This week is Dyslexia Awareness Week, it is also the begininng of an insane writing challenge called NaNoWriMo which stands for National Novel Writing Month. The idea is that you write a minimum of fifty thousand words in a month and I have been doing this challenge and a picture book sister challenge called PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) since 2009, which is now scary long ago.
When I first started the challenge and using the forum I felt very edgy, being severely dyslexic made me hesitate to enter into online written discussions with grammarian monsters - the sort that correct friends' emails. How was I ever going to compare to such writing experts when sometimes I can't spell mine or my kids' names correctly?
Trying to belt out a novel is an amazing experience but it is also an emotionally fraught one, especially for those low on self confidence. Self confidence is a key to success - it is not the only key but it is one of the main three - Self Confidence, Endurance and Improvisation/Adaptability. Dyslexics, due to our education system and social attitudes, tend to be high on intelligence and low on that whole confidence thing. To keep going with the writing you kind of need to believe that your story is good enough, that your imagination is fantastic and that everyone is going to want to read it. Many authors go through a cycle of thinking their stuff is amazing and will win a nobel prize, to sinking into a pit of despair over how rubbish it is.
But dyslexics have an added edge of nerves, an extra question over their abilities. Not only is there the language structure issues but there is the widely held idea that if you cannot spell you cannot write. This is wrong.
And it turned out that the way NaNoWriMo works is fantastic for boosting dyslexic writers. It goes something like this - everyone is rushing to get down as many words as they can, you are encouraged to leave the typos as they are and just keep going, everyone has typos, inversions of letters, missed letter where they are just typing so fast. Normal people see these and correct them, the dyslexic brain may think that that is the correct spelling and at other times it will see it as wrong - but conversely it might see the correct spelling as wrong and correct it to something incorrect - DOH!
What this means though is that when you are sitting in a cafe or pub with a group of writers your red line squiggles are no longer an issue - everyone has them. Then there is the concept that you can edit a book with mistakes in, no matter how many mistakes there are, but if there is no book to begin with you cannot edit it into something. This frees you up to write.
One of the things I also found was that increasingly I was learning language intricacies and histories and that I could grab the grammar nazis by the proverbial and correct them if and when they started. Grammar is not a fixed thing - look at the history of writing and you find that Shakespeare couldn't spell his own name, that names themselves are pretty fluid, that grammar is just basically a mark up language to tell the reader when to breathe when talking out loud.
But can a dyslexic ever be a writer, be a published author, a journalist?
Yes, they can, and when they do they tend to be multi-genre writers, not brilliant for becoming a household name but good for writing how-to and last minute books, to be able to switch the brain from science to sports to craft, to be journalists (with patient editors!), to be non-specialist all round jacks of all trades. And, increasingly, this is becoming acceptable back in the realm of fiction, thanks to authors such as Neil Gaiman.
So where does that leave me? I have said repeatedly that I must be insane trying to be a writer whilst being very very badly dyslexic but, you know what, I wasn't - I find that being dyslexic helps with research for stories and articles, as I can't rely on words or even the grammar. I often have to use both plus the context, meaning that I can often pick up on the big or small picture, the hidden concepts and deeper meanings. It also stops me making stupid assumptions as I can't take the writing literally and if it doesn't seem right I am forced to ask, to check. For science writing this is extremely important.
Now before we go any further, dyslexia is not something I can really define; it is just a part of how my brain is wired so I will not say that my writing success is because of, nor in spite of, the dyslexia. It could have stopped me; it was a hurdle, and it has stopped many but mainly because they are told they can't do things because of it. Also, yes, I am contrary and stubborn so when people told me I could not, or that I would find stuff hard, I was determined to show them I could do it - especially when my intelligence itself was under attack.
But would my life achievements have been different without the dyslexia? I kind of think not, I just had to take a different path. And that path has been strange and winding and this last week I have found myself writing craft workshops, reading my kids poetry and stories to kids whilst dressed up in ridiculous outfits at various kid clubs, being asked to perform my page poetry at several events, asked to run writing days for adults and kids, getting sci-fi stories accepted, writing blog copy and presenting my project Cuddly Science which includes script writing and picture book writing and report writing and talk writing.
And that was just this week. This last month included articles on sci-fi/fantasy and science and crafts and gardening and grant applications, and this last year saw me become a member of the Poetry Society, British Science Fiction Association and the British Science Writers Association (and yes that does confuse me especially as there is also the British Hen Well-Fare Trust that we got the chickens from too!), I have been asked to present awards to school kids and I completed a Science Communication course - something I dismissed as a "can't" during my undergraduate degree, due to the dyslexic issues.
I now firmly place myself in the role of writer, of author and so do others. I am finally what I was told I could never be - a dyslexic author. It was not trial free and it is not yet over, it kind of will never be over and I'm ok with that.
Back to NaNoWriMo, I find myself actively encouraging dyslexics to write - to take part and I love wondering around the forums and Facebook pages and twitter seeing articles like this pop up and I love to be able to say to those who are worried, those who are struggling, don't give up, you can succeed at this. And that doesn't just go for writing, it goes for every aspect of career and life 😀