Woman smiling, posing outside near flowers
Through writing, Lara Boyle found confidence and community.

Editor’s Note: See Jane Write now publishes articles and personal essays by writers who identify as women, non-binary folks, and our allies. Learn more here.

By Lara Boyle

“Why can’t you let her speak for herself?”

That’s what family members and friends would ask my mom. I’d be at the dinner table in a crowded restaurant or even in our living room when my throat would close up. I opened my mouth to speak, but all the words I needed were gone. Under the weight of everybody’s eyes, I shrunk into my seat, unable to do more than clear my throat. I had no issues learning how to talk. I could ramble on and on for hours about horses, Percy Jackson, Harry Potter or my favorite cartoon show, Alex Hirch’s Gravity Falls on Disney. Yet, somehow I still struggled to say what I thought, to find the right words. I wouldn’t find out until I was eighteen years old that this struggle to speak was because I have a type of Autism Spectrum Disorder commonly known as Asperger’s Syndrome. My voice seemed to disappear until I found it scribbled out in jet-black ink on paper.

I Started Writing Because I Was an Insomniac and a Special Ed Kid

At some point, my mom suggested I get a journal to write down whatever thoughts kept me up so late instead of bugging her about it. I began each entry with the time. Anytime I couldn’t sleep, I filled up pages. I chronicled my ruminations about the time my bully kicked me in the face during basketball in gym, or made fun of my poor test scores, or the fact that I had to do a special ed math course online because of my rare math learning disability, Dyscalculia, and ADHD. I’d sit in the corner by the window on a computer, lost in my head, daydreaming stories to pass the time when I got stuck.

It was here that I realized I wanted to be a writer. Through poetry, I found metaphors to express my feelings. Bullies turned into dragons, and I became a knight in shining armor, with a pen as my sword. I also discovered a writing community online.

Fandoms and Fanfiction Offered a Safe Space

I’ve always been embarrassed and even ashamed about my literary origin story. Like it somehow makes me less of a writer to admit my very first stories were inspired by someone else’s. But fanfiction has been written by many classic authors long before we had a name for it. William Shakespeare based many of his works on other poems or novels, often outright using their characters or plots. In Dante’s The Inferno, Dante uses his literary inspirations as characters. No matter how embarrassing it is to admit I once posted fanfiction on Wattpad, it taught me a lot of what I know. Besides, I now appreciate my time there because that was where I first received encouragement from others to keep writing.

As more readers would comment asking when the next chapter was coming out, I began to set a goal of a chapter of about a thousand words per week. I followed Virginia Woolf’s advice, who suggested every female writer should have “A Room of One’s Own” and got my very first desk. I thanked followers for reading and established an audience. Most importantly, I learned how to outline books and finish what I started.

Writing With Others Helped Me Develop Social Skills

I also gained a lot of value from online roleplaying, a continuation of my fanfic experiences. Although it could have been extremely risky to talk to strangers on the internet, text-based RP offered the chance to meet kids my age from around the world and tell stories together –message by message. Our shared love of fandom gave us common ground, taking away the difficulty of small talk or the potential to misinterpret body language cues. Our characters evolved constantly and stories lasted years. Despite the cringe factor of text-based roleplay, ultimately, I am grateful for the skills I learned along the way. Not only did I learn how to develop my fiction in these chat forums, but I also learned how to form genuine friendships. I still keep in touch with many of these friends today.

Woman at a beach, smiling
Now Lara uses writing to speak out on the issues that matter to her most.

Finding Confidence at Creative Writing Camps

Determined to develop my abilities, I signed up for a girls’ leadership camp where girls were taught the power of using our voices. We were invited to be silly just because we could and cheer each other on with snaps at spoken word readings.

We also learned how to write for social justice.

I built my writing and social skills and improved my self-esteem. I’d continue to spend my summers in environments that nurtured creativity and friendship, like Duke Young Writers Camp or a two-week creative writing course at The University of Oxford the summer before I started community college. I’d grown up believing I was stupid due to my learning challenges, yet studying poetry with a professor at one of the most prestigious universities in the world gave me the confidence to realize I was smart, too.

Using My Voice to Rewrite Harmful Narratives About Disability

In college, not long after a late diagnosis of autism changed my life, I was asked to give a presentation to professors about what it was like to be a student with Asperger’s Syndrome. While I wanted to say no due to my fear of public speaking, I realized that too many harmful myths about being an aspie were perpetuated because others spoke over us. Few people I’d met were aware that girls and women could have Asperger’s because the stereotypes suggested it to be a “boy’s only” disorder.

Others didn’t believe I was actually Disabled because I was “high functioning” — likely because I became an overachiever to overcompensate for years of feeling inadequate. Suddenly, the more I published articles in national news outlets like HuffPost and Newsweek, the more people praised my writing abilities. For the first time, my strengths overshadowed my weaknesses. But even though my challenges were invisible, this didn’t mean my disability didn’t exist. I still couldn’t drive and needed my mom to help shuttle me around. I still struggled to fit in and was often excluded by other people I thought were my friends. I was still deeply lonely and insecure and went home on the weekends because I wasn’t ready to enter the world of “adulting” yet. I still wore noise-canceling headphones everywhere because sometimes the world was too loud, too crowded, and too much.

I decided to tell my story in the hopes that it could rewrite harmful narratives about Disability. Angie Thomas wrote in The Hate U Give: “What’s the point of having a voice if you’re gonna be silent in those moments you shouldn’t be?”  Creative nonfiction has given me not only a platform to speak but an outlet to use my words to advocate for diversity, equity and inclusion. I grew up feeling silenced. As an adult, I’ve realized that being authentic and vulnerable about my experiences is the key to using my voice.

Lara Boyle is a first-year creative nonfiction MFA candidate at The University of North Carolina at Wilmington. Her writing has been published in The Huffington Post, Business Insider,  Newsweek, and more.