Notes from a dyslexic writer: How to let go of your fear of writing and become a tortured artist

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Many people seem surprised when I tell them I’m a writer. Yes, I actually make a pretty decent living as a writer, and have done so for the past twenty years. Before that, I did a lot of writing as a university student and before that as an angst ridden teen with a diary.

John Irving, Dav Pilkey, Linda La Plante, Jackie French — all writers with dyslexia. Writing is something many dyslexics excel at.

Does writing come easy to me? No!

Does it take me 10 times longer than a non-dyslexic person to writing something coherently? Yes!

Does it sometimes feel like torture trying to get the words out of my head? You bet!

But I believe this actually makes me a better writer.

The truth is: I write because of my dyslexia, not despite it.

Why do I write? Four things:

1. Words have power, but they have no power over me
Because reading did not come easy to me, I have spent my life wrestling words down on a page. Akin to Van Gogh’s quote above — I am not afraid of words or putting them together to create ideas. I never think “I can’t” when I try to write something. I know from experience that I can. Even if it almost sucks the life out of me some days.

2. I need to communicate
Being an undiagnosed and unsupported dyslexic for most of my life meant that I didn’t have a voice for a long time. Slow processing speed makes it harder for me to communicated verbally. You know those people who say the wrong thing at the wrong time? That’s me. But writing is something I can take my time with; and gives me control over how I communicate the thoughts in my head. Writing gives me a voice. It’s allowed me to tell my own story and stories I care about.

3. I want you to understand
I write communications products, such as websites, articles, reports. I get to communicate with Canadians on many things, important things, like new laws and programs that will affect their lives. It’s important to communicate complicated information clearly so that everyone reading it will understand — not just the lucky few. As a dyslexic writer, I’ve learned how to take complex information apart and put it back together. So I can understand it. So you can too. I guess it’s a calling of sorts.

4. It’s how my brain works
Writers and dyslexics have something in common: imagination and tenacity. I am crazy creative in my head. And I need to get it out. Writing is my outlet. I also work harder (and take longer) than most to get anything done — I know what it takes to get something done…revise, rewrite, repeat. Says John Irving of his dyslexia and writing: “It’s become an advantage. In writing a novel, it doesn’t hurt anybody to have to go slowly. It doesn’t hurt anyone as a writer to have to go over something again and again.”

Of course, I don’t do it alone. My best friend is the Canadian Oxford dictionary, a style guide, online spell check and Grammarly. I rely on professional editors and proofreaders to fix up my mistakes, make my work shine.

If writing scares you (dyslexic or not), my advice is to treat a blank page like Vincent van Gogh treated a blank canvas — with irreverence:

“Just slap something on it when you see a blank canvas staring at you with a sort of imbecility.”

 

Stop thinking of words as your master. They are your tool.

Let’s get started: Write a few lines, then a few paragraphs. Don’t worry about grammar and spelling at this stage. That comes later. Once you’ve got a first draft, reread and revise. Get a trusted friend to proofread it. Read and revise again. And again.

Congratulations! You are now a tortured artist. Welcome to the club.

Check my writing tips and resources for dyslexic writers, or anyone who needs help getting words on paper. C’mon. You can do it!

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You can buy this poster by zen pencils.
Read Vincent van Gogh on Fear, Taking Risks, and How Making Inspired Mistakes Moves Us Forward @brainpicker.

Ask an expert: “Ghibli movies bring you up if you are feeling down”

Studio Ghibli is a Japanese animation film company founded by Hayao Miyazaki in 1985. Their films are for all ages, and are wonderful to watch as a family. They don’t shy away from serious themes like war and peace, death and friendship, but do so without being preachy. And if you’re looking for strong female leads — look no further.

Today, we ask an anime expert and super Ghibli fan — my 12-year-old daughter — why she loves Studio Ghibli films and why you will too.

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David Flink’s “Thinking Differently” educates and empowers

51n4HUrp8ALDavid Flink’s Thinking Differently (2014) is my favourite “parent/self help” guide to dyslexia and learning disabilities.

And it’s the only book I’ve read that speaks to me both as parent and as a person with dyslexia.

In tone and in content, the book gives a positive, practical and empowering approach to parenting, studying and living with dyslexia and ADHD.

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5 things a 12-year-old wants you to know about dyslexia

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My 12-year-old daughter has a pretty kick-ass attitude about dyslexia. It’s more of a footnote¹ to her life, rather than something that defines or limits her.

Her success is a testament to her hard work and perseverance in the face of adversity–not caused by her learning differences, but by the lack of understanding and support she experienced early on at school. In particular, how the “wait and see” approach (also known as the “failure model“) made school harder than it needed to be for her in the long run.

Given her experience with the education system, what would she like you to know?


5 things a 12-year-old wants you to know about dyslexia:

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Watch: New animated short film #IAmDyslexic

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“Remember, you are not alone.”

That is the empowering message of I AM DYSLEXIC – a gorgeous animated short film just released on YouTube for all the world to see and share.

The award-winning film was directed and produced by Mads Johan Øgaard and Katie Wyman. They are both talented and creative dyslexics – their successful film making a reminder that dyslexia needn’t hold you back from achieving your dreams.

The film was made with no budget and a team of more than 60 students most of which have dyslexia and other learning differences.

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International Day of Persons with Disabilities: Can you see me?

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I have a learning disability difference. You can’t see it, but it’s real.

I felt its sting when I was a child in school, when you asked me to read out loud, when you told me I’d never learn math, when you said I’d never go to university. As an adult, I see it every time I pick up a book, read a recipe, write an essay, fill out tax forms, drive my car or go for a job interview.

It hasn’t always been easy, but I have adapted.

The hardest part is how you see me – and how you don’t.

My disability difference is dyslexia, the most common learning disability difference in the world. It affects an estimated 15-20% of the population across every race, culture, class and gender.

And yet, dyslexia is largely unknown, unsupported and ignored. Some days, I feel we are invisible. Other days, I feel we are completely misunderstood.

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Ask the expert: Maggie Snowling and the history of dyslexia project

percy word blind

Poor Percy F.

Diagnosed with “congenital word blindness” in 1896.

What happened to Percy? Did he ever learn to read? Did he have a happy life?

Why don’t we know more about him, and all the boys and girls who have struggled to read the written word?

The history of dyslexia, and people with dyslexia, is fascinating. And yet, it remains largely untold.

It’s important to document our history: to see how we have been labelled and mislabeled, treated and mistreated; how far have we come in understanding and accepting dyslexia, and where we need to go.

That’s why I’m so excited about Oxford University’s History of Dyslexia project. They are tracing the origins of dyslexia (primarily in the UK) – the early advocates, pioneers and researchers who got us where we are today. They are also collecting histories of people with dyslexia.

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Why our schools need to say dyslexia

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Me at three.

I remember this day clearly. I insisted on dressing myself. Mismatched mittens and wrongly buttoned sweater — it didn’t matter. I was pleased with the results. My father took this photo, a celebration of his fiercely independent child.

Me at three.

Happy, free, loved, accepted.

My life before school. At home with a mom and dad who let me be me.

All that changed, I changed, when I entered the Ontario school system.

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My #dyslexia story. Something lost. Something found.

I was identified as dyslexic at the age of 49. It was like finding the missing piece of an unfinished puzzle (to paraphrase Steven Spielberg). Finally, my life made sense. In the days that followed, I did what I always do: I wrote it out. Then, I published my story on my book blog Lost and Found Books.

Here is my dyslexia story. Something lost, something found. Continue reading