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.

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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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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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

Telling our own story/ies

“We deserve a chance…not to be defined by what we struggle with and what we are not, but to be seen as whole people with a mix of strengths and weaknesses. We deserve a chance to add to the narrative on dyslexia that historically had been dominated by (albeit well meaning) non-dyslexics.”

Sarah Fearn, editor’s preface, everything is spherical (2014)

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I sense a change is coming. Our voices are getting louder. Whether it’s on social media or through storytelling or advocacy work, people with dyslexia want/need to tell their own stories.

This is no small thing.

This is an act of bravery, even defiance, in a world that presumes to tell us who we are and how we feel; that we are broken, where we are broken, and how we can (or can’t) be “fixed.” This comes from the strangest places. Not just from the trolls, but even the people who aim to help. So many labels, but very little real understanding.

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Book review: On reading My Dyslexia, or five reasons I love this book

“This much is clear: The mind of the dyslexic is different from the minds of other people. Learning that my problem with processing language wasn’t stupidity seemed to take most of my life.” ~Philip Schultz, My Dyslexia

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My Dyslexia (2011) by Philip Schultz is on the top of my reading list for 2017. I’ve already read it a few times, underlining the good bits and reading it out loud to whoever will listen. And I will read it again, and again, and again.

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What students with dyslexia want you to know

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The student panel at the 2016 dyslexia conference in Toronto blew the audience away with their eloquent and inspiring presentation (if Richard Branson is looking for future executives, look no further!). By sharing their stories, they are helping to empower a generation of children and youth. Thank you! Continue reading