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


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!


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.

In first person: how does #dyslexia affect your relationship to language?


The Oxford Dictionary invited three guest contributors to explain, in their own unedited words, how their experiences of dyslexia affect their relationship with language. It’s an interesting question–and the answers may surprise you.

Quotable quotes:

I feel like perhaps people think I have a limited vocabulary, but I don’t, I just stumble and can’t use the words I want to…It’s an invisible problem that people don’t fully understand, a constant exhausting struggle.” ~Alex Gray

“I realised that I’m better at other thing rather then reading writing and spelling which I still to this day struggle with massively but I’m figuring stuff out…This learning differculty isn’t something people should be ashamed of I’m proud of my dyslexia because I wouldn’t be the person I am today without it.”~Anthony Rayner

“I never had any of my work put on the wall, I did terribly in spelling tests, it took me a long time to learn to read…Ultimately I am fortunate. I love language. I love reading.”~Liz Massie

Read the article here:

“It’s what’s in your heart that’s important” – #DiverseNurses

British health writer Roy Lilley is incredibly eloquent when talking about his struggles with dyslexia and school as a child, and how he went on to became a prolific writer (27 books on the management of health care!!) despite the low expectations of others.

To help improve his spelling, Lilley relies on spell check, and sends his articles for editing and proofreading. He still lets the occasional spelling mistake slip through, but he doesn’t worry about it anymore: “I write 700 words a day, and if the other 699 are ok I’m not too worried about that one.”

Quotable quote

“It’s what’s in your heart that is important. If you are writing about things that you care about, if you are writing about things that are important…what’s a spelling mistake between friends? It’s not important. The important thing is if you’ve got the desire and the need (if you’re a student) to express yourself–you just get on and do it. Because, you know what, if you want to be a nurse or work in the clinical interface it’s how you look after people that’s important. So I would say, be like me, don’t give a stuff.” ~Roy Lilley

Watch the video

This is part of a series of videos called dyslexic nurses. The videos feature UK nurses sharing their unique perspective about neurodiversity in health care: watch Dyslexic Nurses.