question’ but it really helps.

Self of Elise wearing a long sleeve, blue patterned shirt, with sun dappled, thin, pale trunked gum trees rising behind.

My Mental Health Strategies

In conversation with others, I noticed how good luck and the benefits of other struggles in my life have positioned me well to manage my ADHD and autism from a mental health perspective. People with ADHD and or autism are statistically more likely to struggle with depression and anxiety, but for most of my life I’ve dodged both. So it seems a good focus for the third section of this blog. (Apologies fellow neurodiverse people, likely nothing in this section is easy and a good chunk works well for me because my experiences and personality predispositions align well).

Strategy 1: Accept What I Cannot Do

I’m realising in conversations with people who are self diagnosing as late in life as I am that I’ve been very fortunate. Some people I know have been carefully masking, measuring themselves up against neurotypicals and berating themselves for not being able to function like neurotypicals their whole lives. I haven’t had that struggle.

When I was around twenty I remember thinking, I’m an adult now. I should be able to do things like navigate to some place I’ve never been and get there on time. I couldn’t. Remembering to leave time for traffic, find a car park, get from car to venue etc is boring. I’m restless, impatient and easily distracted. All I knew back then was I struggled (and still do sometimes) in the moment to recall and allow for ALL the factors that allow you to get somewhere unfamiliar on time.

And I thought: most people with at least half a brain find this easy. I have more than half a brain but find it virtually impossible. I don’t know why or if I will ever know. So rather than be upset about something I can’t change, I’m just going to accept that I randomly suck at some things for no apparent reason. I’ll accept it as one of my quirks, enjoy getting lost, not sweat about being late and laugh it off.

Strategy 2: Don’t Compare Myself to Others

This was probably easy because I’ve rarely ever measured myself against my peers. I don’t date, or have my own kids so there’s no point of comparison as a partner or parent. As a nonbinary person I never cared much about the type of ‘man’, or ‘woman’ I am. I’ve met few nonbinary people, all recently, and as an umbrella term for multiple genders its hard to compare yourself to another nonbinary person anyway, so I didn’t care how my gender and that part of my identity compared to anyone.

When it came to my brain working differently and me behaving or struggling to do certain things in certain situations, I figured that’s just my quirks. I’m unlike many people in many ways, and in these particular ways I suck at things others can do easily. I didn’t suck enough to not be capable of what I want to do in life, it just made many things I wanted to do (like being a teacher and writing novels) A LOT harder and made me look clumsy. So the only times I compared myself to others and masked my ADHD and autism was when I worried it might raise questions about my competence at work (after I’d had years to settle in as a graduate teacher).

Strategy 3: Be Open About My Limitations At Work

I had no choice with this recently at work. The more boxes, colours and types of information a form collects, the more impossible I find it to perceive the whole form. Red hurts my eyes. White print on colour is hard to read correctly. And the more information jammed into more boxes, the more my brain shuts everything out to prevent being overloaded and doesn’t even realise it isn’t perceiving everything. I suspect this is a strategy my brain sub-consciously developed to minimise stress levels and help me avoid meltdowns.

The above became clear when I fell on my face doing a ridiculous amount of paperwork my colleagues found challenging but achievable that I found impossible earlier this year.

Whether or not your boss and colleagues believe you, understand you or appreciate the challenges you face at work makes a huge difference. I’ve been very lucky. And with understanding of my needs, I could develop strategies and work could put supports in place so that what was inaccessible to my neurodiverse brain became workable. (Though it was still exhausting -needlessly, because the organisation who produced the paperwork doesn’t understand how inaccessible they made it to people like me and don’t seem interested in learning.)

Had I not been open and honest about having visual and general processing challenges in completing paperwork, I could have been accused of being careless, lazy, incompetent etc. I was privledged that my bosses could be trusted with the truth of my neurodiversity (and chronic illness). And that they were willing to listen to how, between neurodiversity and chronic illness, I faced many significant obstacles in the workplace that my colleagues didn’t and they were genuinely prepared to support me with that.

Strategy 4: Be Open About My Limitations At Home

Again, I’ve been lucky. For my first three years as a teacher I lived alone in my own house, as chaotically as I wanted while I figured everything out. By the time I moved into a sharehouse, I had a fair idea of how to organise cleaning and other things that could annoy my housemates.

I’ve been clear about systems that help me succeed with housemates. For eg. bills are printed and stuck to my fridge (the one my food is in) and we sign when we’ve paid our share. Because if our bills are shared digitally, the infinite distractions on the internet mean I’ll forget the bill exists each time I close the tab I saw it in. On the fridge there are no distractions and I see it each time I enter the kitchen, creating the eight or so opportunities I need to remember to actually get as far as paying before being distracted by something else. I move a device into the kitchen, so when I bounce between tabs and forget what I’m doing, my physical location reminds me to pay a bill.

One housemate circles the cost and writes what each of us owe on bills, so I don’t get lost sifting through too many words and miss important details, like whether its gas or electricity (the first five or so times I look at it, out of impatience and restlessness).

I’ve also mentioned that I’m a light sleeper with sensitive hearing, and headphones or background noise exacerbate the ringing in my ears. I ask my housemates not to shower after 11pm (my room is next to the bathroom) or be cooking and banging pots and pans at 1am (I’m also near the kitchen). My housemates are good with this.

Key Points for Neurotypicals

  1. Give the person you’re speaking to, especially if you’re asking them a question, context, each time you change the conversation topic.
  2. Give people time to process what you’re saying or asking. If after a pause they still don’t respond, give them more information, in case they’re still unclear (and possibly feeling stupid for being so).
  3. Please be patient and remember that its not that we don’t care. ADHD brains are distractible, impatient and can be impulsive. We will forget things temporarily, often because there’s too many things going on in our heads at once and we don’t have your capacity to focus on only one of them (without a massive struggle). Which one are you referring to?
  4. Thanks for taking an interest in and being willing to learn about what life can be like for neurodiverse people, in particular ADHDers. You being informed and trying to understand can make a big difference in your interactions with us, how we are perceived and ultimately on our wellbeing.

Key Points for Neurodiverse People

  1. It’s ok to ask ‘stupid questions,’ restate and clarify what others are saying and to ask for time to process information. Its also ok to ask if you can get back to someone at a later time. You are allowed to take the time you need to process the situation, even and most especially when that timing doesn’t match neurotypical expectations.
  2. Figure out how your brain works best. Develop strategies that work with and support your brain where possible, and that scaffold your brain where it struggles. Talking to other ND people may help, but we, our brains and circumstances vary and you’ll need to figure out what works best for you.
  3. It may seem I’m asking you for the sun AND the moon, but we need to accept what we can and can’t do and make our peace with it to be content in life. This includes not comparing ourselves to neurotypicals and not beating ourselves up for not measuring up to or not meeting neurotypical expectations. This world was not designed for us and that is NOT our fault.
  4. If it is safe to do so and people at your work and home are willing to listen and are receptive to your words, tell them honestly what you struggle with. Tell them (when you’ve figured it out) how your brain makes some things difficult, and what they and you can do to make things easier.
  5. Best of luck finding strategies that work for you!
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Related Reading

I Think I’m Neurodivergent: ADHD?

Starting ADHD Meds & ADHD Struggles

40 ADHD Hacks by ADDitude (why did it never occur to me to read something like this before? Now I’ve reinvented the wheel for many of these.)

Writing Diverse Characters Part 1: Problematic Rep to avoid (especially neurodiverse and disabled).

Writing Diverse Characters Part 2: How to (Write Disabled and Neurodiverse Characters Tips)

Identifying as Nonbinary

What Does Pride Mean to You?

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