Study guide writing: the highs and lows of the Perfect Job (For Me)

On the surface of it, I have the ideal job situation.

For the past year and a half I’ve been writing literary study guides for an online publication company. What this involves is being assigned with a work of fiction, and basically writing about it from every conceivable angle. I have to write summaries and accompanying analyses, and outline themes, symbols, characters, etc, and provide a completely comprehensive guide to the book in question. It’s about as involved as one can get with a single piece of literature, I’m guessing, outside of writing a dedicated postgraduate thesis on it, so it certainly helps me to keep my skills fresh in that area. I send it in once it’s done, I get paid, then I can choose another book to work on.

This position ticks a lot of boxes for me, at least in theory – it’s the *only* regular paying job I’ve had basically ever, let alone since graduation, and I was incredibly lucky to encounter the ad, and be almost immediately accepted for it in the first place. I’ve struggled enough with finding suitable employment my entire adult life to know never to take such a stroke of luck lightly, so I’ve always worked as hard and as well on each guide as possible. Also, as an autistic* person, the absence of pressure to constantly interact socially on the job, and general office politics, is a welcome advantage. It’s done entirely remotely, meaning that I don’t run the risk of accidentally committing a social faux pas while getting the work done. This combination of advantages is still, in my experience, exceedingly rare in the job market, unless you happen to know someone personally who can fix you up with your ideal role.

The thing is though, the “autism thing” has also proved to be, in itself, a major drawback in certain aspects of the job. My strengths lie in analysis and comparison, and most definitely not, as I’ve learned over time on the job, in summarising. Each guide requires a chapter by chapter breakdown of everything which has happened, but at least for me, if this is a work of fiction – with all the nuances and tangents and inner narratives of the main characters, which often play out in a non-linear fashion – this is where I really begin to encounter my limitations. My brain is very poor at condensing and selecting large amounts of narrative detail and being responsible for judging what is relevant for the summary, because essentially I see *everything* as being relevant in some sense. After all, why else would such detail even be in the book in the first place? At least goes my thinking…

I can do almost everything else in the guide far more easily in comparison – in perhaps a deviation from the autism stereotype, I’m actually quite good at understanding and employing metaphor, analogy, subtext, all the interesting and sometimes confusing stuff of which literature is often comprised. I have the thick backlog of marked university essays to prove it – your 100% literal autistic stereotype wouldn’t even be capable of such a thing. Also, sometimes rather sneakily, I can slip in some insights of my own here and there. I’ve been known to draw particular attention to parts of a book where a character expresses vegan-friendly sentiments, for example. The rules don’t say you can’t, as long as you adhere to the guidelines, so 😉

But anyway. The past year and a half or so has been a unique opportunity, for me, to experience how my particular “wiring” can work both for and against me all at once. An internal battle rages every time I accept a new assignment, knowing that I will both love and hate the mission I am about to embark upon. Due to various reasons, I’ve not been able to assume as much work as I would have liked, or as I would even have expected in the beginning. I can be an infuriatingly slow worker when I have even one other preoccupation going on. A couple of health problems, and a general deficit in concentration, have slowed me right down, but I merely spaced out the projects I did, rather than risk taking on too much work and then risking disappointing my hard-won employer by failing to turn in on time. Lots of employers, despite growing “awareness” campaigns going on at the moment, simply do not or cannot fully grasp the complications of both the difficulties and the advantages of trying to shoe-horn a neurodiverse brain into working efficiently in a world where this type of brain is still in the vast minority. I fear coming across as incompetent, unintelligent, unmotivated or otherwise incapable of doing the job, which in fact I can do if the conditions are just right, or at least just right for me.

The solution I’d propose, if it were up to me, would be to work on everything except for the summaries, with someone more suited to the type of thinking that requires chipping in. Another solution, or at least a move towards branching out into other areas I might excel in, would be to assume more in the way of editing work, but given that jobs full stop are hard to come by, let alone ones you are actually qualified for and are related to your field of interest, I am certainly not about to quit completely anytime soon, as long as I am capable of reading and writing in a way which is useful and comprehensible to whoever might be using the study guide, when the product is complete.

I shall, upon completion of the most recent assignment, make another move towards other areas of freelance writing, building upon experience gained, and as a sort of refresher from the near-academia level of study required for the study guide writing, but first I think I will need another spot of recovery time.

*Using the clinical term for the time being, stay tuned for a post coming soon about my relationship to the name/label/diagnosis. It’s complicated so really needs a separate clarification.

Advertisements