When I was a kid, I used to imagine what writers were. I had a picture in my head of a very serious looking lady, wearing one of those fancy suit dresses and sitting at a typewriter. In that picture, she didn’t move much. She sat still and focused on the writing, forcing out stories through sheer determination.
As I grew up, the image changed.
I met authors. I started imagining myself as an author.
Writing was a passion for me. I loved it so much, yet it was also hard.
The most common advice I heard was to sit down and make yourself write every day. For most of my life, I was sure that’s how true authors did it. If I wanted to be a serious writer, I needed to sit down and write. I had to force the words out.
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Only, that doesn’t work for me.
Here’s the thing. I’m autistic and ADHD. I can’t always explain how the two blend together for me, but I can tell you that I’m no good at sitting still. Whether I’m rocking on my feet or pacing as an autistic stim, or bouncing around with all sorts of energy… I can’t just “sit down and write”. Trying to force myself to do so only leads to a blank page.
I figured this out around the time I wrote The Trouble with Robots.
I realized it by accident. At the time I was working on another story idea, and I’d take long bike rides to brainstorm scenes. I’d ride as far as I could, then stop and sit at a bench to write down the scenes I dreamed up. Sometimes I’d pace in circles and record those ideas to type up later. I loved speaking the story aloud to my phone’s recording app. I did not love actually typing it up.
So I wondered… was there a way to skip a few steps?
That’s when I discovered dictation software. With dictation software, I could literally talk to my computer while walking circles around my room! I used this with The Trouble with Robotsand it was the quickest I had ever written a story.
It was like the movement unlocked something in me. The words flowed when I was moving!
If you asked younger me what a writer looks like, they never would have imagined that it could be somebody like me, walking in circles around a room, talking aloud to themself as they tell their computer a story.
Yet that’s how I wrote The Trouble with Robots.
I like to think it shows. The Trouble with Robots is so full of energy. It’s a book about two opposite girls who must learn to get along in order to save their robotics team, and every page is brimming with motion, excitement and energy.
It’s loosely based on the competitive robotics I coached. The engineering, the organized chaos of the design process, the process of building a robot, the gear ratios and mechanisms. Those are based on real robotics concepts. I poured my heart into the book; my love of robotics, my autistic stims, my queer identity and all the things I wish a younger me could have had to read. I crafted a group of kids who find out that they need each other, no matter how determined they are to do things on their own.
It’s a book about friendship. About loneliness and loss. About learning who you are and finding a place where you can be yourself. And, of course, it’s a book about the hectic and exciting world of tournament robotics.
Without movement, I don’t think that book would exist.
Now, I’m not saying “sit down and write” is bad advice. Like all advice, it’s not one size fits all. Maybe it works for you. Maybe it doesn’t. That doesn’t make it bad. It just means that it won’t work for everyone, like it didn’t work for me.
If it doesn’t… if you can’t make the words flow by forcing yourself to stare at a computer screen… then it’s okay to try something different. Writing doesn’t have to look just one way. What’s important is finding the story you want to tell and getting that story onto the page.
All that to say, I no longer thing of a super serious lady in front of a typewriter when I think of writing.
Instead, I think of dictation software running in the background while padding around the room and listening to the thump of my socks on the carpet. I think of trees flashing by as I bike ride, trying to go so fast I can fall into that place of imagining and stories. I think of pacing back and forth as I imagine the conversations between my robotics kids, the arguments, the heartfelt moments, and the intense scenes that will have the reader holding their breath in anticipation.
I think of movement.
And I hope that maybe someday, when another kid out there thinks about writers, that might be what they imagine too.
Meet the author
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Michelle Mohrweis is a STEM Educator and a moderator at the Tucson Festival of Books. When not writing, they can be found launching paper rockets down the middle of their street. They live with their husband and two dogs in Colorado, where they enjoy hiking and hogging all the best spots beside the heater when it gets too cold. Follow them on Twitter @Mohrweis_Writes and visit them on the web at MichelleMohrweis.com.
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About The Trouble with Robots
Evelyn strives for excellence. Allie couldn’t care less. These polar opposites must work together if they have any hope of saving their school’s robotics program.
Eighth-graders Evelyn and Allie are in trouble. Evelyn’s constant need for perfection has blown some fuses among her robotics teammates, and she’s worried nobody’s taking the upcoming competition seriously. Allie is new to school, and she’s had a history of short-circuiting on teachers and other kids.
So when Allie is assigned to the robotics team as a last resort, all Evelyn can see is just another wrench in the works! But as Allie confronts a past stricken with grief and learns to open up, the gears click into place as she discovers that Evelyn’s teammates have a lot to offer—if only Evelyn allowed them to participate in a role that plays to their strengths.
Can Evelyn learn to let go and listen to what Allie has to say? Or will their spot in the competition go up in smoke along with their school’s robotics program and Allie’s only chance at redemption?
An excellent pick for STEAM enthusiasts, this earnestly told narrative features a dual point of view and casually explores Autistic and LGBTQ+ identities.
Publication date: 09/27/2022
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years
Filed under: Guest Post