Process Of Writing Without Reading or Writing
For those of our audience who may not know the details, tell us a little bit about how you process the world around you differently from how other folks might.
I think the main thing is that I have a very difficult time with long-term memory of facts, linear thinking. I tend to experience life through a kind of thread. I wish I could come up with a better word for this. It’s kind of like an emotional thread, a connectedness thread. That’s sort of how my memory works. I can remember the emotional thread of a situation then it’s even better than the specifics or time of the memory. This is what helped me write the book, a very thorough account of what it felt like. Maybe not so much the specifics of people’s names or what they look like. Facts about them. More like impressions.
What do you feel your lowest and highest moments were in the events you discuss in the book?
I would say some of the hardest times were when I flunked second grade and was told that I might have to be institutionalized at eighteen if I didn’t become independently functional by then. That set a tone for other events. Also, my attempted suicide was a difficult time. My more recent one would be losing a job and career I had and having to rediscover and redefine who I was and realizing I couldn’t find who I was. The deeper I went into it, the more vacant everything else seemed. And it was that event that took me to the darkest places but woke me up to what was most real about my experience in life.
What do you feel is the highest moment you reached?
The highest moments weren’t the best. The highest moments seemed to be a relief from suffering, not a real contentment. For me now, I’m far more interested in contentment than great moments. The highest moments or the best moments seemed to be when I felt safe— my first job and career move where I felt successful about what I did. I was able to make all of that an obsession, becoming better and better at what I did and make it my life work. Other than that, the truly happy moments, of course, having my two kids, experiences with them.
As you were writing these moments, did you have any sense that they’d eventually become a text you could share with someone else?
Well, I did have a wish that I could document this. I wanted to be able to refer to them later and go into a greater depth into finding out what all this was about. I knew I couldn’t write in that kind of detail, so I didn’t ever torture myself that I could do that someday. That did come into fruition, which I think is wonderful.
Well, I never set out to write a book in the initial process. It was a repetition of my thoughts that I was trying to get to the core of. What was it at the core of that, that needed to repeat itself? I felt I had to externalize that in some way. So, I just started writing. The writing wasn’t legible to me when I came back to it later. I found some editors that could interpret it better than I could. I learned tricks to write more accessibly, even for myself after I wrote it. I must have written 1700 pages minimum of the book before it started to take form. As it started to take form, I began to direct my writing more specifically, and that really helped. My process was just finger typing into Word. It would correct a lot of my misspellings and phrasing. I would have a reading program read it back out loud to me, and I would catch in what ways it didn’t make sense and go back and fix it. I probably had to rewrite and listen five to ten times to make it legible.
That’s a very obviously intensive process.
It took 7 years to write the book full-time. I really dedicated myself.
It’s got to be good to have a product that is really your voice where you know this is an authentic representation of what you wanted to say.
I feel very good about the book in terms of saying what I wanted to say. Some of my favorite things aren’t in the book, but I think that’s the process of writing a book.
I think there’s a perception that writers often write with a wide audience in mind, but many famous authors discuss writing for a very personal audience. Who did you envision reading it as you began this book?
I was asked that question a lot, and since I never read books up to that point, two years before audio books came out, and then I really listened to books, but I didn’t really get the structure. I think you need to read books to really understand the structure of books. I didn’t write to anybody except me. Literally. At first it was just me in the moment, and then, really what I was writing to was writing to what I know that I don’t want to know. I don’t know if that’s writing to somebody, but it was really always having to dig deeper and nothing was deep enough.
Or what is it that’s true of me, my sense of things, what do I believe, that in my soul, I don’t want to have that way. How am I denying reality?
Does your spirituality play a part in this?
Well, you know, spirituality kind of seemed to have has its own path in me. I had a number of experiences where I was happy when I was younger that I couldn’t explain reasons for. I was always trying to sort out what is happiness? What is love? I just asked a lot of questions. I didn’t understand what these things were. And there seemed to be a split in form and happiness in form, which always seemed to be a relief from the suffering of form and not real happiness. I couldn’t figure out what made people want to live. I really couldn’t understand why people wanted to live.
In sorting out all of that, it brought in psychology, spirituality. I had to consider all of these things with an open mind. But it had to be real and touch me in some way, or it didn’t answer my questions. What I discovered is that there is psychology and spirituality which seemed very core to me, but I couldn’t connect where they became the same thing. It seemed to me that if they were both true, there had to be some place they met that was the same. In some ways that guided me.
What is the most important thing you believe this book can do for your readers?
I would love everybody to read the book and just realize what their source of real contentment is, but that’s not my real expectation. The book was to me as a teenager or a young kid and that’s who I hope I can reach. If I can reach people who are struggling with difficulties in their lives and they can listen to the book deeply enough, it’s the kind of book that has to be read from the beginning to end and not just the pieces. It’s not just the stuff in the book but the process that I’m trying to depict in the way we structure the book that puts people in the process. In the end, hopefully people will feel the reality of it rather than just the words on the page. And I’m hoping to reach people that are interested in the teenagers that are struggling and people that are just suffering and help them find their questions about their lives and be willing to sit with those questions without finding the answers.
What’s the next important goal you’d like to accomplish in your life?
I’m planning another book. I’m just very much at the beginning. I’m in the process of trying to write another book that is very hard to describe. This book, I was advised should be 7 books, so a lot of stuff got dropped out. I’m hoping to fill in with this other book. It’s a fiction, a novel this time, not a memoir. And I’m hoping to sort of go through the process in a very personal way, what the human evolution is emotionally, physically. It’s going to start out factual, present time, and then futuristic near the end, into something that feels real but sort of sci-fi. It’s a huge project, so I’m struggling but enjoying take it on.
Bio: Born to well-educated parents in Chicago as an autism-spectrum child, David Patten was repetitively misdiagnosed in the 1950’s, a time when autism was little understood. After a youth of a severe disorientation and isolation, the seriously dyslexic Patten made a living dealing drugs and engaging in other street-level enterprises. In his twenties he discovered his native genius in abstract conceptual mathematics which led him to a successful career as a businessman who worked debugging computer systems for major corporations and American military installations.
David’s deep sensitivity and insight gave him the capacity not only to maintain meaningful and affectionate human relationships, but enabled him to observe that his desperation and limitations need not define who he was. It was this understanding that eventually allowed him to accept his life and move beyond his identification with his human personality. Today he is the father of two grown, productive and happy children. He lives with his wife of 30 years, a physician, in Hawaii.